Above all else, guard your heart, it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
One week from today the election will be over. Thanks be to God.
Our house phone has been ringing for a month with pleas for support, while everyday the mailman brings yet another stack of political missives. In some respects this is no different than previous presidential elections – each side marshaling the most negative attacks against the other and assuring us of certain calamity if the other person prevails. Nonetheless, it does feel like there is something different going on this cycle, and not just the fact that the overriding sentiment in the country seems to be negative voting against one candidate or the other rather than an affirmative vote for one of them. We are witnessing a political firestorm that is burning a deep divide within our country, our church, and our families.
In the midst of this cultural conflagration I’m desperate to place the blame on one of the candidates, or the media, or other definable group. There is no shortage of scapegoats nor lack of voices to bolster my proclivity – one only needs to flip channels between FOX and MSNBC to validate. Yet, if I am honest, I know that the election propaganda is merely revealing something that is already in my heart. If I am angry it is because I have unresolved anger in my heart. If I am fearful it is because I have allowed fear and worry to become rooted in my soul. If I feel hopeless it is because I have placed my hope in earthly things. Fear, anger, hopelessness – all of these I see in others, but unless I am honest before God I cannot see them in myself. For while I prefer a narrative that I see the issues objectively, in truth, there is a fire burning in my heart over this election, and I am alarmed. What can I do to guard my heart? Is there anyway this potentially consuming fire can be transformed into a refining fire?
Earlier this year I wrote about guarding the heart with a focus on the discipline of fasting from criticalness. I have long believed that we Christians are at our worst during elections, being unrepentant in our vocal criticism of candidates we oppose. At times such as these, the practice of being non-critical of others would be of great value. This is particularly true this year given the emotional turmoil many of us are experiencing. James saw clearly the firestorm that can be caused by critical words. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:5-6) If one word can cause such destruction is it any wonder our nation is in an uproar given the unrestrained cacophony of negative, condemning and often vulgar words.
Controlling the tongue is an important discipline for the Christian life and essential for guarding the heart. Yet, to truly extinguish the embers smoldering in my heart there is more I can do with God’s grace. Here then are my three, electoral year resolutions for guarding my heart.
First, to take heart – God is still God. He is in control. Isaiah put it this way. “God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.” (Isaiah 40:22-24)
I recently asked my friend Bill how he handles the anxiety of the election, and without hesitating he said that he takes a “higher view” of the electoral process and the direction our country seems to be taking. In particular, he says that in times such as these he finds comfort in focusing on the sovereignty of God. No doubt this is why Paul exhorts us believers to “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:1-2)
Second, to humble my heart – in victory or defeat. The approach here is to seek to understand and reconcile with those who see the world differently than I do. For example, praying for our leaders – that they will lead well and prosper. Paul put it this way, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
I have never been a particularly good loser and by profession am conditioned to arguing my case. But this is not right; I am told to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Easier said than done. I am feeling estranged not just from our leaders but also from certain friends as a result of our opposing views. Apparently I am not alone as I read that many on Facebook are “unfriending” those who support opposing candidates. Thus, I am committed to pray not only for our leaders, but, as Paul says, “for all people.” And importantly that God will not allow the election to turn my heart away from any friend.
Third, to rededicate my heart to building the kingdom of God. Rather than hunkering down nurturing fear and anxiety, I would commit myself to God’s divine conspiracy, which is to “overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Jesus explained the kingdom significance of our actions in practical terms when He spoke of his return, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:34-36)
Pat and I are actively exploring ways to “double-down” on our volunteer activities after the election. We are praying about different opportunities to serve those in need. We believe this is the only way forward, the only way for healing.
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to violate God’s command against worshipping idols, Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into a fiery furnace. What a shock it must have been for the king to observe a man dressed in a white robe join them in the inferno, and then see the three emerge without so much as a hair on their heads being singed. (Daniel 3). We rightly love this story about their obedience, courage and faith and about God’s rescue. Yet when we are the ones facing a fire (metaphorical though it may be) we can lose heart and be tempted to violate God’s word for our life. At times such as these we need to press into Jesus, the man in the white robe, the only one who can bring us safely through the flames.