Have you ever thought about how often we slide into things we disapprove of? We judge people for being judgemental; we avoid people we see as standoffish; we will talk to a friend about someone who is a gossip . . . all without realizing we are doing the same thing. Jesus was telling the truth when he said that focusing on the sins of others makes us blind to our own (Matthew 7:3–5).
Emotions spread too.
A particularly virulent one is fear. In some ways this is a healthy preservation instinct where the group is alerted to danger by any one of its members. Whether its life-and-death or small anxieties, we pick them up. If a mother calls her child’s name with fear in her voice, every other mother on the playground looks up.
But fear has many negative impacts on a group.
I am currently reading Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What by Peter Steinke. He points out that fear tends to freeze us; it creates such a tight focus that we have difficulty hearing others without distortion. Fear makes it hard to consider alternatives and makes us rigid in our positions.
What encourages me is that Steinke says that if we can recognize and manage our own anxiety, we can break the cycle. We can be a gracious, thoughtful “non-anxious presence” that creates an atmosphere where problem solving can happen.
Over the last several months, God has been calling many of you to pray.
World events now give us even more reason to do so. I know this is a hard time for those of you who are deeply compassionate and for those who are called as intercessors. But this movement to prayer may indicate that God is preparing something really great!
The prophet Habakkuk felt these things deeply. He cried out to God, “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?” (Hab. 1:2–4)
Guess what God’s answer was. “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” Now we need to remember that God told him upfront that the answer might not be instant: “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Hab. 1:5, 2:3b).
We can pray in faith because God is amazing. His power is not diminished. God is doing something in our day.
(Steinke. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. I refer especially to pages 8, 36, 41.)