Have you found your faith easier to maintain when things are going well? I think most of us have. Tough times test us and our faith.
The Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday have much to say about taking courage and maintaining hope. Ordinary conditions, compared to what God would have us experience, are the dark times which befall every age. The Babylonian Captivity following the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. was one of those darker times experienced by God’s people. In 538 B.C., Cyrus, the king of Persia (modern day Iran) decreed the Jews could return; shortly thereafter work began on restoring the Temple. The Samaritans and surrounding neighbors opposed this project. In 522 B.C. when Darius became king of Persia he supported rebuilding of the Temple. Thus, the prophet Haggai enters the scene and, speaking for the Lord, encourages Zerubbabel (the governor of Judah), and Joshua (the high priest), and the remnant of the people to take courage, to work for God is with them, and not to fear.
In 2 Thessalonians 2, believers are encouraged “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit [prophecy] or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here” (Vs. 2; NRSV). That day will not come apart from rebellion and revelation of the lawless one who opposes God and sets himself up above God, declaring himself to be God. The believers are to understand they have been chosen as “first-fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth;” they have been called such that they “may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Vss. 13-14; NRSV). Given these things, they are to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions” they were taught (Vs. 15; NRSV). Again, God’s people are to take courage, they are not to fear.
We need to remember “not to be quickly shaken or alarmed.” Yes, I think most would agree that things are bad, but we need to remember they are also getting better. We need to take courage, to work hard, and not to fear. One of my congregants recently suggested I read Hans Rosling’s book, “Factfulness” (available at the Brookings Pubic Library). Rosling reminds us the media focuses on the negative; we need to look more deeply into the facts. Rosling shares many encouraging facts, urges us to look for information from a broader context, and warns us of many hazards associated with our everyday consumption of the news.
Several months ago I researched achievements which stemmed from the UN Millennium Development Goals (https://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml). Some astounding accomplishments have occurred. We still have a long way to go to achieve the vision of God’s kingdom, but progress is being made. Let us stand fast, take courage, work hard, and maintain hope. Let us sing with the psalmist, “I will exalt you, O God my King, and bless your Name for ever and ever” (Psalm 145.1).