America has begun what will likely be a decade’s long competition for international supremacy with China—a competition some western analysts do not see America winning. Relations with Russia are more tense than they have been since the end of the Cold War. Iran has just elected a hardline president who is already subject to U.S. penalties for human rights abuses. Hopes for a renewed nuclear deal are fading.
At home, the U.S. faces new economic pressures. While a post-Covid jump in inflation was anticipated, it has leaped higher than experts expected, with a 5 percent consumer price increase in May. The increase in used cars and trucks hit a shocking 7.3 percent over the same period. Food prices have risen more than they have for more than a decade.
Add to all that a deeply divided Congress and the deeply divided country it represents. If the House swings to the right in the mid-term election, one can expect a legislative stalemate in Washington. Congress has had difficulty getting anything done even when one side controls both the executive and legislative branches, as it does now.
It is a stressful time in America, which means it is a good time for a spiritual awakening—a fresh and (sometimes collective) awareness of the reality of the spiritual world. People do not wake up to new possibilities when they are comfortable but when they are shaken. America is being shaken.
What is collectively true is also individually true. Spiritual awakenings come to people, not just churches and communities. In fact, they start with individuals and spread outward from there. And they usually start during times of discontent and discomfort.
Dissatisfied people look for alternatives. Happy people do not. People who like the show don’t change the channel. It’s the people who dislike the actor and are bored by the plot who look for something better.
Likewise, it is not the happy person but the unhappy one who is open to change. I’ve met many people who turned in God’s direction because they were uncomfortable. For some, it was because of illness, for others it was relational conflict, and for a few it was because even success proved unsatisfying. But I’ve yet to meet anyone who awakened spiritually because they were comfortable.
People have told me that life is so painful and unfair, there cannot be a God. But no one has ever said to me: “Life is so easy and painless, there must be a God.” Life’s hardships, not its comforts, turn people from God; and life’s hardships turn people to him.
Even people who have turned to God, who attend worship services regularly, pray, and support the church financially, find it difficult to trust God when hard times come. The ironic thing is: they find it even harder to trust God when everything is going well. When things are going well, few people feel the need to trust.
Difficulty and uncertainty are precisely what faith needs to grow. I recently spoke to someone whose life has been especially difficult for the past few months. There have been health issues, employment issues, and financial uncertainty. He is finding it exceedingly difficult to entrust himself and his situation to God.
I wanted to tell him: “If you won’t trust God now, when things are hard, you certainly won’t trust him later, when things are easy.” When things are easy, he’ll be thinking about projects and promotions, home improvements, and a better vehicle. That is the way we operate. It’s now or never.
This has been the consistent testimony of people of faith throughout the ages. It has certainly been my story. I came to faith around the time my brother died. Over the years, uncertainty and hardship have caused me to seek God, not abandon him. Faith has sent its roots deep during times of privation, not times of plenty.
No one likes it, but we need times of strain and toil. Those who learn to trust during the bad times are able to trust during better times. They may be the only ones.