Masks. Church gatherings. Schooling options. Hashtags. Elections. This has been an incredibly divisive year.
We don’t yet know what 2021 will bring, but chances are there will be a new array of things to divide us.
How can Christians live wisely in divisive times, in a media landscape where algorithms perpetuate, and corporations profit from, polarization? In his sovereignty and grace, God gives his church tools for resisting the pull toward disunity. Here are four of them.
1. Scripture (to Shape Thinking)
Information is not neutral. We are formed by what informs us. The information we absorb will inevitably lead to some kind of transformation. Cable news, social media, streaming sites—all of it is discipling us by what it deposits into our minds.
This is why Charles Spurgeon wisely said, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.” In Scripture we see God’s glorious nature, his unstoppable redemptive plan, and wisdom for human flourishing. Shouldn’t we give our ears and eyes to his revelation in Scripture more than anything else?
Shouldn’t we give our ears and eyes to God’s revelation in Scripture more than anything else?
Even Jesus turned to the book of Deuteronomy when the lying serpent tempted him in the wilderness. Couldn’t Scripture be sufficient for us in the divided wilderness of our day, with its many deceptive voices?
2. Prayer (to Shift Worries)
Prayer changes things. It changes us. While situational mountains can be moved by prayer, the very posture of prayer can also move the mountains of anxiety, stress, and fear that cripple us.
Whether David running for his life from Saul, Jeremiah mourning the coming judgment of God’s people, or Paul experiencing pastoral anxiety for the welfare of churches, the Bible is full of anxious people crying out to God. And in prayer they met his transcendent peace.
Prayer helps us exhale the fumes of worry while breathing in the oxygen of God’s peace and sovereignty.
I have an ongoing prayer journal where I list my worries and requests. Whether I’m praying for a vaccine, the election, or a ministry initiative, the process allows me to exhale the fumes of worry while breathing in the oxygen of God’s peace and sovereignty.
3. Community (to Soften Hearts Toward ‘the Other’)
In this season of constant outrage, it may feel natural to demonize “the other” for whatever questionable views they hold. In a world where we interact virtually with people we don’t really know apart from their posted opinions and avatars, it can be easy to view others as monstrous villains rather than precious image-bearers of God.
This is why the tangible, local community of a church is a gift in divisive times. As we participate in life with those who are not exactly like us, God graciously moves us from typecasting others to seeing them as human beings; from abstract generalizations to embodied “brothers” and “sisters”; from “the other” to “one of us,” a community of adopted members of God’s family.
Tangible, local community of a church is a gift in divisive times. As we participate in life with those who are not exactly like us, God moves us from typecasting others to seeing them as human beings.
Jesus modeled this in how he built his community of disciples. At a time when tax collectors were saying “Let’s profit from the Romans by hurting our own people” and zealots were saying “Let’s profit our people by hurting the Romans,” Jesus called both Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot into his circle (Matt. 10:3–5). The surrounding culture made them enemies; their shared community, worship, and mission made them brothers.
4. Generosity (to Sift Out Selfishness)
Divisive, stressful times have a way of amplifying self-centeredness. “My facts.” “My feelings.” “My rights.” “My happiness.” Yet, ironically, self-focus drains us and robs us of true joy.
This is the gift and genius of Jesus’s invitation to generosity. True contentment comes from loving God and others more than we love ourselves. The short-term sting of sacrificing time, energy, and resources to serve others is nothing compared to the long-term stress of a self-focused life. Joy comes when we follow Paul’s admonition: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4).
When you text encouraging words to a friend, check in on an elderly neighbor, or give financially to your church’s outreach initiative, you are not only obeying the Great Commandment; you are becoming more joyful and content in a world of anxiety and stress.
The short-term sting of sacrificing time, energy, and resources to serve others is nothing compared to the long-term stress of a self-focused life.
Jesus lived and ministered amid a political, social, and religious scene that was even more tumultuous than our own. And what did he do? Regularly turned to Scripture, retreated for prayer, submitted himself to his community, and gave himself generously to the Father’s work.
He offers these tools for us today, along with the power and guidance of the Spirit who indwells us. Let’s use these tools—not because they are the answer in and of themselves, but because they help us live countercultural lives that point to Christ, the true answer for our divided world.