Keeping Calm in a Culture of Panic

calmThe good thing about constant news reports and social media is that we get so much exposure to current thoughts and opinions.

The bad thing about constant news reports and social media is that we get so much exposure to current thoughts and opinions.

Sometimes I feel the weight the first sentence more than the second, but I have to admit it’s swung the other way in the past week or two. Recent news reports and social media posts seem to have taken on distinct sense of panic.

If I were to believe some of the things I read, I’d be convinced that the whole country is destined to die from Ebola in a matter of weeks. I’d also be convinced that the U.S. church is about to be subjected to communist-style oppression—because clearly a misguided city government in Texas will inevitably dictate the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution, right? And when the Dow drops more than 300 points in one day—well, Armageddon might as well be upon us.

All of these issues are important to deal with. They are matters of concern. But none of them are matters for panic. Or 24-hour news coverage with helicopters hovering over ambulances or protestors.

Take Ebola, for example. As this article points out, we live in a country in which tens of thousands of people die each year from flu and skin cancer, yet we panic when one person dies and two people are carrying a disease from Africa. “But we don’t know the cure for it!” some might argue. That’s true, but that acute sense of danger rings hollow. Why? Because we do have highly effective ways to prevent skin cancer and the spread of flu, and millions of people don’t use them. So why does one threat provoke panic and much greater threats don’t?

Take the Houston city government’s subpoena of pastors’ sermons, for another example. I’ll admit it’s disturbing. Political speech and social commentary are protected in this country, and we don’t lose that freedom when we go to church or stand in a pulpit. But Houston’s action is not a sign of the direction of the country. It’s a sign that some lawyers and politicians need to go back and take an 8th-grade civics class. Really, a few people’s ignorance does not a trend make.

And then there’s the Dow. Folks, this is just what it does. Could it be the beginning of a great economic crisis? Sure. That’s always a possibility. I know those forecasts are out there, sometimes under the name of someone with pretty impressive credentials. But is it the beginning of another Great Depression or an apocalyptic crash? Um, not likely. The market goes up and down because . . . well, it’s the market. It fluctuates. Sometimes widely.

These issues are problems, but a bigger problem is that we live in a toxic environment that magnifies bad news. News media are like megaphones of terror because even when panic is completely unwarranted, it still gets ratings. So we have become a culture of panickers, over-reactors, overstaters, jump-to-conclusionists, and I’ll-grab-any-scrap-of-evidence-I-can-if-it-helps-me-undermine-the-opposition arguers.

Be the Team Leader

Every sports team has a couple of leaders who stay calm in a crisis. They are steady personalities to whom everyone turns when things get overwhelming. When others might wilt under the pressure, the entire team turns to those people for the calming effect of their focus and resolve.

One of my dreams for the church is that we would perform that role for society—that when everyone else is panicking over the latest crisis, we are visibly and calmly anchored in eternity and, though concerned, not anywhere near a state of panic. But surprisingly, many Christians are the polar opposite of that, regularly posting panicky words about the crisis du jour.

That’s not our calling. We say we want to be Christ-like, but I can’t envision Jesus being in a panic about anything. In fact, when his followers panicked once, he was asleep in the back of the boat. When it was time to get up and deal with the storm, he did. And then he questioned the disciples’ faith.

If we want to be Christ-like, we have to be like that. That means we can’t post fearful worries about the state of the world on our pages, nor can we allow ourselves to be whipped into a frenzy by needless 24-hour coverage of Ebola, ISIS, or anything else.

Again, these are concerns to address, not crises to overwhelm us. There’s a difference.

Here’s the bottom line—several of them, actually:

• Nothing is going to quench God’s truth. No government, no culture, no movement.

• Nothing is going to prevent God’s kingdom from growing. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).

• And, to get a little more personal, nothing is going to put you outside the reach of God’s protection or provision. Ever.

Never forget these things. Do the work of the kingdom, but take a deep breath and do it calmly. While the rest of the world is in a panic, settle down in the back of the boat. The waves in these storms are not nearly as big as God.

Click to tweet: We have become a culture of panickers, over-reactors, overstaters, and jump-to-conclusionists.

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Mary Agrusa 20.10.2014 08:53  
Yes No   Once again, you're right on target.  
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Chris Tiegreen 20.10.2014 17:05  
Yes No   Thanks, Mary. Glad you think so!  
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