What I Saw in Harvey
I was safe and dry for all of Harvey. I moved into a third story apartment two days before Harvey hit, and was literally moving furniture in the Friday morning that it started. I was well-stocked with food, and spent most of the weekend watching Netflix, waiting for it to be over.
The only pain Harvey caused me was in watching people who were stranded via social media and wishing I could help, but being unable to do so.
I heard many people echo this same sentiment. They were safe and dry and felt bad that they couldn’t help people out of this flood. It’s called survivor’s remorse. They saw people who lost houses and cars, and their hearts ached for those victims.
I saw many different church networks band together to help people. My church organized various shelters within the community and sent out requests for volunteers for clean-up and house gutting. I know lots of churches that did the same. I also saw a lot of non-religious, non-Christian, nice people, performing acts of downright heroism on the news. People were charging into moving water to save others on the verge of drowning. The storm stirred up a variety of emotions. Fear, joy, compassion, stress, anger, sorrow, discouragement, encouragement.
But in the midst of all of this, the emotion that kept coming back around to me more than any other was a surprising one: boredom.
I felt apathetic about the whole thing. I sat around wishing people could see that the things they cared most about, the things that were causing them true burst-into-tears sorrow, the things that they were sorry about were just that: things! I’m not saying It was RIGHT for me to feel bored. I’m not saying boredom was all I felt. I’m definitely not saying that my boredom dominated my actions. I’m just saying it was a surprising emotion I experienced repeatedly throughout the last week and I wondered why. I think I figured out the reason.
I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of bi-weekly church-goers work harder in the last forty-eight hours to help humans recoup their physical losses than they have in the last five years at seriously practicing their faith on a daily basis. They don’t ever mention the gospel to their neighbors, they don’t know even the most basic doctrines of orthodox Christianity, and they don’t pray for anything but 24/7 happiness, but they sit in church at least twice a month, soak up a sermon, give ten bucks in the plate and go on their way thinking they’re a Christian. I’ve seen people extremely blase about their faith, leap into action and it’s mostly over people’s STUFF. So far, only twenty people have been confirmed dead from this “most catastrophic flood in US history” and I weep for those twenty if they did not know the gospel… but more people than that die in Houston on a daily basis just by being humans under the curse of sin.
So here’s my question:
What happens to the work of the church in the other 50 weeks out of the year? When these two weeks are over and life goes back to normal for 90% of Houston, will your work as the church body continue or halt?
Here’s the thing, Houston is an amazing place with very kind-hearted people. Southern hospitality comes through even in a hurricane and seeing the city “band together” to “get through this” is heart-warming at first, but depressing in the long run… because it’s those same Houstonians who will do whatever is necessary to cheer-up their neighbor, wade through waist-deep water to get their neighbor out of a house that has flooded, even spend time and money volunteering at the recovery shelters to make sure flood victim neighbors get towels, dry clothes, and food while they wait out the storm, but never once bring up the fact that, for all they know, those neighbors are going to hell! How exactly do you love your neighbor? Helping them through a hurricane is a great way, but it shouldn’t be the first or only way.
A Quick Excursus on Prayer and Good Deeds
I’ve seen more than one post along these lines, and I’m sure you have too: “Safe and dry, but without power. God is still good! Praying for those less fortunate than us!” It reminds me of something my mom has brought up a few times and I’ve thought for a while: Why are all of our prayers about physical safety? When we pray at small groups and church meetings, the type of prayer that dominates is for someone in the hospital and for someone else who has the flu. I’m not saying don’t pray for sick people (James 5 specifically says to do so) but if that’s all you pray for on a regular basis, then prayer isn’t working for you. Let me explain.
Prayer is supposed to change the pray-er. Prayer doesn’t change God’s mind or change what God is going to do, it changes you! It should steadily conform your will to God’s. But guess what, God’s main concern isn’t that you’ll be happy and healthy or that you would not get the flu, or even that you would have a house at the end of Harvey; His main concern is that you’ll be holy and resurrected to eternal life on the day of judgment. It’s kinda a big deal to him that you obey his commandments (Matt 28:20; John 14:15, 21, 23; 1 John 2:3; 5:3; Eph 2:10; Rev 14:12…) and that you believe in his son (whom he sent to die for you) (Gen 15:6; John 3:16; 6:35; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9-10; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-10; Hebrews 11; James 2).
SO, if your prayer is working, it should make you care about what God cares about, more than what you care about… and if all you’re praying for is happiness and comfort, then your prayer isn’t working, because that’s not what God cares about (…or at least, that’s definitely not at the top of his priority list).
Harvey’s effects will only last a few weeks for most people, a few months for a minority, and a few years for only a handful… Why do we band together with such urgency to “fix” a problem like this (a problem that only lasts a few months and effectually should only reminds us of the inevitability of death and push us toward the remedy for that eventuality), but we spend month after month ignoring a problem for which the solution is waiting to be preached? Guess what people: you’re going to die. Whether Harvey kills you, or something else, it’s going to happen. Guess what else: the rescue squad for this problem has already come and they’ve been sitting around “inviting” you into their boats. The squad is called “the church” and the means of being saved is to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing you will have life in his name.
I read the book of Revelation, and it makes Hurricane Harvey look like a day in Disney World. Much worse than Harvey is coming, and it’s going to last for eternity, so please repent!
I’m tempted to write that I don’t mean to diminish your pain from Harvey. I’m tempted to say that I don’t mean to minimize what you’re going through, be it the loss of a house, or a car, or all of your stuff… but I do mean to do that! Or more accurately, I mean to put your pain in proper perspective. I mean that primarily to Christians, who should know better! Your stuff is just stuff. You need to foster a more eternal perspective in your life and realize that all of these things will pass away or be made new, none of it will last. Think of Jesus’s parable about the rich man who built a bigger barn to store his grain and relax in luxury for years, or his message about storing up your treasures in heaven. These are the proper perspectives to have.
To the non-believer, let Harvey be a wake-up call that you’re not in control of your life and your death, so you should get on the side of the one who is! To the Christian who sprang to help in Harvey relief but hasn’t told the gospel to their neighbor for the last five years, what are you waiting for? Why are your priorities so out of whack? What’s more, why do all of your friends know about your relief efforts? Why are you posting it on social media and loudly talking about how you’re “busy helping the less fortunate” or “safe and dry but praying for those who aren’t.” It rings in my ears of “they have received their rewards in full.” Instead of posting on social media about how you’re praying for someone (or as Jesus might say it “standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that you may be seen by men”) how about you simply pray for them? And if you would like to tell someone specifically that you’re praying for them, then message or call them privately to uplift them. If you would like to help with someone’s recovery, call and ask them how you can help. This way, your left hand will not know what your right hand is doing, and neither will your friends on social media.
I hope it is clear that I don’t mean to say that helping with Harvey relief is wrong or that you shouldn’t pray for your friends and those affected. These are things that should, nay must, be done. If you haven’t gone to help with some relief efforts, but you’re able, then shame on you! But when you do it, perhaps don’t tell anyone about it, and go with a church you’re not a member of, or with a group of friends you don’t see very often, so that your heavenly Father who sees what you have done in secret will reward you.
Christians should be leading the charge in helping their neighbor with their physical needs and I have been happy to see that they are doing so… but they should also be leading the charge in helping their neighbor with their spiritual needs, and this second charge should be higher on the priority list than the first.
I’m rambling now… my point really boils down to this: If the church actually had an eternal perspective, like it’s supposed to, Harvey wouldn’t rattle us like it has. And if Christians were really doing the work of the church like they should, then we wouldn’t know when our friends were helping, but we do. So to those two points, these are my final ultimatums: Christian, you should be ready to die at any moment. What does the threat of a hurricane or losing your house, or a limb, or your food really have to hold against you? The worst that can happen is you’ll die, and Jesus has made that prospect much more palatable. Christians, why do I know about your good deeds right now? I’d much rather find out the good you were doing when we reach eternity. I hate ruined surprises, so please, keep the good you’re doing secret. Everyone, why does it take a hurricane to get us to realize that we’re not in control? Why must we be robbed of all the pleasures God has given us, for us to see that God is the one who has given them to us? What will it take for us to actually trust God? When he returns and demands your soul from you, what will be your response? How tightly are you hanging on to this life, and how much are you looking forward to the next one?