It’s becoming clear that this isn’t going to be the article I had wanted to write. I had wanted to write something as upbeat as the ska songs I listened to in high school. It’s my personality. As an optimist, it’s not like I’m unaware of the challenges my nation is facing. It’s just that my mind’s reflex is to try to find the potential positive in whatever comes.
Yes, this coming Tuesday looks to be a nasty election night in a year of insanity. But I’m a trained silver-lining-spotter come whatever scenario. And I do believe the title of this article.
But the truth is, there’s also a part of me—perhaps an older, wiser part of me—that knows that there are scenarios on the horizon which even an optimistic mind like mine cannot honestly reframe as positive.
- What if Tuesday confirms to an already cynical culture that the Evangelical church pursues power over its principles?
- What if Tuesday triggers a trajectory in which the church’s convictions about sexuality and gender are made illegal?
- What if Tuesday rips in half an already torn nation? What if Tuesday provokes months of Antifa-versus-militia violence in our streets?
- What if Tuesday solidifies the stronghold of anti-Christian worldviews and biases in the public square such that basic Christian beliefs become increasingly unacceptable—even to our own children?
I hope the reader is politically and culturally aware enough to recognize that the church faces steep challenges whoever wins the White House on Tuesday. Some of the above scenarios are more likely given a President Biden, others given a reelected President Trump.
I believe the church can be at a place where it can’t lose on Tuesday, but this belief comes with some significant if’s, which we will get to soon.
The truth is, churches can lose their way sometimes. And you basically need the rotating neck of an owl in order to see all the angles from which the losses can come. Sometimes the loss comes when churches get too cozy with political power. Other times, the loss comes from anti-Christian political powers who relentlessly stomp the church until church people raise the white flag and surrender their convictions.
Sometimes the losses take time to see. I was talking this week with a former missionary to Germany who witnessed the aftermath of the “tsunami” of secularist skepticism in Germany. The average person knows very little about the Bible, yet as schoolchildren they were taught “negative higher criticism” of the Bible in public school. Talk about a toxic environment for cultivating biblical convictions. Now back in the States, my friend is seeing the waves hit here.
The more loudly the storm rages, the more we can find optimism sounding squeaky and tone-deaf. And if Tuesday’s election is indeed the most important election of our lifetimes, shouldn’t our tone in the church match the sobriety of the moment?
Yet there is a shining hopefulness that is the church’s heritage even in pessimistic times.
This Christian hopefulness is every bit as serious as the gravity of a historic election or as the tragedy of a country clawing itself apart. Christian hopefulness is for serious-minded grown-ups. It’s characterized by foresight, resilience, conviction, and logic. And if the American church is to win on Tuesday—come hell or high water—it’s going to need Christian hopefulness. How can we cultivate it in our lives, families, and churches?
The Foresight of Joseph
Abraham’s great grandson Joseph saved the Jewish clan from famine by being in the wrong place at the right time. His jealous brothers sold him into slavery after which he was taken to Egypt. Although it had looked like a tragedy of treachery, it turned out that Joseph was actually taken to Egypt by the mercy of God.
Through giving Joseph a series of prophetic dreams, God had prepared Joseph to interpret others’ dreams in Egypt. When the Pharaoh had dreamt of seven fat cows being gobbled up by seven emaciated cows, Joseph explained that Egypt was about to have seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. In light of the coming famine, Joseph suggested a system of serious nationwide preparation.
The result? Because it stored grain over the years of plenty, Egypt had plenty to feed its people and sell to neighboring countries. When the famine hit Canaan, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy. It was at this time that Joseph recognized that his brothers had “intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).
Christian hopefulness sees God’s mercy in years of plenty and famine alike. We see good times as seasons to prepare ourselves, and bad times as seasons to provide for others. In good times and bad, the church that keeps its trust firmly planted in God’s mercy and provision cannot lose.
Christian hopefulness sees God’s mercy in years of plenty and famine alike.
The Resilience of David
Reading through David’s psalms is like taking multiple trips up and down a mountain. One psalm, David is exuberant. The next, he’s terrified. One day, he’s bursting with gratitude. The next day, he’s venting over God’s inactivity.
David’s disorderly ups and downs may look like a mismatch with the Sunday, dressed-up church crowd, but let’s be honest: There’s never been a more accurate description of the church from Monday to Saturday. Worshipful. Fearful. Grateful. Guilty.
The one regularity we can count on when reading the psalms is how the psalm is going to end. Whatever mood the psalmist starts with, the psalm regularly ends with a reaffirmation of trust in God.
We as the church can’t lose if we find in whatever situation a renewed reason to trust in God.
Perhaps the situation calls us to gratitude for His blessings. Or perhaps it’s a tough situation which confirms our dependence on Him. He’s our rock in scary situations, our redeemer in graceless situations, our wisdom in bewildering situations. Our trust in God is validated by whatever life throws our way. Christian hopefulness is resilient regardless.
The Conviction of Daniel
How do we know that the prophet Daniel was a man of deep conviction in God? We know because of when he prayed. He regularly prayed to God three times a day. There were times under the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar when devotion to God was looked down on, as well as times when it was intensely popular (as after God delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace). Fast forward into Daniel’s life a few more years, and devotion to God was even more acceptable under the Medes. That is, until the king was manipulated into signing a decree that, for thirty days, no one in the empire could pray to anyone except the king.
Just as Daniel had prayed three times a day to God before the edict, he kept right on praying. On his knees, windows open, three times a day, there he was “giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10). For that, Daniel was thrown into a den of lions. A miracle of deliverance, a couple dreams, and three chapters later, Daniel is back to praying—this time a prayer of repentance for his nation (Daniel 9:4-19).
Christian hopefulness keeps right on trusting God and practicing its convictions regardless of who is in power or what the law is.
On Tuesday, a church with conviction cannot lose. It is true that convictional churches can lose a lot of things: political weight, cultural clout, financial benefits, and more. But with each fleeting thing the church loses, it is reminded of the eternal things it has always had which it cannot lose: the Word of God, the indwelling of the Spirit, the fellowship of believers, the hope of heaven. Is there even a comparison?
The Logic of Paul
For Paul, persecution wasn’t a hypothetical horizon depending on which Roman emperor might come next. Paul was already constantly in jail for his convictions. For fourteen years of Paul’s ministry, the emperor was none other than the notorious Nero, and it was Nero who eventually had Paul beheaded.
So, we can safely assume that Paul wasn’t sloganeering when he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Neither option was metaphoric. And he really believed it: If he lived, great! If he died, great! Either way, he couldn’t lose. The church which trusts in God can say, “Either way,” and follow it up with sincere reasons for hopefulness.
In myself, I experience everyday collisions between a younger optimism and an older sobriety that feeds on fearful headlines and stressful hypotheticals. What both of my selves need isn’t for one or the other to win. Rather, they both need to quiet themselves in the presence of a mentor who is older still. This mentor is the church of our forefathers and foremothers, who lived faithful lives during difficult times. It’s the great “cloud of witnesses” who collectively urge us on, saying, “Christian, you can’t lose!”
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Christian hopefulness combines joy and suffering. It mingles the exuberance of faith with the seriousness of marathon-ready endurance.
A few years ago, I preached the funeral of my spiritual grandmother. This was the woman who, with her husband, led my parents to know Jesus. To prepare for what I would say at the funeral, I asked them if there were any sayings she was known for. One stuck out for its eccentricity and profundity. If someone asked her what time it was, she would answer, “It’s time to serve the Lord.”
Regardless of what happens on Tuesday, we know what time it is. It’s time to serve the Lord.
May this conviction resound a hundred times more loudly than the pundits: Come hell or high water, we who trust in God cannot lose.