Christina in Norman, Oklahoma, asks — oh, this is a good one: “In our overly digital and connected age, I often feel so overwhelmed with how much global and local suffering I feel both a desire and a Christian obligation to stay informed on, pray for, and be involved in. Sex trafficking, Syrian refugees, homeless people in my city, the Black Lives and Blue Lives Matter movements, abortion activism, suffering members of my church, reaching the unreached, and on and on it goes. I want to pray, but I find it so overwhelming because the prayer list is so long, and I want to act but I am paralyzed by how much there is to do. I truly believe this stems from a lack of deep heart conviction of God’s sovereignty. Could you maybe share how you stay balanced and aware in praying and acting for the pain and suffering around the world? And specifically how does your belief in God’s sovereignty in the midst of this suffering effect the way you live and pray?”
Well, I am not sure I can say how balanced I stay, because I don’t. I so totally resonate with this sense of overload from the internet and from news and the many views about bad news. I am impressed with it now more than ever. I have always been impressed with how much sorrow and pain and bad news there is in the world, but recently you go down the list of Google News on any topic and it is really bleak. So, I get this — I really do — and I have no idea whether I have become the balanced person I need to be. But I can just point to how I fight the battle — and here they are, several steps.
“Only God’s shoulders can bear the boulders of global suffering.”
1) Accept. I try to accept, and I would encourage Christina to try to accept, the goodness of groaning. In Ezekiel 9:4, the Lord said to Ezekiel, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it” — which means, God is marking them for favor. And they are groaners. They are not chipper, “oh, praise God anyhow!” kind of observers of the abominations. They groan over American sinfulness in this culture. And so, she is one of them. I am saying: Accept that role and expect to have it until you die. You will groan all the way home. And if you don’t, you are not paying attention or you have become callous.
2) Realize that only God’s shoulders can bear the boulders of global suffering. I don’t know whether God expects us to look at every possible piece of news coming from around the world. I doubt it. I don’t think it is possible even to see them. And if we could see them, I think only he is capable of managing so much bad news.
This is Psalm 55:22: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” or to be paralyzed. And I think that burden is cast on the Lord because we cannot bear it. We cannot bear it.
“Trust God for the grace to do the good he expects you to do — in your path.”
And then the last thing on this point is 1 Peter 5:7, “[Cast] all your anxieties” — so, not just all your burdens, but all your anxieties — “on him, because he cares for you.” And then he adds, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). In other words, one of these anxieties that we cast on the Lord is massive supernatural evil. It is not just little items of news that are coming across the internet. It is a demonic force behind those things which, if we could see it, we would realize that we are a feather before that hurricane. And, therefore, we must constantly cast those anxieties on the Lord because he has defeated Satan and he can handle him quite nicely.
3) Give thanks for the diversity of the gifting in the body of Christ. If I thought that I had to do everything that God wants his church to do, I would despair. I would be paralyzed. “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing?” (1 Corinthians 12:29–30) — that is an important one. You may not be able to heal a person that you see needs healing, and somebody else might be able to meet exactly the need that they have. Therefore, you are not called to bear that particular burden, but to be thankful for the body of Christ.
4) Trust God for the grace to do the good he expects you — not others — to do, and then do the good in your path, like the Good Samaritan did. Second Corinthians 9:8, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound” — now, how you interpret this next phrase is the difference between despair and joyful hope — “you may abound in every good work.” Does that mean God gives you the grace and the sufficiency at all times in every way in every place to do the good work that a Christian in China is expected to do this afternoon? No. No. No.
“Every good work” there means, every one appointed for you — which is a wonderfully liberating thing. You will never be asked to do a good work for which this verse is not true. Every grace will be there for you to do it. God doesn’t intend for you to look at thirty good works, know you can only do five today, and feel guilty about twenty-five. He absolutely does not want that to be the case. That is why this verse is in the Bible. And so, yes, there will be grace for every good work.
“Pray big, global prayers that Jesus taught us to pray, including for more workers in the harvest.”
5) Pray big, global prayers that Jesus taught us to pray, including for more workers in the harvest. “Our Father in heaven,” — big prayer number one — “hallowed be your name.” Big prayer number two: “Your kingdom come, — big prayer number three — “your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10). It is good to pray big, global, general, sweeping prayers.
And then pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers (Matthew 9:35–38). We can see specific needs that need to be met. We can only do a fraction, and Jesus says: Go ahead. Ask me. I have laborers. I will send them. Ask me.
6) Regularly pray that God would show you what more you can do. Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity,” — kairos in Greek: I love that word, kairos, a special, particular moment in time that is designed for a good work — “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” So, we pray, “Lord, create those opportunities for me, those kairoi, and help me see them and embrace them.”
That is how we don’t settle into being content with yesterday’s grace. Yesterday, you did a good deed, two good deeds, three good deeds. You gave this. You gave that. You did this. You treated this person kindly. That is yesterday. “Today, Lord, what is the new opportunity for doing good to people, especially to the household of God?” So we pray, “Show me, Lord, how to use my money and my time and my energy and my gifts.”
7) And, lastly, I would say: Rest in the sovereignty of God. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I well accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:9–10).