Adaptation from ‘When We Stand’ (IVP)
When We Stand
By Terence Lester
All of us have an innate desire to ensure that by then time we leave this world, we have meant something to someone or made a difference somewhere. We want to know that our lives were not lived in vain, and that we had purpose and made an impact. When we see those whom we admire fighting for the good of others, mending broken systems or creating organizations that help others thrive, we’re inspired, and allow ourselves to dream big about the ways we might do similar things.
However, most of us don’t make the necessary space in our lives to actually accomplish the things about which we’ve been dreaming. Those who do make the space are those who are willing to live disrupted lives. They are those who are willing to disrupt their normal routines so that they might accomplish the work of God. I call them agents of disruption. In one of his most memorable tweets, John Lewis described an agent of disruption as someone who is “never afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
These agents of disruption make the necessary time or space in their lives to be able to commit to participating in God’s justice work.
We’ve discussed the isolation, busyness and unhealthy patterns of thinking that often prevent us from living this kind of life, but underlying them all is our understanding of prioritizing with intentionality. It’s when we fail to understand this concept and don’t take the steps necessary to modify our lives that we end up busy but not necessarily influential.
Experts and theorists agree that most of us desire to find meaning in our lives and do so by pursuing and embracing activities like raising children, positively developing our careers or becoming active citizens who devote time to meaningful projects. In a 2019 study by the University of Alberta, researchers set out to replicate the findings of earlier studies on generativity, a sensation that was first described by the theorist Erik Erikson. Erikson believed humans have an internal desire to make an impact on future generations by contributing to the world. In the 2019 study, researchers found that “like intrinsically rewarding work, civic engagement provides the opportunity for people to become generative through helping others and contributing to society.”
The words of Scripture support this notion of generativity. Jesus said that he came into the world so that we may have life—and have it abundantly (see John 10:10). He advises us to fill our lives with spiritual riches: those that can be found when we pursue the work of God (see Matt. 6:20). Yet, if this is the kind of life to which we’ve all been called—and, indeed, that we so desire—then why is it so difficult for us to achieve? Most of us would cite a lack of time as the reason for our being unable to participate in meaningful activities. We live our lives routinely, showing up to work each day, running errands, taking care of kids (if we have them), getting together with friends over a meal and making time for entertainment of some kind. We do all of these things without stopping to ask ourselves if the way in which we’re living is really the way that we want to be living.
At some point, many of us question the monotony of our routine. Sadly, though, most of us will never dig deeper within ourselves to find the answer to the question of meaning. We dismiss the feeling as something with which all humans must struggle, and then get back to our normal routines, choosing to adhere to them because they’re comfortable.
But what if we chose not to dismiss our feelings of dissatisfaction and instead really committed to creating a life full of meaning and purpose? The path that we choose to follow is ultimately up to each of us.
Most of us want to be remembered for the impact that we have made on the world, but it’s also clear that we often pass up what’s meaningful for something lesser. My intention is not to offend you with what I’m about to say—but I do intend to make you think hard about the kind of service in which you involve yourself and whether it keeps you from deeper interactions. Our service to God and our communities cannot be undertaken solely within the confines of a church. When we spend countless hours preparing the church bulletins or putting up decorations for events without giving a thought to the people outside of the church who are suffering, there is a problem not only with our priorities but also with the way in which we view our mission as Christians.
These days, unfortunately, some of the most transformative acts done to help restore the image of God in someone happen outside of a church building. Once upon a time, during the civil rights era, the church gave direction to those who were lost and hurting and seeking justice. Pastors and ministers were often the people giving direction for social demonstrations. Yet today, I have pastors calling me to receive guidance on how to even approach the conversation of racism. I understand that many may disagree with me on this point, but I believe the church must begin linking arms far more often with outside organizations in order to best participate in healing. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the church has something unique to offer because it is representative of the divine God, but the church has also been tragically late in responding to injustices.
The fact that many in the church still need convincing that racism even exists is delaying the work that could be taking place. After all, the church is not a building or a place; it is a group of people sharing God’s news of love to the rest of the world. Why would we separate ourselves from sharing that love in parts of society that are doing tangible work?
Asking yourself what kind of work really matters to you will make it easier and easier to prioritize and create the margin you need to do that meaningful work. And as your life takes on new purpose and drive, you’ll find that God will begin to use you as a catalyst for those you know to find their purpose as well. In the meantime, what can you do today to help prioritize your purpose? Only by choosing to live intentionally are you able to make yourself available and join in the company of others to seek justice together.
Excerpted from When We Stand by Terence Lester. Copyright (c) 2021 by Terence Brandon Lester. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. IVPress.com