Happy New Year – Preparing for the Coming RevivalJanuary 4th, 2023
There is no more common and “sunshine” greeting at the New Year than to say to someone, “Happy New Year!” But, this is clearly more aspirational than descriptive of how Americans actually feel about the upcoming year. For example, a recent Pew Research Center Survey revealed a growing pessimism in the country about what most Americans believe the USA will be like in the decades ahead. The majority of Americans believe that we will be under burgeoning (some say “crippling”) debt. This means that the $1 in your pocket will likely be worth considerably less to your grandchildren. Most Americans believe that the economy will be far weaker and incomes smaller (when adjusted for inflation). Most Americans believe that our educational system will continue to decline and mental health issues will continue to rise. Most Americans believe that health care will be less affordable. Most believe that racial and ethnic tensions will become worse, not better, and the majority believe that the American “culture” (whatever that means) in the decades ahead will become even more divisive than it is now. These are just a few of the findings of this Pew survey. All indicators point to significant gloom. What is striking is that there was not a huge gap between “Republicans” and “Democrats” on these assessments. There were places where party affiliation demonstrated significant differences such as the importance of climate change in any future global threat, or the role of immigration in producing a healthy society, or the general view of the media to give an accurate portrayal of the world. But, these differences should not detract from the deeper unanimity of the survey. The bottom line: Most Americans believe that our country is not doing well and faces an ominous future.
However, as disturbing as these polls are, the real evidence is not in polls, but in the hard statistics on suicide rates in America. That is the ultimate distress barometer. Suicide rates have always been viewed as the “canary in the mine.” According to data provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the last decade, and particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, suicide in the USA has gone up by 35.2% to around 46,000 people every year. It is now the second leading cause of death by all people 34 and younger (behind automobile accidents). The most striking jump has been young people between 15 and 24.
What does all this sobering news mean to us as Christians? It means that men and women, especially young people, are hungry for the gospel of Jesus Christ. They long for inner peace, but can find no solace in this world. They long for true joy, but cannot find it in the places they have been looking. Their lives and families are broken and they are looking for beauty and wholeness. The culture is delivering an endless stream of brokenness and despair to our youth and now is the time for the church to ring forth with our distinctive message of beauty, hope, truth and love. Leaders in the mainline church are telling us to “follow the culture” and that the culture “has the answers” and we should conform our message to the surrounding culture. We are told to get on the “right side of history.” They scare us into thinking that if we don’t abandon the gospel and conform to the world’s ethical standards, our churches will be empty in twenty years. But, why would we join in the myriad of cultural voices which only has a message of despair?
Remember in Homer’s Odyssey the Sirens (where we get the word for the loud noise for ambulances and firetrucks) were these mythical creatures in the Straits of Messina whose alluring sound captured the sailors who came through and destroyed them. But, Odysseus and Jason planned a strategy to resist the effects of the deadly allure of the Sirens. It involved strapping Odysseus to the mast of his ship and plugging his ears with wax. But the sound of the Sirens was too great and it penetrated the wax. Jason, on the other hand, suggested that Orpheus, the Greek God of Music might counter the song of the Sirens with an even more compelling song, the music of heaven.
This is our task today. We must not be captivated by the song of this culture which only knows brokenness, despair and endless conflict. We must tell a bigger story; we must cast a larger narrative; we must sing a better song. We live in a culture where the good news of the gospel is mostly unknown by the very group (age 15-24) who are statistically most in despair. Brothers and sisters, we are in that pre-revival stage where we must sow the good news more broadly, believe the gospel of Jesus Christ more firmly, trust in the Word of God more resolutely. We must resist the deadly sirens of the culture, and especially in the church, who want us to embrace all the failed trajectories of this world.
So, 2023 is here! Let us not sing the song of the cultural sirens of this world, but let us sing the greater song of heaven! God alone controls the future of our lives and of our country. Pray that He will send revival and renewal. Pray that hearts will be repentant and receptive. 2023 just might be the “turning” year where God surprises our fears with his greater hope.
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