24 February 2017
Profits and prophets: are you watching?
Some nine years on from the financial crisis of 2008, the global banking giant HSBC has just reported a 62 per cent fall in profits. Brexit and the US election were cited as key factors behind the sharp drop in profitability, illustrating again how volatile this fundamental sector remains and how globalisation, for all its positives, means we live in surprisingly uncertain times. Bound together as we are, unconnected events in widely different parts of the world can quickly have a domino effect that is felt by all.
'Uncertainty' seems to be an apt word for our times. Things many of us once held in high esteem are being eroded: capitalism, globalisation, international institutions and perhaps even democracy itself. And we in the UK are at the heart of this uncertainty. This week the debate in
the House of Lords has centred on the government's Brexit bill, but because there is no government majority in the House, further uncertainty looms. Amendments to the bill will be sought and from both Remain and Brexit perspectives it will feel as if democracy is being undermined. We all want certainty, but it seems we can no longer agree on what it looks like.
As Christians should we really be surprised by the uncertainty of the times we are living in? In Matthew 24 and other passages, scripture makes it abundantly clear that there will be a times of immense destabilisation, of earthquakes and wars, when the influential are corrupt and deceive. When Mark 13 speaks of these times, it comes with a command of how we as Christians should respond, one that is given more force by the abrupt ending to the section. We are to "watch", and yet this spiritual discipline is so overlooked by many of us – even in a social media age when news is available at the click of a button.
Clearly quickly digesting news and being watchful are two different things. Being watchful requires deeper reflection, developing a discerning spirit and ever enquiring: "What is it, God, that you are saying in these uncertain times and calling me to do?"
In the Old Testament God gave prophets to speak into the events of the day whereas now God is calling the whole body to be watchful. The reasons are sobering and clear – it's to ensure we are personally ready, able to stand secure in our faith, but also to serve as a reminder of our part in God's mission to be a voice for the Certain One in these uncertain times. Our message is a message of hope, a message that the cross offers an eternal future that is certain and starts right now for those who will accept the gift of amazing grace in Jesus. The certainty of the gospel is made all the clearer in these uncertain times. Being watchful also goes beyond our personal spiritual welfare to thinking collaboratively and strategically about how we as a united force can make Jesus known. Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17 is ultimately a prayer for greater collaboration because it is through our working together we can be most effective.
These are all powerful reminders to be watchful, to be mindful of the bigger picture and to remember how a coordinated approach is most certainly needed.
The question is: are you watching?