Facing Chaos is a series of nine articles about what I have learned over the years about dealing with the chaos, pain, and darkness that at times seems to overtake our lives.
My Mennonite ancestors deeply valued simplicity. While there were eras where some of us Mennonites have lost sight of the purpose behind it, the value of simplicity among Mennonites has historically been to better focus on serving those right in front of us.
One individual my wife respects a great deal is her late grandfather, Victor. I never had a chance to meet him, as he passed just a few weeks before I met Emily. Victor was a pastor and preacher, and he believed strongly in simplicity. I am told that he didn’t even vote, because he believed fervently in serving those right in front of him. Most of us will have witnessed how politics can strain relationships and take up an endless amount of time in people’s lives. So rather than get involved in it, Grandpa Victor decided to spend that time and effort serving his community. He believed the Christian’s role in the world was to be truly present wherever we find ourselves, not distracted by all the outrage that politics leverages, and instead be present and loving with the people who are right in front of us.
Whether or not you vote, I think there is a powerful lesson from Grandpa Victor: focus on what matters, and set aside those things which distract us from doing what really counts as followers of Jesus.
Just as politics takes up room in people’s minds, and social media can become an impulsive obsession, there are times when we would do well to leave these things well enough alone and simply be present in the moment. This isn’t without purpose, however, so we can move from one unhealthy obsession to another. Rather, it is so that we can be a benefit to both ourselves and others. It gives space to become spiritually healthy, and in turn to be a blessing to those around us.
In his excellent book, Reconnect, Ed Cyzewski writes about how having appropriate boundaries around technology can be of a great benefit to our spiritual and mental health, in a similar way to how diet and exercise benefit us physically. Cyzewski writes about how in some ways we have become fragmented through incessant use of technology, and how we need to return to ancient spiritual practices that draw us closer to God to be made whole again.
During one of the greatest trials in my time in ministry, we faced several situations all at once where our ministry was at a crossroads and we feared that we might be unable to recover. Together with our ministry partners, we made a very intentional decision, a decision I believe was the leading of God and was responsible for being able to recover from the challenges we faced. We chose to focus on those things which have sustained the church for thousands of years: prayer, worship, the study of God’s word, and fellowship with one another.
There was no 5-year plan. There was no big-tech solution. We didn’t buy billboard space, or hire a marketing team. We merely committed ourselves to these simple and ancient practices. We reasoned that if God worked through such things to sustain the church during seasons of persecution, so too we believed they would be enough for us. And they were.
In these chaotic times many of us could benefit from more simplicity in our lives. Sometimes we mistakenly believe that if we could only figure out the secret trick to achieving our goals, then we would be happy. Many times, however, the secret to peace and contentment is quite simple. The really strange part about this, however, is how often we respond to this in anger.
In the fifth chapter of 2 Kings, there is a fascinating story about an Aramean soldier named Naaman. He was the commander of his nation’s army, and he suffered from leprosy. When he heard of a prophet in Israel named Elisha, he went to him to seek healing. Elisha told him to simply bathe in the Jordan river seven times to be healed. This answer made Naaman angry, as it seemed too simple to him, so he left the prophet very upset. His travelling companions, however, reasoned with him, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’”
For Naaman, it was that simple. Just go bathe in the nearby river seven times. He eventually obeyed and was in fact healed. How often do we marinate our souls in the chaos of the world and then act surprised when we do not feel at peace? Many times, we could have a far greater measure of peace and contentment than we do. A tremendous amount of problems can be solved by the simple act of regularly spending intentional time with God—praying, reading the Bible, worshipping the Lord, fellowship with other believers, and even simple silence remembering that God is present with you.
Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.”
There is a lot in our world that tempts us to take our eyes off of Jesus. Chaos is sensational, after all. It’s like driving by a car accident on the highway, and being stunned and captivated by a tragic and dramatic scene. Yet just as we must keep our eyes on the road even when passing such events on the highway, we too must keep our eyes on Jesus throughout our lives. There are times where we simply need to let go of some things so that we can better focus on what really matters. Our time on earth is short, and while there is a lot of chaos and complexity in our world, the Good Lord has also made some beautifully simple things to strengthen our souls.