Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Crisis Management is Evangelism

Over the course of the last few weeks we have discussed at some length different approaches to Evangelism and our need to really make an effort in this regard. Today we will discuss crisis management (from a spiritual point of view) and how this, perhaps surprisingly, can be an opportunity for Evangelism.

Given: St. Seraphim of Sarov was correct when he said “acquire the spiritual of peace and 1000 around you will be saved.”

Given: Into each person’s life the Lord sends the blessing of a crisis from time to time.

Why call a crisis a blessing?! That just doesn’t make sense to most folks. Crises are BAD. Well - that is one way to think about crises. That is the wrong way, but that is a way we can think. When we say wrong there is good reason for that: a crisis is a reality of life. Most people are only blessed to experience a true crisis a few times in a lifetime. There are those rare people who seem to have a crisis a few times per week, but that is the exception and probably belies other underlying spiritual issues that need to be worked on. That is a topic for another posting. But the main point here is: a crisis is an opportunity. Most of the time we are pretty static with our spiritual lives. We make a bit of an effort and we don’t really regress too much. Sometimes we take a step or two forward. Sometimes a step or two back. But by and large we don’t have much spiritual movement, for lack of a better word. However, in the case of a crisis we have a great opportunity in that we are more spiritually “pliable” then we are at other times. This means we can move closer to God if we choose to, or move further from God if we do not take advantage of the blessed crisis we have been gifted.

There is no reason to seek out crises. And I would argue that doing so is sort of trying to put our will above God’s will. He sees what we need and He knows when to send to us what we need. When we are ready in God’s eyes He allows us to struggle. And if that struggle is on the level of a crisis (what a crisis is varies from person to person of course) we are sort of freed from our static spiritual state and can move closer to God by working with Him during the crisis. A crisis gives us the opportunity to trust God more, to love God more, to more positively affirm that God knows better than we do what is best for our salvation and the salvation of everyone around us. We don’t deny those things outside of a crisis, but we honestly don’t think about them very much either. During a crisis we are faced with a choice - the choice of Job. Curse God and die (spiritually at least), or trust in God’s providence and love for us. If we chose to trust God and to persevere with His help then we will draw nearer to Him. When we complete the crisis we will find ourselves with a stronger faith. Thus we see that every crisis gives us a much needed opportunity: to free us from the fetters of our static spiritual life and potentially move closer to God. That is, if we choose to do that. If we do not embrace the crisis and work closely with God to strengthen our faith, hope, and love in Him, then we will regress. Let us welcome the crises the Lord sends us as opportunities for spiritual growth!

But that isn’t Evangelism is it? If we just grow spiritually in the corner how do help spread the Gospel? The world is replete with crises. Some authentic. Many contrived. Mankind suffers from these crises - seemingly continually moving further from God. There seems to be no exit! The crises keep coming, trumpeted “helpfully” by our mass media, keeping us in a constant state of crisis management. But that kind of crisis management is not management at all - it is rather the kind of crisis management that just makes us lose hope. Is it a grand conspiracy? Who knows? And for that matter, since we can’t really do anything about that, who cares? What we can do is be a good example to the many who are suffering from this tidal wave of crises.

We often discuss how to help families with rambunctious kids participate in worship without driving others out of the temple. But if we really prayed we wouldn’t even notice the kids. That is not to say that the problem doesn’t need to be managed - of course it does. But if we REALLY prayed, we would not be distracted by anything. We all hope to attain to that sort of prayer some day. And the same is true of our continuous societal crises: if we REALLY lived an Orthodox life we wouldn’t even notice these things. We would be focused on Matthew 25, on the Beatitudes, on the Divine Services and all that is offered there for our salvation, and other pious Christian pursuits. But even IF we could live such a life, perhaps the Lord allows us not to attain to such heights so that we can engage our neighbors in their time of crisis and not seem aloof to their suffering. And offer the hope that only comes from a life lived closely to the Lord. To be an example of one who lives in the world but is not consumed by the world. To engage the world where we find it and raise it just a little bit towards the Heavenly Kingdom by our example of peacefulness in the face of the latest crisis the world offers to us to distract us from what is most needful - the pursuit of our salvation.

Is there a grand scheme to distract us from our spiritual lives? Maybe yes and maybe no. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we NOT take the bait. That we not fall into crisis after crisis. That we strive to draw near to the Lord during a true crisis AND outside a time of crisis. That we endeavor to acquire that spirit of peace that St. Seraphim spoke of. Grand scheme or not - this is the path that we must follow. And if we do that - if we make a sincere and honest effort to come closer to God when He blesses that - we will be conducting Evanglism. The world seeks the Lord. The world seeks the peace that only God can grant. The world is in pain. The cure can only be found in the Spiritual Hospital - the Holy Church. We can choose to share that cure through our good example, or we can choose to not share that cure through our poor example. We can be evangelists. Or not. Let us choose to be evangelists! Let us decide now - while we are NOT in a crisis - that the next crisis will find us ready, willing, and able take full advantage of that opportunity to grow closer to God. And when we grow closer to God our friends, neighbors, and loved ones see that. They feel that. They perceive our peace. And they want it. And when that is the case, we can begin to bring them to God’s House. “How do you have such peace in the face of this crisis?” “The Lord helps me - come with me to church this Sunday, or the next, or sometime soon to learn how you can have such peace too.”

Fr. Gregory

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