Climate change has literally become a hot topic in our world, as we increasingly experience effects that range from inconvenient to catastrophic.
Organizations also have a climate, and churches are no exception. These climates can be positive or negative, energetic or apathetic, joyful or apprehensive. One constant about any climate is that it’s always changing.
In musing about what makes a church climate shift from very “up” to decidedly “down,” one study concludes that “It’s hard to know exactly what causes the flames of joy to shrink into dull embers, but it happens all the time. A series of setbacks, a few bad moods, some misunderstood comments, a critical attitude – any number of catalysts can steal joy from a congregation and cause its upward and outward focus to turn inward. Before long, the fellowship has gone through an entire climate change . . .” (A Walk Through the Book of Philippians, Baker Books, p. 42).
The Apostle Paul’s response to this kind of climate change is found in Philippians, chapters 3 and 4. Paul directs our attention to a type of eye test. As we look through our individual lenses, what is our focus? If our focus is on the wrong thing, the picture isn’t clear, and far from pretty. When Paul says “Their mind is on earthly things,” (3:19) this is a reflection of their focus, and the people he’s talking about are the enemies of Christ.
When we focus on the world’s version of joy, we’re thinking in terms of things like wealth, status, beauty, power, peace and harmony, stress-free relationships, and pleasurable activities. These are not in and of themselves wrong, but relying on them for our joy is.
If we want real and enduring joy, Paul says, we can’t be dual citizens. We either belong to the world, or we belong to the kingdom of heaven. If we try to keep a foot in each, we’ll be constantly torn and eventually fall apart.
If we belong to God’s kingdom, we’ll be aware first that we’re just visiting here; second, that this not only isn’t all there is, but it can’t begin to compare with what we will inherit; and third, that our allegiance belongs only to God.
Knowing our true citizenship strengthens us for our visit here because it gives us hope regardless of circumstances. God’s strength is constantly and readily available to us. Making Him lord literally takes the weight of the world off our shoulders. Knowing that we belong to God gives us the assurance that we are truly loved and accepted by the One that far surpasses all others.
Phil 4:4-9 are some of the most uplifting verses in all of Scripture. They’re also some of the most challenging. They’re meant for the times we’re most discouraged, most angry, most devastated by grief – just the times they seem most impossible to follow. In fact, they’re not possible unless we depend on God and His grace. That means a conscious choice to let go of our natural responses and hold on like mad to God’s promise of supernatural work in us.
We have to choose to check our thoughts as thoroughly as we would look for lice on a child’s head. Unchecked, lousy thoughts multiply quickly and cause us plenty of grief; they also jump from one person to another. If we’re not picking out and squashing our negative, unhelpful, ugly thoughts, then we’ll soon be infested.
We’ll have to go farther than that, though, because our minds don’t exist in a vacuum. When we pull out a negative thought, we need to consciously replace it with a positive one. This may mean sitting down and writing out a list of the good things God has given us and reviewing it often. If we find our church climate has cooled off considerably, we can focus on what we can still be grateful for, and how we can play our part in positive climate change.
Here’s my list:
Don’t wait for joy to break out – crack it open yourself.
Plant seeds of joy through acts of kindness, caring for and sharing with others, encouraging and affirming others.
Cultivate joy by following through when others struggle, and with willing service.
Focus on God’s provision and goodness, giving glory to Him.
Guard against negative, critical attitudes and words, and the poison of self pity. When others exhibit these, pray for God’s responses.
Is this easy? Hardly. Do I always do it? Definitely not. Do I want to do better? Yes, yes, yes, God being my helper. Climate change has to start with me.