In This Issue: Too many needs, too little time.
- Too Many Needs. Too Little Time. How to respond to a world of seemingly unlimited requests for help
- Subversive Mobilization: Don’t Let Media Wreck Your Mission Trip
In This Issue: Too many needs, too little time.
By Shane Bennett
I’ve had an unusual and troubling experience over the last couple of weeks. If you read April’s Practical Mobilization column you may remember me harping on Sicily and the staggering number of migrants landing there lately. I’ve been scheming and dreaming about this situation for several months now and was happily surprised to see the issue foremost in my mind become the issue foremost on global media. I didn’t want more boats to sink just so the issue would gain greater prominence, but I did want to responsibly “strike while the iron was hot.”
Then the Himalayas shook to their roots, thousands perished in minutes, and Nepal pushed my issue right off the front page. I confess, part of my brain though (but only briefly), “Ah, man, there goes the attention I’d hoped to leverage for migrants in Sicily. There go the funds I was hoping to raise.” I’m not too proud of that response!
It’s indicative, though, isn’t it? We live in a world of incalculable need. Global connectivity brings needs to our attention and the curious can now even watch HD drone footage of latest devastation. You probably get more requests for prayer, funds, and involvement than you can possibly respond to. You love Jesus, but you can’t do it all.
About a month ago, I fell in love with a relatively new movie called The Good Lie. Rent it and watch it this weekend. It’s a story about refugees coming to America. It’s a Hollywood film, with a predictably happy Hollywood ending. Except for the gut-wrenching reality that this reasonably good outcome occurs in the context of tens of millions of unhappy ones. It’s almost too much to deal with.
How does a heart of compassion respond?
My friend David recently expressed his feeling of being, “bombarded with many requests even from my own community as we launch another season of short-term mission trips.”
What do you when a dozen bright, young, college students send you letters asking for prayer and funds? Even when you consider that your paltry paycheck is many times greater than that of most people in the world? What does God expect of us when each crisis seems more devastating than the one before?
These questions call for book-length answers and long conversations over coffee or something stronger. At the risk of being trite, let me float out some thoughts. Please bless the rest of us by commenting and letting us know how you deal with these common issues.
I’m sorry if this goes without saying, but as we consider the need of the world and the various requests to respond that we encounter, we’ve got to remember God, who he is, and what he is doing. He knows the number of hairs on every head. He knows every tummy ache, every loss, every relentless search, every sleepless night of despair, and every thought of suicide. He is near to the brokenhearted. He is not unaware of the pain. He has calculated the need.
If I didn’t believe that, I’m not sure what I would do.
But I do believe it. And that is the first layer of response for me: God is more concerned than I am and it’s his responsibility more than mine. I (we) have the actually quite stunning privilege to partner with God in his response to the world’s need. Is that not remarkable?
One response option is to decide to simply not respond. It may be the extreme version of “bloom where you’re planted,” e.g., “I’m planted on my couch and I will bloom here while I binge watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix.”
I remember wresting with this during a long-ago sojourn in Mumbai. My team leader and I were in a cab driving through a part of town where people gathered to beg. When one guy wheeled up to my team leader’s rolled-down window and asked for something, my TL stared straight ahead. The beggar glanced at me and said, “Uncle is a bad man. He will not even look.” Before he could ask me for something, we rolled away.
I could understand where my team leader was coming from. On the one hand, the need was too great for us to fix it. We knew enough to sense how very little we knew about the situation, the real situation, of most of these people. So a clear option, which we both went with from time to time, was to shut down and simply not connect.
Please don’t do that, not every time. Please don’t kill that part of you that cares.
I want to be more generous than I am. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 challenge me: “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” And Jesus teaches us, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
Assuming that you can’t give to everything, how do you decide?
It seems too trite to say, “Just ask God and do what he says.” At the same time, I know I need to cultivate a greater sensitivity to God. Two weeks ago I was driving away from lunch with a young man who was working with me for the day. He said, “Hang on a second,” and then proceeded to pull a couple of dollars out of his pocket for an aging man begging on the corner. I was challenged by this guy, who though younger, poorer, and, as far as I know, less Christian than me, looked a lot more like Jesus than I did. I’d noticed the man begging the day before but did nothing. I need to learn to listen better.
I also think we’d be wise to invest more in fewer things. If you regularly get fifteen summer mission support letters, perhaps you could decide to give significantly to two of them, trusting God to provide in other ways for the rest. (In fact, though it’s beyond my authority, I give you permission to do that!) Or ask God if he would give you a burden for a particular kind of work, maybe in a particular place. Then dive into that and live free from guilt over what you’re not doing.
Briefly, you’re free to toss unsolicited direct mail. You’re free to not “like” causes that make it to your Facebook news feed because someone invited their whole friend list to “like” it. Revel in this freedom.
But if a friend writes, calls, or texts you, please respond. Speaking as someone who raises funds to feed my kids, a “no” is better than no response. I know you’re busy and things get lost. Heavens, I’ve ignored more than my share of personal requests as well. Maybe we can band together and decide that we will respond, even if that means we need to say no.
Maybe your best gift to someone who’s asking for prayer and funds is to really give them some prayer! Actually do it! Write out your prayer and send it to them. If you’re prone to forget, carry a small token, a marble or something, with your keys for a couple weeks, and pray each time you bump into it.
Maybe your best gift is advice. I think we should assume the best and be quite cautious about judging what someone feels that God is asking them to do. But if you have grave concerns beyond just looking for a reason not to give (or is that just me?), please share them. You may save someone a busload of grief.
This side of the fullness of God’s kingdom we will have pain and great need. May God overwhelm us with grace to respond as he desires. May he free us from guilt over what we can’t or don’t do. May he multiply our gifts and service to his great glory.
Image source: Angelinux (Flikr/Creative Commons)
Our friends at DELTA Ministries are helping us all again: Check out their hour-long webinar on Tuesday, May 19 on “how to keep social media from wrecking your STM trip.” Here’s a little description:
“What rules do you have for social media on your mission trips? Social media can be a great way to build relationships with those you just visited, but it can also destroy those relationships. This webinar will talk about how to use social media in appropriate and contextual ways before, during, and after your short-term mission trip.”
By Shane Bennett
The clock ticked relentlessly as I toyed around with the content of the call I’d soon have to make to her dad. “I’m sorry, sir, but we’ve lost your daughter. I’ve lost your daughter. Yes, you’re right, it was my responsibility not to lose her, but I have.” My stomach hurt pretty bad just thinking about it.
Our group had spent the day scattered around the Turkish city we’d come to know and love. We were all due to return to the apartments at 10pm. Sharon didn’t show. I flipped back and forth between fear for her safety and anger that she was probably fine, but just lacked the good sense to get home on time.
Just before official throw-up time, I heard her happy, chatty voice precede her up the stairs. I smiled as she recounted her amazing day then, borrowing language from twenty years into my future life as a parent, I asked her to get ahold of me and let me know next time. After a heavy sigh and about 30 exclamations of “thank you, Jesus!” I fell into bed.
Although the day may come, I am very grateful I haven’t lost a short termer yet. In the few hundreds of short termers I’ve interacted with in some way—led, trained, or cheered on—there have been no deaths or kidnappings and wonderfully few lost wallets, passports, or dreams.
So maybe a key way to stay safe on a short term is to go with me! Say, to care for refugees in Sicily, perhaps? (I was hoping you’d come to that conclusion on your own, but didn’t have the patience to wait!)
But maybe you have other plans for other places. All the same, you still don’t want your companions, especially if they are kids, to die in the process. My friends at Crisis Consulting International share these time-tested starter tips to help you keep a lower profile and stay out of trouble; essentially, how to become a smaller target.
Learn all you can about the peculiar risks and dangers of your destination before you go. Seek the wisdom of your local hosts, but also expand on it. Their street smarts lower their risk and may cause them to minimize your danger. Seek additional information from sources such as the U.S. State Department and from the company supplying your travel medical insurance.
Include reliable international medical and evacuation insurance in the budget. Your church’s insurer probably offers this product or you can find a number of options online (e.g., search at Brigada.org). The cost of a medical evacuation in the case of an accident or illness can easily be tens of thousands of dollars. Without insurance, you may have to come up with that money before an evacuation will be initiated.
There is safety in numbers. Crime studies consistently indicate you are 80-85 percent less likely to be the victim of a crime when you are with at least one other person. Pairs are good; small groups even better.
As much as possible, blend in. Granted this is harder to do if you’re following point number three, traveling as a group. You can find the balance. Learn from your local hosts what dress is appropriate. Pay special attention to cultural norms. Don’t advertise your citizenship, your religion, or your wealth by wearing clothing that draws attention to you. Consider staying at mission guest houses (or airbnb.com places, a recent favorite of mine) rather than western hotels. If it is safe, use local transport rather than tour buses.
Can I say something specifically to American readers about looking (and sounding) local? If you’re not American, don’t feel excluded, just happy that this may not apply to you.
Plan for more than one way to communicate with each other and back home. In an emergency, communications are a critical part of staying safe, getting the help and resources you need, and reassuring families and others that you are OK. Cell phones are great (ever wonder what William Carey would have done with an iPhone?) but are not enough on their own! Too many things can disrupt the cellular networks. Consider a satellite phone or a satellite tracker that can send text messages.
First, think seriously about leaving your stuff at home! Carry only the cash you need. If you will be using a credit card, take only one. Consider carrying a “throw-away” wallet with outdated identification like expired airline mileage program cards and a small amount of local currency. Secure your “real” money in a wallet around your neck, looped on your belt, or carried inside your pants. And can we all decide ahead of time not to risk our lives to protect or save replaceable assets like cell phones, money, and youth pastors? (Just kidding about youth pastors!)
Since following these directions could possibly result in you feeling overly safe and secure, can I heartily encourage you to seek the further services of my buds Bob Klamser and John Lites at Crisis Consulting International? They have 30 years of experience helping people prepare for service in shifting security situations.
Three final thoughts:
Image: SpirosK photography (Flikr / Creative Commons)
Editor’s note: Find this article helpful? You might also appreciate these previous columns from Missions Catalyst:
In this issue: Middle School Missions
By Shane Bennett
If you’re at all like me (oh, let’s hope not), you just now decided there’s not enough time to pull together a short-term mission trip for your middle schoolers (pre-teens) on spring break, which for us starts a week from Friday. But maybe, just maybe, there’s time to do something with those kids this summer, something besides the entirely valid idea of staying home and working on a project in your own neighborhood. Maybe there’s an Indian reservation or Mexican border-town orphanage with one last opening for another group of American kids?
What would you do with a middle-school mission team? What would you look for in evaluating the opportunities? Here’s what made my short list.
I want a junior high short term to be safe and predictable, like a pinewood derby, with extensive, detailed, skillful, smart preparation. Everyone meets at the starting line, then the gate drops and the thing proceeds directly, inevitably to its preordained conclusion. More often, though, these endeavors feel more like trying to pick up a bag of marbles spilled on a hard wood floor in the dark. During an earthquake.
Some of those marbles are the magic of the experience. So we’d be unwise to eliminate them all. And you can only do that (maybe) by staying home. But the chief concern in the mind of almost all parents is, “What are the odds my kid will return from this experience whole and healthy?” So we’d be smart to prioritize safety.
One way to make a trip safer is to not cross any borders. Any border really, but I’m thinking about international ones. Staying away from borders, we can avoid passport issues, lines at the crossing, or pseudo-legal notes saying the young buck with the soul patch does indeed have permission to take your daughter out of the country!
We can also “up” the safety factor by linking with similar-culture churches in cities whose predominant language is the same as our own and with whose legal system we have a vague familiarity.
While safety matters, we can’t let it be the only factor. Middle-school mission experiences need to be significant as well. A visit to the Rainforest Cafe is safe, but really, plastic alligators aren’t going to change lives! Some short terms are more significant than others. How can we prioritize time among people who are little exposed to the gospel, not just little blessed by Western materialism? And how can we invest limited hours in ways that have huge payoff, both in the lives of our kids and in those we hope to serve and serve with?
The more we can partner with wise, long-term ministries, the higher the likelihood of our doing significant work. I love what Refuge is doing in Louisville. Find their doppelganger in the city you want to visit.
As with safe, the cheapest trip is from the kitchen to the couch. If you actually do launch out, it’s going to cost some coin. If we drive to a domestic location, sleep on the floor of a church, cook our own food, and don’t buy lift tickets or Disney park passes, we can significantly ratchet up the ratio of bang to buck.
Let’s say you’re with me so far (God bless you!). What should you do with your kids on a trip like this? Thanks for asking. Here you go:
A smart friend of mine, a Young Life leader who, in her own words, “works with wealthy white kids” says, “Get them in a position of being ‘the other,’ genuinely distrusted by some other group for the first time. Get them out of their perfect, white, wealthy bubble long enough to really see something else. This is healthy.”
You probably don’t want to stop there, though. Part of what makes this work is the hope of developing an authentic connection with others. My favorite starter activity for this is a cultural scavenger hunt. Send kids out in groups of three or four with a list of questions to answer and artifacts to find. Arrange the game in such a way that winning depends on conversations with local people.
For some of your kids this will be the first time they’ve ever spoken to someone whose first language is not the same as theirs. Or it may be the first time they’ve been in a position to receive kindness from a Muslim or a Hindu. This can have powerful, preconception-crushing impact. Prearrange a time for your group to visit a mosque, for example, preferably when you can observe a regular prayer time. Be sure to clue in to the dress code and stick around after for questions and answers (going both ways).
Fill a neighborhood with good music and the smoke of a dozen grills. Play games and give prizes. Share some of what God has given you. While the kids are playing, the older people can chat. Cool stuff can emerge.
This takes some planning, but arrange to work alongside some local folks in a project that benefits their community. Abrahamic Alliance in San Jose excels at this.
Of course you’ll pray for your trip and your time, but what would it look like to make praying for people a key part of what you do? My experience is this: (a) Many people, lots of Muslims for example, tend to be really OK with Christians praying for them. More than you might expect. And (b) Kids sometimes are way better pray-ers than grownups. I don’t know your kids, but I’m intrigued by the idea of unleashing the Holy Spirit through the lives of some wild-eyed middle schoolers.
While you’re connecting with new friends, don’t forget to connect with Jesus. I like to see trips like this include team Bible study, worship, and prayer. Keep re-orienting the focus: We are here because of Jesus, because he is King, because he has in mind to make all things new, including us, these people, and this neighborhood.
I also like to see kids praying and worshiping with Christians local to the city they’re visiting. There’s so much to be learned and gained in that.
Connect to Jesus and connect the experience to the rest of your kids’ lives by tithing the trip to debriefing. If the trip is five days long, conserve an entire half day to debrief. You might want to space this out with 30 minutes each day and a three hours on the last day. Basically you ask, “What is Jesus saying to us and what does it mean?”
Fail to debrief and you’ll forfeit 30 percent of the impact of your trip.
There’s a reason middle-school mission trips usually revolve around manual labor. Kids are like puppies: Boundless energy and no maturity! All the wishing (and Ritalin) in the world will not change this. Might as well work with it.
I like to put kids to work serving people who serve refugees. Visit a refugee ministry to pull weeds, haul trash, sort clothes, clean basements, and yes, paint whatever lacks the will to flee their sloppy brushes! This, and lots of walking, will help burn off some of that excess energy. I’ve also done this with a day care catering to the predominant refugee culture. It was great fun!
A trip like this can be significant both in the lives of your kids and for those you serve or serve with. It won’t be totally cheap nor completely safe, so do it under the care of your loving God. And may he give us grace to be a part of raising up the next generation of laborers for his plentiful harvest.
Few things feel more productive, more helpful, more on task to me than speaking at a class like Perspectives or Pathways. I love it! The content is spot on and the classes tend to gather the coolest people in a given church or city, so it’s a privilege to chat with them. I’ll often start by asking students to consider why they’re taking the course. I want them to have solid motivation to do the hard work the course asks for. Without fail, some in each class say they’re taking it to find out what they should do with their lives, specifically what God wants them to do. It’s the classic, “What’s God’s will for my life?” Or, as poet, Mary Oliver frames it, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I love to hear people ask this because I love people who care what God thinks, what God is doing, and what God may have in mind for their hours and days. The down side is that the question can paralyze. Most of us reading this article are part of a set of humanity with no shortage of options. If you decided it was a good idea you could shift houses, change jobs, or even move to a different country. If you could do anything, how can you choose the next one thing to do? Kafka said, “I am free and that is why I am lost.” That’s a little heady (and depressing) for me, but I get the point.
To help people feel a little better, I’ll often tell them, “Good news: I actually know God’s will for your life!” Of course I don’t, really. Well, sort of. What I don’t have sorted is where my personal (or American) arrogance ends and solid understanding of the Bible and the world begins. Like I could really know God’s will for the life of an almost total stranger!
Yet this much I know for pretty sure. This I offer to you, your friends, the people you go to church with, myself, any of us who care what God thinks and want to answer the call of Jesus to follow him: Go where the glow is low.
I really wish I could remember who I swiped that pithy little gut punch from, but I don’t. I didn’t make it up, but heard it from someone and it seemed both real and true. “Bloom where you are planted” may make a nice coffee mug, but “go where the glow is low” makes a better tattoo! And it’s more biblical. God told Abraham he wanted his blessing to be pressed into every family on the planet. Jesus told his disciples that the “gospel of the kingdom would be preached in the whole world as a witness to all nations” before the end would come. And his disciple John apparently saw that happen, recording in Rev. 7.9, “…I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…”
Assuming we’re in the middle of this amazing story, clearly the mandate that we (the collection of all of us who love Jesus and try, however falteringly, to follow him) have is to take the gospel of the kingdom where it isn’t seen or known yet.
Or in other words, go where the glow is low.
One of the clearer ways to describe the lowest of the “low glow” areas is the term “unengaged.” Unengaged describes people groups among whom no one is living for the gospel, reaching out in the local language and working toward discipleship movements. No harvesting, no growth, not even any planting. Seedless. If you’re a grape or a watermelon, seedless is good. If you’re waiting for an initial outbreak of God’s kingdom in your midst, seedless is bad.
Who’s seedless? When we’re looking at a shifting scene, numbers will vary. Reliable information, however, indicates around 1400 unengaged people groups. Frontiers sees Muslims comprising 1100 of those. Steve Richardson (of Pioneers) points out 45 Buddhist groups and 139 Hindu groups too. Completely unengaged. These are groups that are not only “lost” and “unreached,” but as far as we know, also lacking incarnational gospel witness among them.
So some of us from somewhere need to go to these places, these peoples, with a truckload of seed. We need to learn local languages, love the people we find, and seek God for his purposes among them. And many more of us ought to to pray and send and look for other creative ways to see the seed spread where it isn’t.
Is this the only thing God is doing? Certainly not. And the answer to “What’s God’s will for my life?” does not always include the word “unengaged.” But let’s not let this generation pass with any groups without someone showing them what it means to follow Jesus.
So what can we do? The Unengaged Unreached Community on Facebook encourages believers to become aware, to pray, and to obey.
Finally, wave the flag for the unengaged. Advocate, inspire, suggest, invite. I suppose engaging all unengaged groups has never been more doable than it is right now as you reach the end of this article. It’s not easy. People will die, dreams will go unrealized, and hard work will yield little results. But it will happen. God promised it to Abraham. Jesus paid for it. And John shares the scary cool glimpse he was given of what it will ultimately look like: an uncountable multitude from among the nations proclaiming that salvation belongs to their God.
I love to help people take baby steps. You know, like moving from “I truly detest foreigners” to “I’m not terribly fond of foreigners.” That’s a win! Granted, it’s a small step in a journey like the one from here to Saturn, but it’s a step.
I think that’s why I’m a fan of “slacktivism.” You’ve heard of it, eh? It’s a made-up word, combining “slacker,” a person who avoids work or effort, and “activism,” vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. I love Wikipedia’s take on slacktivism:
“The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes ‘feel-good’ measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed.”
So you click, like, share, or retweet, but you don’t really do anything. Or at least so it seems.
I would like to see us, those who carry a torch for the nations, provide a gazillion opportunities for the people in our networks to like, share, and retweet. Here’s why:
Consider the biggest slacktivist campaign so far, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Despite the stunning observations that not everyone donated, that the campaign wasted clean water so much of the world desperately needs, and that money spent on ice and such might have been given to ALS research instead, and you’ll find this equally stunning point. You probably already know it. Donations to ALS research rose from the typical US$3 million average to over $100 million! I don’t know about you, but I can come up with a plan or two that would benefit from a 3000% increase in funding!
To be honest, this point is debatable. A frequently cited study on slacktivism questions whether or not clicking, liking, and sharing actually lead to donating and volunteering. I know my own journey toward commitment to the world looked more like tip-toeing into the pool than cannon-balling into the deep end. But some people will take the plunge. I certainly want to pitch opportunities for people to move to Karachi. But I also want to help thousands of people take their next step, however small, toward blessing the nations.
Sometimes that step is as simple as liking a status, nodding, and thinking, “Yes, this is the kind of thing I’m into.”
While the work of clicking “like” on a Facebook post will not change the world, it does help spread the word. And as awareness spreads, the likelihood of connecting with someone who is ready to take action increases. As Caitlin Dewey, writing for the Washington Post, says,
“Despite the oft-repeated claim that awareness does nothing, it almost always does something—something small, perhaps, but something measurable.”
So how can we put this into action?
Commenting on the 2014 Cone Communications Digital Activism Study, Alexis Petru says,
“Organizations should still continue to offer individuals more passive online actions, including ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ content, but they should also suggest more action-oriented activities like giving feedback and committing to change their behavior. The survey data demonstrates that most Americans want to do more to help their favorite causes, Cone Communications said, but they need organizations to channel this desire-to-help into specific actions that make an impact.”
Elsewhere, Jacqueline Herrera adds that far more important than a simple ‘like’ is inspiring individuals to upload their own photos, thoughts, and shares on social media in order to emotionally connect with others, thereby creating engagement and organic word-of-mouth in a domino effect.
As you think about how to activate your slacktivists, keep in mind some of the key points which Clicktivist.org says made the Ice Bucket Challenge go crazy:
“The timing was right: It landed as a piece of good news in the midst of a summer of depressing global and domestic events. It provided a fun and kindly counterpoint to a sober season.
“It used peer pressure, (mild) humiliation and guilt. By tagging you in the post the challenge calls you out in front of your friends. You can ignore it but then you’ll look bad. So you’re peer pressured and guilted into participating. Some people would prefer to call this social proof.
“It was authentic. This is the one that would be the hardest to replicate. The ice bucket challenge just felt authentic and not like it was cooked up in the back room of an office or that it had been focus grouped. I mean that’s because it wasn’t but still, you get the point. It was simple enough that anyone could have thought of it or started it and that’s something that people liked. They were on an equal playing field and not being directed by an organization.”
One final thought. As followers of Jesus we have the opportunity to converse with the one who’s running the universe about how things are going. On the one hand, C.S. Lewis reminds us, “It is much easier to pray for a bore than to go visit him.” So prayer is slacktivism. But then Oswald Chambers asserts, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” Somehow, in kindness and mystery, God invites us to join him in shaping the future. As we ask people to retweet and share and like, to give and send and go, we can also offer the immediate response of prayer. Watch a video and pray. “Like” an Instagram picture and pray. Retweet word of a humanitarian crisis, pray, and invite all your buds to pray as well.
The growing Syrian Circle is a brilliant example of this. It mobilized thousands of people to pray for Syrians during the past month. Check it out for ideas and further prayer.
What about in your church? Your organization? How can you provide “right now” response mechanisms that will potentially lead slactivists to greater involvement?
Finally, can I invite you to join me in practicing some slacktivism mobilization by ransacking the website of a new initiative I’m involved in? Go to CareForCatania.com and read, pray, share and let me know what’s broken!
Shane has been loving Muslims and connecting people who love Jesus with Muslims for more than 20 years. He speaks like he writes – in a practical, humorous, and easy-to-relate-to way – about God’s passion to bring all peoples into his kingdom.
Life includes a whole lot of waiting. We wait for the first snow, and then we wait for spring. We wait for someone to reply to our email, respond to our text, answer our question, or return our gaze. We wait for the baby to be born, roll over, say a word, take a step, tie its shoes, go to school, learn to drive, graduate, get married, and give us grandkids so we can watch the whole agonizingly beautiful process all over again. We wait for the doctor’s report. We wait for that breath that will be our last.
We also wait for a progress report, report card, yellow card, yellow light, and for the people with 13 items in the ten-item checkout lane who are paying with a check. I don’t know about you, but I wait for stuff to arrive from Amazon and say, “OK, Bezos, where are the delivery drones you promised?” I wait for people to take their turn in Words with Friends, for Mumford and Sons to release another album, and for 99% Invisible to drop in my podcast queue.
Those of us who love Jesus wait for his return and for the fullness of his kingdom on earth. We wait for God to keep his “blessing all families” promise to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12:3 and to answer the prayer Jesus prayed in Matthew 6:10 that his Father’s will would be done and his kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven. We wait for the fulfillment of the promise of Matthew 24:14, where Jesus says the gospel of the kingdom will be preached among all peoples as a witness to all nations before the end comes.
Do you, like me, sometimes get tired of waiting for the kingdom? Even though Jesus launched his ministry by saying, “Repent, believe, for the kingdom of Heaven is here,” if you look around, you see lots of non-kingdom stuff going on. Sometimes I need look no farther than my own heart. Other effects are more distant, but no less gut-wrenching, as when kingdom workers in Kabul perish in the midst of their work and others in Aden are killed after months of captivity.
I hear Peter’s words in my head: “They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
Can I say to you (while I’m saying it to me): Don’t give up waiting for his kingdom. Even as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus, may God renew our faith and hope for the fullness of the kingdom which the babe was born to bring. Stay strong, the kingdom will come. God’s purposes will not be thwarted.
We have a couple of dogs, and we let them live in the house. That makes “going outside” just about the most amazing experience they can imagine. When someone opens a door, pretty much any door in the house, the dogs are instantly there. Since they’re not allowed to go out before the humans do, they’re given one of two commands: “Wait” means hang on until I get through the door, and then you can leap into your joy. “Stay,” on the other hand, means you don’t get to go outside this time. I imagine something like this goes through their little canine brains: “Oh man, we can’t go outside. Now all we can do is lie here and wait for him to come back. Our main challenge is to try to keep from eating out of the trash can.”
Our waiting is more like the first command: an anticipation of joy. In his book With Open Hands, Henri Nouwen describes the work we have while waiting:
“You are Christian only so long as you constantly pose critical questions to the society you live in, so long as you emphasize the need of conversion both for yourself and for the world, so long as you in no way let yourself become established in the situation of the world, so long as you stay unsatisfied with the status quo and keep saying that a new world is yet to come. You are Christian only when you believe you have a role to play in the realization of the new kingdom, and when you urge everyone you meet with holy unrest to make haste so that the promise might soon be fulfilled. So long as you live as a Christian you keep looking for a new order, a new structure, a new life.”
Wait well, my friends. Ask for the kingdom. Battle apathy and despair. Ardently follow your kingdom passion. Love your enemies.
Enjoy Christmas for all you’re worth. And from time to time, pause to gaze at the wee babe in the nativity scene and remind yourself, “My, but that boy is going to change the world.”