This week the blog is sponsored by Multnomah Books and is adapted from Collin Hansen and Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s new book Gospelbound: Living with Resolute Hope in an Anxious Age.
Recently, a man approached me (Collin) at church. He was worried about the times we live in, and I couldn’t blame him. There’s a lot to worry about—a global pandemic, the economy, racial tension, political polarization, and an increasingly secular culture.
But it’s not like this is the first time in history Christians have had a lot to worry about. Over the centuries, Christians have faced jail, beatings, and murder. They’ve been kicked out of communities and burned at the stake. To be honest, things have often been far worse. So why do we feel so anxious now?
Here’s what I told the man at my church: You feel anxious because someone—an industry, actually—is working hard to make you feel that way.
Studies show that journalists attend religious services significantly less than the general American population does. That lack of exposure to and understanding of Christianity—and all other faiths—affects media coverage of events. Increasingly, evangelical is portrayed as a synonym for white conservative Republican, even though a third of Protestants are people of color and even though religious people do a lot more than vote.
On top of that, the news industry has a strong incentive to focus on things that make everyone feel anxious. Negative magazine covers sell more copies. Negative television stories cause attention to spike. (People’s reactions to positive news stories are about the same as when they’re looking at a blank gray screen, researchers found.) Even people who say they want positive news are more likely to click on negative headlines.
Of course, the negative slant isn’t new, and it isn’t even too distressing, as long as we can keep it in perspective. Back when people would read the newspaper with breakfast, or would watch the cable news after dinner, it wasn’t difficult to do that. When most waking hours were spent absorbed in daily tasks—watching children, balancing budgets, filling orders—it was easier to feel like you had some control over things. Your dose of national negativity was balanced out by playing with a child or watching a sunset or meeting a sales goal at work. And even if you didn’t believe in God, a relatively strong cultural Christianity helped societal expectations feel more stable.
But today, we read negative news—often delivered via a social media algorithm—every time we pull out our phones. Our minds are catechized all day long to believe our world is a dark and scary place—a place without a God who loves us.
The two of us are trained as journalists. Back in 2016, we took a gamble. Collin asked me (Sarah) to write news that wasn’t being reported anywhere else—stories of Christians caring for the weak, loving their enemies, and suffering with joy. He wanted me to look for places where the Spirit of God was working in a big way and then write it down.
“Obviously, I’m not going to do that,” I told him. “That’s not real news. That’s more like puffy public relations pieces on Christians.”
“It won’t be like that,” Collin told me. “We won’t do puff pieces. We’ll tell the uncomfortable parts too. We’ll be honest when it seems like God isn’t showing up. We’ll be truthful about the suffering as well as the joy.”
I figured we could give it a shot. Neither of us was sure anybody would read our stories anyway—we know negative news gets the clicks. And we weren’t sure how much activity we’d even find. Was anybody actually living like this? Would we run out of stories in a few months?
It’s been five years, and we have heard more stories of Christians living sacrificial, gospel-centered, kingdom-advancing, God-glorifying lives than we can publish. These stories aren’t puffy—they’re hard. They’re gritty and real. But they also won’t make you anxious or afraid. They’ll inspire you with possibilities, spur you to worship the God who leads and provides and surprises. They’ll encourage you to see fresh opportunities as your faith in God grows.
We believe this because they’ve done this for us.
Are negative things happening in our broken world? Every day. But is God working things for good? Are there really people following him so faithfully that they give up their suburban comfort to love low-income neighbors? Or that they obey God’s Word instead of following the world’s path to sexual fulfillment? Does anyone still take these words of Jesus seriously: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and who-ever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39)?
Absolutely. We’ve seen them. We’ve talked with them. And we’ve learned from them. We’d love to share them with you, which is why we wrote Gospelbound: Living with Resolute Hope in an Anxious Age.
But even if you don’t get a chance to pick up the book, we’d like to share two ways we’ve seen gospel-centered Christians steer clear of anxiety: First, think big. When you feel anxious, remember that our world is held by a God who is sovereign even over the sparrows, who has already saved you, and who is preparing a place for you in eternity.
And then think small, like your grandparents who laid down the newspaper and turned off the TV. Dig into your real life—help a neighbor move some boxes. Volunteer at a local crisis pregnancy center. Drop off donations at a food pantry. Walk with a friend who doesn’t yet know Jesus. Invite someone over for dinner. Help a colleague at work. Craft your next email to be both kind and clear. Prepare well for your next meeting. Pray for your spouse, your church, your government.
Not only will this soothe your own soul, but your peace and hope will set you apart in a stressed-out culture. Along with your words, your life will point people right to the One who tells us not to be anxious about anything, but with thanksgiving, to ask him for what we need (Phil. 4:6).
Gospelbound by Collin Hansen and Sarah Eekhoff Zlystra is a profound exploration of how to hold on to hope when our unchanging faith collides with a changing culture. Multnomah has a special buy one get one offer for the book going on right now.