Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If” opens with the line:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs …

and closes with the encouragement:

… you’ll be a Man my son.

Whatever you may think of the poem’s merits (as either poetry or philosophy), the lines above are worth hearing and thinking about as a Christian.

We live in difficult times. The world seems to be unraveling with unparalleled speed. Wars and rumors of wars. Quakes and floods and fires. Economic disasters. Nuclear melt downs. It’s hard to turn on the TV or radio, to open a newspaper or magazine, without coming face-to-face with the latest crisis-to-end-all-crises.

Now, certainly, the media do everything in their power to hype the size and scope of every troubling event and whip their audiences into hysterical frenzies. (They do this, of course, because crises and catastrophes, quarrels and conflicts, boost ratings and sell advertising.) However, even the most cynical consumer of the media must confess that there is an abundance of disturbing events just now for reporters and talk-show hosts to get hysterical about. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for “slow news days.”

My sense is that this sustained barrage of tragedy, trouble, and tension is having a profound effect on our culture. We are losing confidence in our leaders and institutions. We are growing more pessimistic about the future. We are afraid and anxious and fretful. Increasingly, we are living in anticipation of the next shoe dropping.

Call it mass despair … or a descent into hopelessness … or anxiety overdose. The symptoms are growing irritability, a quickness to complain and criticize, pervasive cynicism, Chicken-Little-syndrome (“The sky is falling!”), and barely suppressed rage. Difficult times tend to give people permission to behave in difficult ways. As a result—more and more—people are “losing their heads.”

What’s a Christian to do in times like these?

It is tempting for us to join the hand-wringing, to weep and wail like those “who have no hope.” We are just as capable of “losing our heads” as the rest of humanity—if we fail to filter bad news through the lens of faith.

It seems to me, however, that difficult times are an opportunity for people of faith to shine. Others may despair because they focus on circumstances and situations. But as Christians, we focus on a God who loves the world, who has made promises about its fate, and who “guides the affairs of men.” We worship a God who is our “strength” and our “fortress.” We take great comfort in a God who walks with us through the “valley of the shadow of death” and who protects us in the storm.

Surely faith ought to make a difference in difficult times. Here are a few things that we, as people of faith, can do to “keep our heads”:

  1. Remember the promises of God. Search out, meditate on, and memorize Scriptures that speak of God’s love and care for us, his awareness of our circumstances, and his faithfulness in times of trouble.
  2. Refuse to give in to anxiety and panic. Adding our voices to the chorus of wailing only makes things worse. A calm, trusting response to bad news is our best way of witnessing to the power and worth of faith.
  3. Make sure your “treasures” are in heaven (Mt 6:19-21). As people of faith, our hearts are set on things that moth and rust cannot ruin, that even terrorism or nuclear disaster cannot destroy.
  4. Focus less on what has happened and more on what you can make happen. You can bemoan an earthquake or you can send help—which is more productive? You can rail against corrupt government or you can write an encouraging letter to your congressman—which will do more good? You can complain about the economy or you can find ways to help a friend who has lost his job—which demonstrates a Christ-like spirit?

As God’s people, these difficult times present us with a unique opportunity to swim against the tides of our culture. They give us a chance to “keep our heads” and show ourselves to be Christians in more than name alone.

[Published in LookOut Magazine, May 2011.]