What’s in Your _______?

Like me, you might wake up some days and think, “I’m going to do better at ________________.” Perhaps your [blank] is something like personal spiritual disciplines. Or maybe it’s a secret sin you’re facing. Or the way you spend money. Truth is, we all have those blanks—the things we want to change or “do better.”

Usually resolving the blank gives us a greater sense of purpose in the world. It helps us fulfill our mission or calling or passion. Unfortunately, the blanks of our lives often control us more than we’re able to master them. This can be incredibly frustrating and, in some cases, deeply depressing. We curse ourselves and shout at God: Why can’t I pull this off!?

Like me, you might wake up some days and think, “I’m going to do better at ___________.” Perhaps your [blank] is something like personal spiritual disciplines. Or maybe it’s a secret sin you’re facing. Or the way you spend money. Truth is, we all have those blanks—the things we want to change or “do better.”

Usually resolving the blank gives us a greater sense of purpose in the world. It helps us fulfill our mission or calling or passion. Unfortunately, the blanks of our lives often control us more than we’re able to master them. This can be incredibly frustrating and, in some cases, deeply depressing. We curse ourselves and shout at God: Why can’t I pull this off!?

Our world is full of blanks. Christ’s followers should do better at:

•  Stopping the genocide in Darfur

•  Ending extreme poverty and hunger

•  Caring for people infected with HIV/AIDS

•  Eradicating malaria

•  Preventing the human trafficking of young girls as sex slaves

HERE’S A QUESTION FOR YOU: “WHAT’S IN YOUR BLANK?”

My blank goes like this: I’m going to be part of ending the global orphan crisis in my lifetime. That means finding homes for about 150 million kids today—and millions more tomorrow. I might not get there in my natural life, but I’ll die trying.

I won’t bore you with the overwhelming statistics about orphans in our world. Suffice it to say that too many children are living without the protection of family and are exposed to the most horrible abuses imaginable. You can read more at my blog, Notes from the Field.

As the president of an international orphan-advocacy group, I am always asked: What can I do to alleviate the suffering of people living in extreme poverty? What can I do to help orphans?

These are huge issues. Almost 3 billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day—how can I help? With 150 million orphans, what can be done? In my book Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds, I came up with a simple framework to help people live into new ways of thinking. I believe this system can be applied to any blank you want. You won’t solve your problems by thinking about them and hoping they get better. You change the world by choosing to live into new ways of thinking.

One of the most faithful adherents to this philosophy was the great Indian teacher Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi’s blank was “truth.” Through his life, speaking and writing, Gandhi was in pursuit of becoming truth. Gandhi’s secretary said this of his boss:

What Gandhi thinks, what he feels, what he says and what he does are all the same. He does not need notes … You and I, we think one thing, feel another, say a third and do a fourth, so we need notes and files to keep track.

That would hurt less if it wasn’t so true. Gandhi’s pursuit of personal truth had political consequences in the “real world.” In his crusade for India’s independence from Britain, Gandhi insisted on nonviolent civil disobedience. Interestingly, he did not prefer the term passive resistance to describe his methods. For Gandhi, mastering the human emotion and tendency toward violence and aggression was the ultimate “action.”

His simple belief that nonviolence could bring about change brought the British Empire to its knees. Gandhi’s thoughts and actions were one and the same. If he wrote about disobeying British law, he did so himself. He put thought to action.

In that tradition, I’ve developed a five-step way to put action to your thoughts and “fill in the blanks” in your own life.

STEP ONE: PRAY

If you’re rolling your eyes, then let me encourage you to stop now. Prayer is probably the most undervalued Christian discipline of our day. Do you remember the movie The Usual Suspects? In that film, Kevin Spacey’s character (the infamous Keyser Soze) says, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.”

I believe Americans don’t pray because we doubt the existence of Satan in our world. To back up that claim, I would send you to speak with any number of pastors from the developing world—particularly Africa. The African Church is keenly aware of Satan’s impact and influence over that continent. You will hear story after story about demonic possession and deliverance from our African brothers and sisters.

But we’re way beyond that in the United States. We’ve moved past the devil, and in many ways we’ve moved past prayer.

Prayer, however, should not be underestimated. When Jesus was not with the disciples or preaching, He was most often praying. When you are tempted to dismiss the effectiveness of prayer, remember the example of Jesus and the words of Kevin Spacey.

+  Pray 5 minutes a day for what you want to change in our world. Pray for orphans. Pray for food. Pray for health. Just pray, and pray specifically. Pray for compassion and courage. Pray for understanding. Pray for change.

STEP TWO: FAST

If prayer is undervalued, fasting is most certainly under-practiced. We’re the fattest country on the planet! We invented “fast food” and the “convenience store.” Going without food is not one of our cultural virtues.

Like prayer, it is hard to find the modern-day value in skipping meals. As more and more Christians are unearthing the disciplines of the past, fasting is poised to make a comeback. Everything old is new again someday.

Fasting is a private act of sacrifice between you and God. By fasting, you become the living sacrifice, sustained by the breath of God rather than the bread of man. There’s a spiritual transaction when you give up food in favor of God. You place yourself in His care—acknowledging that He is the author of life, and you are but a weak and broken vessel. By giving it up, you place yourself humbly under an infinite God and His love, mercy and power.

I have also found that fasting can serve as an act of solidarity for those who are experiencing a “lack” of any kind. Fasting brings you face to face with what billions of our global neighbors face each day in the struggle for food security. Fasting is a great teacher—especially of empathy toward others.

+  Fast 5 hours per week for what you want to change in our world. Pick a meal … any meal. You have 21 to choose from. I suggest picking lunch on Monday. Go from breakfast to dinner with nothing but water or juice. Once you’ve mastered this, skip two meals (on the same day). One popular fast is dinner to dinner. Soon, you’ll be going 40 days in the wilderness.

STEP THREE: GIVE

Jesus puts the finest point about giving that has ever been made: Where your money is, your heart will be also. There’s really not a whole lot more to that statement or the entire discipline of giving. We may think we’re giving with our intellectual gifts—but Jesus rightly pegs giving as a matter of the heart. By giving our money away with no return in sight, we are binding our hearts to a cause. The more we give, the more the heart takes ownership.

This is an often under-appreciated dynamic in the 21st century. We want quick results and instant return-on-investment. We’re more enamored today with get-rich-quick schemes than ever before. We want instant results when we give.

Giving is also a form of sacrifice that, like fasting, acknowledges God’s ownership of the earth and all that is in it. You do not give to impress others or to keep up with the Joneses or even because you “have to.” You give as an act of investing your heart in the heart of another. You sow a seed—hopefully one of those Kingdom of God mustard seeds—into some part of Christ’s Church.

See Also

+  Give $5 per month for what you want to change in our world. But what can $5 achieve? I believe that’s the wrong question. If you’ve never given, or given without praying first, then take this opportunity to do so. Find a cause or organization and commit to just $5 a month. Pray that God would use your mite (or mustard seed) to grow something mighty. What He will grow is your desire and passion to give more.

STEP FOUR: SERVE

Jesus lived and worked among the people. And they weren’t the pretty, nice, put-together people. He hung out with hookers and loan sharks. I’d like to think Jesus had a 1st-century beer with them. Sitting down, face to face, just listening to their stories. Jesus served the outcasts. Unlike the first three disciplines, Christian service is far more practiced in our world. Why? It’s tangible and right out there for you to see.

There are millions of Americans who go on short-term missions vacations (oops, I mean missions trips) each year. I say “vacations” because many well-meaning people evaluate missions trips as if they are on a pleasure cruise. “What are the bathrooms like?” “Where will we sleep?” “Can I bring my hair dryer?” “Will I be able to call my boyfriend?” “Is it safe?” I’ve heard them all.

Apparently, we’ve come a long way from Isaiah in the throne room declaring, “Here I am, Lord—send me!”

Our preoccupation with comfort and experience has drained the power of a true “missions” experience. Good missions should be done with empathy, intelligence and abandon.

+  Serve 5 days a year for what you want to change in our world. That might be half of your vacation time in a year. Take five days and find a trip, an organization or a cause you can work for change.

STEP FIVE: RECRUIT

Jesus was a shameless evangelist. Are you ever envious of how easy He makes it look? “Hey Peter, follow Me.” And off he goes. You’re an evangelist, too. How many times have you:

•  Insisted a friend see a movie?

•  Got a book for a friend?

•  Set up a friend on a blind date?

If you haven’t done any of those things, please get out more. We are all evangelists for what we find valuable. One way to engage your world is to tell others about what you want to change in the world.

+  Recruit 5 people to help you change the world. You can do this through a blog, a small group, a speaking opportunity or any number of social-networking websites. Take time to build a community of people who are doing all five of these steps. If you get five people, and they get five more, you’re up to 25. If the 25 get five more each, you’re up to 125. Once you hit that point, and 125 people recruit five each, you’ve got 625, then 3,125, then 15,625 … You multiply your passion by recruiting others. Start with five, and get them to join you on living out social justice.

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This article originally appeared in Neue Quarterly Vol. 01. You can subscribe to the Quarterly or buy individual copies.

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