If you could fix one thing that is wrong about our world, what would it be? I recently asked groups of middle-schoolers this question, and here are a few of their answers:
“Violence in schools” “Climate change” “Terrorism” “World hunger” “Deforestation” “Communism” “Nuclear Armageddon”
I’m not sure what I was worried about in middle school, but I don’t think it was all of this!
Young people these days are very knowledgeable, very aware of what it is happening in our world, and we have certainly given them a lot to worry about, haven’t we? But I wonder whether we are also giving them enough corresponding hope? As Christians we are called on to always be ready to defend the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). And our children and our world need reason to hope, don’t they?
So, what is our hope? Our hope is in God. Our refuge and strength. Our rock. The One who is, and who was, and who is to come. Our hope is in the One who “determines the number of the stars,” (Psalm 147), and who has counted the hairs of our head (Luke 12:). Our hope is not in us, but in the Almighty. Try as we might, we cannot save this world. But God promises to do just that.
Scripture is filled with reminders of this. Psalm 2, for example, describes this well. It a psalm that begins by asking, “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?” As it goes on to say, “He who sits in the heavens laugh; the Lord has them in derision.” The psalm goes on to warn the rulers of the earth to the “serve the Lord with fear.” Yes! Because – as I have often reminded young people – when we are afraid of the Lord, we do not need to be afraid of anything else! Which is why this psalm ends with the words, “Happy are all who take refuge in him.”
If we are going to be afraid, in other words, let’s be afraid of the right things. Let’s be afraid of the God who created us and all that exists, who loves us, and who rules our world. This “fear of the Lord” is not just the beginning of wisdom, as Scripture teaches us; it can also be the source of our hope. And I am concerned that the generation following me will despair if it is not reminded of this truth.
A favorite Christian author of mine, Henri Nouwen, once wrote these wise words:
“One of the least helpful ways to stop worrying is to try hard not to think about the things we are worrying about. We cannot push away our worries with our minds … If you want to worry, worry about that which is worth the effort. Worry about larger things than your family, your friends, or tomorrow’s meeting. Worry about the things of God: truth, life, and light! As soon, however, as we set our hearts on these things our minds stop spinning because we enter into communion with the One who is present to us here and now and is there to give us what we most need. And so worrying becomes prayer.” (Here and Now. Crossroad. 2016)
I think it is very important to teach our children to worry about the right things, the things of God: truth, life, and light. To focus our attention on God. To make the stressful news in our world the footnote to the headline news that God not only loves this world but is in charge of this world. We need to teach our children not only to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” but to believe that it is coming, as Martin Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism, “on its own without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us.”
I am thankful, very thankful, that there is a generation following me that cares deeply for this world, and is eager to make it a better place. It saddens me that we have given them so much to worry about, but it certainly encourages me that they are eager to get to work.
But I also believe that this next generation, along with all generations, will inevitably despair if they believe they are on their own in this work. So let’s make sure that we are teaching those who follow us to trust in the Lord. To believe that God is in charge of this world, and cares about this world. Let’s teach them to worry about the right things, the things of God. Let’s teach them what Jesus taught us, to “consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Luke 12:31) Let’s teach them to “strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31) Let’s teach them to trust in these words, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) And then, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work with them in making this world a better place!