Discerning the times is a difficult task when one is living in the midst of them. It can be like driving in a big city without a map to orient yourself to your surroundings. Likewise, when we stand in the middle of history as it is happening, we don’t have access to the map which tells us how our present moment fits into the big-picture. Since our present moment is a complicated mess of events it can quickly become disorienting, much like the maze of skyscrapers in the big city. We find ourselves asking questions like: What will our country look like in five years? Is severe persecution in the future for the church in the West? Will our freedoms be stripped in the name of progress?
As Christians, we do well to pay attention to cultural shifts, government policies, and world events. Christians are witnesses to truth and freedom so closing our eyes and sticking our heads in the sand is not an option. With that being said, we need to know what our priorities are. In our present moment, filled with COVID controversies and political posturing, what is our top priority? How do we navigate ourselves through the labyrinth of opinions, theories, predictions?
We may not have a history map which gives us such answers, but we have the Word of God which clearly outlines the task at hand.
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, so that I may make it known as I should. Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.Colossians 4:206
In this passage, the Apostle Paul gives a few final instructions to the Colossian church. He mentions three activities of top priority for the Colossians, and for any Christian – prayer, right living, and right speech. All three activities are connected by the gospel and flow from a true knowledge of the gospel. The gospel is, as Paul explains earlier in his letter, the inheritance of eternal life, rescue from the domain of darkness, life in the kingdom of God, and forgiveness of sins. Because the gospel is true and has bearing on our life, we live a certain way – we don’t just follow the meanderings of culture.
Paul calls us to persistent prayer with a view to the expansion of the kingdom of God. Prayer moves into action as Paul urges Christians to be wise in how they act towards unbelievers. The task of the Christian in the world, as is true of the Church as well, is to be witness to the reality of the kingdom of God and the rule of Christ who will makes all things new when he returns in glory. Knowing this, the Christian must make it his or her top priority to make this reality, this good news, known to others. Love compels them to act as citizens of God’s kingdom so that those outside the kingdom might also know the reality of it. These actions then lead to speaking the truth to outsiders. Gracious and winsome speech reflects the truth of the kingdom and is directed towards the conversion of the outsider.
There is something very ordinary about these three activities. Prayer is speaking to God and acting accordingly. This leads to acting and speaking to unbelievers with the aim and showing and telling them about the God who has transformed our own life. These are the basics of the Christian life and they do not change even as our circumstances change. Coronavirus or no coronavirus. Protests and riots, or general peace. Shifting cultural norms or status quo. All times and events are ordained by the Lord so that we might seek him.
When we lean into these three activities which are highlighted by Paul, we are doing the will of God. They are top priority for the Christian and only when we are rightly oriented in them can we begin to attempt to discern the times. If you find yourself uncertain about which news source to trust, or overwhelmed by the political issues of the day, find your footing in the basics of the Christian life and know that your task is to make Christ known. So how are you going to do that in our present moment?