I’ve always been an idealist. As a young believer, one of the first passages to capture my imagination was Luke 4:13-23, Jesus declaring his mission “to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors.” (NLT) One of my favorite T-shirts has a slogan boldly emblazoned on the front: “We can stop injustice now.” My heart thrills to see so many people take up the vision of a campaign to end slavery all over the world — especially 60,000 enthusiastic young believers at the Passion 2013 conference held here in Atlanta this past weekend.
I love the idealistic vision: We can stop injustice now! We can eliminate poverty! We can end slavery! Eradicate malaria! Clean water for everyone!
If only reality cooperated.
Slaves are set free when one brick factory closes, and two more open up in the neighboring district. A widow is given a cow to help support her family, and a neighbor steals the cow. A well is drilled so Dalits don’t have to draw water from a polluted river, and a wealthy upper-caste man padlocks the well. A girl is rescued from sex trafficking in Atlanta, and two more disappear from the streets — then the rescued girl calls her pimp to come get her.
Do we quit throwing starfish back in the ocean just because the waves are washing up a dozen more down the beach? No way! Each hurting soul matters to Jesus. Do we allow ourselves to get discouraged? Absolutely not! The Enemy’s advances only strengthen our determination to fight. We know the battle already has been won. It’s only a matter of time before Jesus returns and justice truly rolls down like a flood.
Remember that — and think about it often — it is a matter of time. We can’t actually stop injustice now, but Jesus will, once and for all.
While you are at it, ponder this truth as well: Our idealism can betray the Mission.
“We can stop injustice now” is wonderfully idealistic, but it’s not the biblical reality. We can stop injustices, this one or that one — and we should give ourselves wholeheartedly to the battle — but we cannot stop global injustice, not now, not tomorrow, not ourselves. That honor belongs to Jesus, the only one worthy.
Thinking we can stop injustice now ourselves is arrogance, and setting our sights on such a goal is betrayal.
— Our idealism betrays the Mission when over-promising sets up our idealistic young friends for failure and discouragement. Young people respond to great vision, but we fail them if we don’t make sure they understand the sad state of people enslaved by sin. People are broken. No matter how passionately we appeal to them, some will refuse to choose wholeness. No matter how many evil people are put in jail, others will continue to oppress the weak. We must salt the vision with reality so our young compatriots don’t become as disillusioned as their parents.
— Our idealism betrays the Mission when it creates an opening for opportunists. Humanitarians are broken people too. Sometimes humanitarians take advantage of idealism to raise money that benefits them much more than it does the sad children in their promotional materials. Some enormously successful humanitarian efforts make little difference for the people in need or actually make things worse. (Have you still not read this book?) I would have been worried at the sight of so many young people lined up to swipe their credit cards at Passion 2013, if I didn’t have complete confidence in the integrity of Louie Giglio and his team.
— Idealism betrays the Mission when it doesn’t get a believer personally involved with someone in need. We are not called to end injustice, but to make a difference for suffering souls. Jesus didn’t eradicate disease, he healed a sick soul; he didn’t end hunger, he fed a hungry crowd; he didn’t rid the world of demons, he set free a demon-possessed man. Our idealism must pull the one lever that makes a real difference: Getting people personally involved hands-on in helping someone else.
The Mission is about all God’s lost and suffering children and his call for his people to create redeeming, healing relationships with those lost children. The vision we should be casting is not to give money and buy products to “end injustice,” but to follow Jesus’ example and get dirty helping others. God didn’t fight injustice from heaven. He became flesh and walked among the people he intended to set free and restore.
Idealistic visions motivate, but personal relationships transform — one person at a time.
Even better, relationships multiply.
You don’t have to give up exciting, world-transforming vision when you engage people in one-on-one ministry relationships. The geometric progression of multiplying personal relationships is something amazing we really can do ourselves — now.
We will not completely eradicate the global scourges in our time, but we can — and will — make a massive difference before Jesus himself brings justice rolling down like a flood. We can’t change the whole world now, but you can make a world of difference for someone in desperate need:
— You can give. Yes, giving matters. Not everyone can go rescue girls from sex slavery in Asia.
— You can pray. The power of the Spirit in prayer can transport you anywhere and release God’s power in faraway places.
— You can get personally involved. You can make a difference, right where you are, for a specific person. This is the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to obey his command to make disciples.