Are we entering an era of extraordinary darkness?

April 27th, 2015

If current events are any indication, it’s about to get a lot more difficult to be a half-committed Christian.

Religious persecution is on the rise in many parts of the world, especially persecution of Jews and Christians. Millennia-old morality is being challenged and overturned, in some cases even within institutions of Christendom. And there’s also the disturbing trend of free societies moving toward the suppression of free speech, whether through laws or through intimidation by individuals, groups and corporations. 

The apocalyptic movies of my youth where people were hunted down, arrested and killed because of their religious views once seem far-fetched. Now, not so much.

Whether all this is cyclical or a sign that humanity has entered a period of unusual darkness is something we may only be able to see with clarity years from now when we look back on everything.

In the meantime, I believe Christians should focus on how we can influence outcomes and we should do everything we can to bring in God’s kingdom now.

We can start by asking ourselves these questions:

What can I do to hear God better? If the church is preparing to face a season of trials, staying tuned in to God is going to be paramount. However, there’s no formula for hearing God, and based on my experience, God rarely speaks the same way twice in a row! So what can we do?

For many of us, a good start is reading more Scripture. I don’t mean simply checking off the readings in a one-year Bible or on YouVersion, but praying through Scripture passages and meditating over them. Ask God to speak to you. I’ve found that doing this regularly is an effective way to “prime the pump” if you’re trying to hear God’s voice.

But the key is usually quality, not quantity. Some of the best Bible studies I’ve ever had were with a single verse of Scripture. If you get caught up with knocking out chapters on a reading list, you may be in danger of reading right over what God wants to say to you.

Does everything I’m doing have a meaningful purpose? Like money, if our time isn’t budgeted, it tends to get away from us without us knowing where it went. Should everything we do be a “religious” activity? Not at all. But even our down time should be intentional.

I like watching baseball, for example. It relaxes me and it gets my brain out of news and analysis mode. I find that it recharges me and keeps me sharp, and helps me hit the reset button so that when I go back into “serious mode,” I’m at my best. It’s down time that I've planned and it has a purpose.

Whether it’s recreation time, prayer time, family time, meal time, volunteer time, work time or study time, figure out what’s important for you to keep (or drop!) and experiment to find the right balance.

The bottom line is, we all have a finite amount of time to impact eternity. How should we be spending it so we can have the maximum positive effect?

Who should I be praying for? It’s my conviction that the most effective prayers are prayers that are specific. And from my experience, I pray most intensely for the people I’m closest to. So I intentionally keep my prayer list short. Praying for fewer people allows me to spend more time praying for each person individually, and it keeps me disciplined. Certainly I’m open to the Holy Spirit guiding me to pray for someone who pops into my mind out of the blue. But I can’t pray for everyone by name, and that’s OK. If prayer really does change the course of history, then I should be praying for those I'm called to pray for with a laser focus. And I should be expecting God to answer.

How can I up my spiritual game? We like to think that society has become much more civilized in recent years, but a glance at the news headlines tells us otherwise. Not only have we not learned the lessons of history, many of us have also underestimated the power of evil, both human and diabolical. Christians all over the world are facing significant spiritual opposition, and unless we understand this, we’re likely to remain unprepared for it. Praying, fasting, reading and studying Scripture and sharing Communion with other believers are a few ways that we can stay sharp and keep our spiritual edge during times of moral ambiguity when wrong seems right and down becomes up.

Every month, it seems there’s another survey published declaring an increase in the number of people leaving the church or claiming no faith at all. While this isn’t good news, the move toward a so-called post-Christian culture does offer an opportunity for a more intense, authentic Christian faith. When a belief system is no longer the cultural norm, odds are those who subscribe to it are going to be the real deal.  

All this is a reminder that beliefs matter and the stakes are high. Time will tell whether we’re entering an unusually dark time in human history. But if we are, we can know we’ve been put here for such a time and be assured that God has equipped us to persevere.

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