You know that time when the apostle Paul says “don’t worry about anything” I sometimes wonder if he could get away with that today.
For example: Did you know that Congress recently had an approval rating of 9 percent? To put that in perspective, 11 percent of citizens want the Unites States to be a Communist country . It’s a lower rate than people who would approve of polygamy! While this is sort of hilarious, it’s also pretty depressing.
Thank God (literally) there isn’t a poll on the approval rating of the church, but as a ministry leader in Seattle, trust me when I say that what makes the headlines is not what anyone would call good news. Throw into the mix the global unraveling we are witnessing in the Middle East, Iraq, and our own treatment of immigrants, and it’s sort of difficult to keep our collective chins up.
So yes, it might feel tough to log onto Facebook, or read the New York Times these days and feel like there is no reason to be anxious. Good thing for us the verse doesn’t end as a pejorative blanket statement. You know, the kind that so often feels like a cheap mandate to simply ignore reality? Instead, it names that that there lots for reasons for why we are surrounded by anxiety. But, in the eloquent paraphrase of the Philippians passage by Eugene Peterson, we are invited to:
“let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.”
For me at least, this has radically shifted my approach to life and ministry. At the heart of it is the stubborn reminder that God is actually out ahead of me. Sometimes it takes more faith to believe that God is still active at work in the world, renewing and restoring all things, than it does to believe in a miracle like the resurrection. I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles with this. So often I find myself believing that fundamentally we are the ones at work and it’s God who joins us (sometimes), rather than the other way around.
But God is out ahead of us. God is doing something special in our day. And if you believe that God is working right now, then our primary task shifts from carrying a burden we are not able to carry, to receiving the gift that we get to join in God making all things new. Does this take faith? You bet it does. But it’s a whole lot more joyful than carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. My point: if it’s joy we are looking for, we might need to shift our attention pretty dramatically. This is especially for those of us who want to be on the pioneering front edge of God’s restorative work.
A great place to begin is simply by asking the question: “What is God doing in my neighborhood and city?”
For a couple of years now, a growing number of us at the Parish Collective have been asking that simple question. From tranquil small towns to gritty urban neighborhoods, we’ve now been to more than 300 “parishes.” And I kid you not, we’ve been inspired by what everyday people are doing in each and every one of them. In fact, when I think about all the stories of courage, sacrifice, and innovation from everyday people at the neighborhood level, I’m not worried at all. It’s because of this that I’d love to see our collective anxiety move to collective thanksgiving. By the way, there is lovely Greek word for thanksgiving, a word worth hanging on to, and even allowing it to guide our way. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
It’s called Eucharist.
Tim Soerens is the co-author of The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community and the Co-Founding Director of the Parish Collective.