About 7 years ago I lived in an urban part of Kansas City near Downtown. I moved with the dream of planting a church for the homeless and urban core dwellers. I spent half of my time each day talking with and helping homeless people find food, jobs, and rehabilitation. I spent the other half of each day studying theology and philosophy at a hyper liberal coffee shop where communism was “beautiful” and George W Bush was “Hitler reincarnate”. My time there was like a supplement for college in a sense. I would read and outline say Rene Descartes or Hegel, then spend a few hours debating their philosophies with the coffee shop aggregation. Business men, college professors, college students, vagrants, retired men with nothing to do, it was quite a collection of people, and quite the range of opinions.
Most often brought up was the subject of “social justice”. They would rant and rant about how nobody cared for the poor. Daily someone would bring up the poor as an accusation toward conservatives, the church or the wealthy. If someone pulled in front of the coffee shop in a nice car, especially an SUV, they were sure to be heckled. They would talk about the ethics of wealth and how it was unethical for someone to have an outstanding amount of money. Guys in suits would occasionally walk by and get cursed at. Ironically also, would be when homeless guys came around for money. They would get made fun of and told to find a job. I would sit stunned day after day. These guys would daily sit at the coffee shop and complain about the wealthy and the plight of the poor while shunning the very people I loved and spent most of my time serving. I would watch it happen day after day in awe. It was sad.
Looking back on this time what pains me is not how they acted toward the poor in reality versus what they intended on doing. What pains me is I see myself doing the same. I may have served the homeless back then. But there were plenty of other areas where I thought people should do something and I never did. The truth is most of us are hypocrites in that regard.
It’s easy to get riled up for a cause. Easy to have an opinion about how life should be. It’s something else entirely to act. So often we define ourselves by our intentions, not wanting to look at our actions. As Americans living in relatively easy circumstances in comparison to the rest of the world it’s easy to have opinions about government, social justice, racial tention, human rights, etc. It’s another thing to put our hand to the plow and do something about them. Think the poor are being treated unjustly and that the rich should distribute their wealth? What have you done with what you have? Mad about the foster care system, and how horrible orphans are treated? Well you have a spare bedroom right? Think our nations economy is collapsing and you are worried about your job security? You have real government through prayer and you still have knees to pray on right?
As much as it depends on me I’m done talking. I’m done having ideas. I’m done with chintzy giving. I’m done with lazy serving. I’m done with defining myself based on my intentions. It’s time to do. There is only one way to be successful in our doing: Christ.
It’s time to finally and completely surrender our hearts to the one we say we love. It’s time to get on our knees, get in His word, and get His heart for the people around us. The only way you or I are going to actually care about the poor is if we begin to be transformed into the likeness of the one who created those who are plighted with poverty. It’s sounds like an oxy moron: We need to do, therefore pray. But not doing so would be like a fifteen year old watching a war on TV and saying “i want to fight” then running out to a battlefield with no training, weapons or armor. It’s been said that “you can’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” I would challenge that saying and say the Bible says, “You Have to be heavenly minded to be ANY earthly good.” (Col.3) We pray so that our doing is sustained. We pray so that our hearts are energized with the thoughts and affections of our creator for us. We pray because humans are the objects of his affections and genius. If we think for a second we care about them more than He does we are delusional. It’s time we believed that when we pray God responds. It’s time we had faith to pray so that we can act.
My continued service to the poor has only ever been sustained and energized because of prayer. When I’m helping someone come off of alcohol and sit with them through the shakes for the 4th time, and a week later they fall off the wagon again it’s hard not to want to give up. It’s hard when you are loving homeless people who beat each other up, commit crimes and get sent to prison, or killed despite your best efforts. If we want to help them we must start on our knees. Only there will we gain the heart to love them properly, and the courage not to quit.
It’s time to act, pray therefore.