God calls us to focus on what He has placed in front of us in our personal lives, families, and the church. If we are not neglecting these, and we have time left over, we are called to care about the needs of the community. However, we should never reverse the order. As Paul told the Galatians, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all–especially to those of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). The Apostle Paul charged the members of the church in Galatia to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), not to “bear the burdens of the entire world.” We must resist the temptation to carry burdens we were never meant to carry. If we fail to settle into the callings to which God has called us, we will find that we are merely “burdening ourselves to death.”
I have several friends in ministry who recently unplugged from social media. When a particular flashbulb, social media incident precipitated angst and outrage on “Christian twitter,” my friends remained calm and steady. When I asked if they had heard about such and such an occurrence, they nonchalantly shrugged it off. I was envious of the freedom they were evidently experiencing. They were not carrying burdens they did not need to carry. They were proving something I have thought about for years. If Neil Postman was right when he warned that we are “amusing ourselves to death,” I am concerned that we are “burdening ourselves to death.” We are carrying burdens that we were never meant to bear.
Since the advent of the internet, globalized news has become a localized phenomenon. Information about some event or tragedy that happened on the other side of the world becomes our news. What would have taken several months to reach a certain part of the world now takes seconds. We are more informed than ever, and simultaneously more stressed out and outraged than ever. The sensory overload of the world streaming into our brains has an impact on how we process what is in front of us. I have heard of pastors and congregants in otherwise solid churches having nervous breakdowns this past year, on account of an inability to handle the stress of what they read online.
If a particular event wasn’t a burden we were meant to carry, our response will be one of the following: a) We can simply ignore it, b) we can endlessly lecture everyone else about what went wrong and why it went wrong, c) we can seek to advance a supposed solution to something that may not be directly pertinent to our context and calling, or or d) we could be feeling so utterly overwhelmed and discouraged by the combination of things that are and aren’t our concern, that it leads to inaction in both areas and crushing guilt. While the first response may be most fitting, indifference will be met with condemnation by those who choose to respond in the latter two ways. The problem with the second response is that it results in virtue signaling. All of us feel better about ourselves when we have pontificated on a particular matter, even when we know it is not without the power of our hands to do anything about it. The third response places a burden on those around us to give the better part of their time and energy to something that is not within the immediate sphere of their context and calling. The fourth response is where most people find themselves at present–unnecessarily demoralized and defeated. So how can we navigate life in this information and reaction overload world?
1. Abide in the Word. A friend of mine recently said, “I wish there were a book that could help us navigate these treacherous times. Oh wait, there is. . .the Proverbs.” Christians are called to keep their minds focused on the revelation of God in Scripture. As the Apostle Paul taught, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). This means that believers should be filling their minds with God’s word throughout the day. We need to be reading and meditating on the word of God. As we do so, we will be better equipped to rightly respond to whatever is streaming through the internet. Robert Murray McCheyne once famously said, “For every look at self–take ten looks at Christ.” In the same way, we can say, “For every one look at media, take ten looks to Scripture.” As we do, we will find that we will be equipped to better navigate whatever streams in front of us. We will know if, when, or how to respond to a national or global matter. Most importantly, we will keep the gospel central to our response.