Reset Faith: Empty

Grounded God,
you emptied yourself,
taking the form of a slave
and humbling yourself even unto death.
Empty us of our pride,
strip us of our self-importance,
and recall us to our limits.
Reconcile our circles of concern
with our circles of influence,
that we may stop loudly panicking
and start quietly working
towards your new creation
of reconciliation, justice and peace.
For we cannot solve everything:
but you resolve all things;
and it is not in grand gestures
but in humble service
that you are made known.
In the name of Christ, we pray:
Amen.

If 2020 taught us anything, it is that we are not in control. Fires burn; viruses spread; demagogues parade their power. And while there are things we can do to mitigate these effects, we cannot control the outcomes or the effects on our lives. Some of us spent 2020 glued to our phones, constantly updating newsfeeds and analysing statistics; others of us chose bigger screens, bingewatching endless series on Netflix; most of us did a bit of both.

We were caught between two lies. First, that we are masters of our own destiny and should be able to do something, fix something, change something radically and quickly through our own efforts. We receive constant messaging that we must be amazing and effective: but the world is so big, and events so overwhelming, that bringing about real change feels impossible. So we scroll through newsfeeds and worry ourselves sick, but end up doing nothing. The second lie is that we have no real power and we may as well give up. So we escape by scrolling through different screens, and again we end up doing nothing.

The truth sits between these lies; and the truth is that, through Christ, God has already brought about healing and reconciliation, and we are already living in a new creation. We don’t have to bring it about ourselves. We just need to participate in what God has already done and continues to do through Christ. And as people made new in Christ, we are Christ’s ambassadors; we are empowered to proclaim the good news that God has reconciled all things to Godself.

As long as we try to fix things or bring about change through our own efforts, we will be exhausted. As long as we think things are our responsibility, we will be constantly sucking in information we cannot use, or avoiding our responsibility on Netflix; fatigue and depression are inevitable. But when we give up the illusion that we have the power to change things, and when we instead invite God to take over and guide our lives, then everything changes. We may find ourselves heading in unexpected directions; we may find ourselves doing things we never anticipated: but, if God is in charge, we will certainly discover that our powers are more than equal to our tasks. Even better, we will be relieved of the sense of either overwhelming responsibility or hopeless passivity: because our confidence is in Christ alone.

The first step towards letting God set the agenda is relinquishing the illusion of control, and this means rejecting the urgent need to be across everything. If God’s in control, we don’t need to know everything, and we certainly don’t need to know everything about events which are well outside our circle of influence. For example, Trump’s behaviour after the US election has been gripping. But ultimately, he’s nothing more than a clanging gong clamouring for attention, diverting our time and energy from the small good work of the kingdom unfolding around us.

What, then, would it be like to turn off the news and entertainment industry? To say, I know nothing about what is happening in a foreign election or an international argument over tariffs and trade; nor can I tell you the plot of every Marvel movie: but I have sat in the quiet and prayed. And as I asked God to set my priorities, I saw the family down the street who could use some soup; and the acre of community greenspace which needs rehabilitation and a garden; and the face of a local MP who is undecided on an issue which is important to our church—and in freedom I decided to act.

In this spirit, I invite you to take a weekly tech Sabbath: to turn off all devices and sit in the quiet with me, and wonder: What do I need to let go of? What are God’s priorities? What is God calling me to now? And as you wonder, be open to new possibilities and to the current of freedom and joy: for these are the hallmarks of the Holy Spirit.

Peace,
Alison

This piece first appeared in the tearfund Reset Faith series for Lent 2021. It includes a prayer, a reflection, and a spiritual practice. Find the full series here. Emailed to Sanctuary on 24 March 2021 © Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Milada Vigerova on Unsplash.

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