In this final part of our Esther teaching series, Stand Up: How to Fight Injustice, we are reminded that since injustice never sleeps, we can’t either. Over the course of this conversation I offer four ways we can make sure our lives are always ready to fight injustice. Keep reading to find out what they are.
Last weekend was the annual Relay for Life Walk event. While it has gotten pared back a bit over the years, the original vision for the event was for it to last for a full 24-hours. One of the original slogans that accompanied the all-night walk was that we could walk throughout the night because “cancer never sleeps.” The big idea here is that cancer is always on and so we must be also. We must be ever vigilant to halt its life-stealing advance. Because it never takes a day-off, we can’t either. This kind of militaristic sentiment works for a while, but eventually people start to get tired. Sometimes the very advances to which their support of cancer research has contributed allows some folks to relax a bit and let up on the pressure. It’s tough to stay motivated to support a single cause for a long period of time.
Do you know who does this pretty well? Volunteer firefighters. You guys are amazing. Think about how hard they work to keep us safe for a minute. Taking calls isn’t easy work. And they do it around everything else they have going on in their lives. These guys live normal lives…mostly. They go to work. They go to church. They run errands. They spend time with their families. They go on vacation. They spend time doing things around their own houses. Yet when we need them, they are always ready. Now, they don’t all respond to every call. That would be impossible aside from impractical. But there is always someone when we need them. In order to do this, they meet together regularly to make sure they have all the equipment they need, that all their equipment is working just like it should, and to train on how to best keep us safe in a whole variety of situations.
I got to see them doing some training the other night. I’ve got to say: It was pretty cool seeing all the guys and gals in their gear and working to extinguish a car they were given to burn after somebody wrecked it twice in the same day. (As I told Jim Cameron: If you wreck your car twice in the same day, you probably should just give up and give it to the fire department for practice.) Still, while the rest of us were going about our Tuesday evenings, these guys were giving us time to make sure that if they are needed in a given situation, they’ll be ready. They are ever-vigilant.
Well, this morning brings us at last to the end of our journey through the book of Esther and our teaching series, Stand Up: How to Fight Injustice. Along the way, we have learned just that. Do you realize that? Over the course of this series of conversations we have established a pretty good, five-step approach to battling injustice in our lives regardless of the size or scale it might be.
The first step is to realize that God is always at work behind the scenes. God cares far more about the injustice you are feeling motivated to battle than you do. It doesn’t matter what it is, He cares about it more. And, by the time you arrive on the scene, He’s been working sometimes for years so that the situation is ready for you to come in and get to work. When I spent a summer working at Passport as a Bible study leader, one of my tasks was to lead a group of students and leaders to a mission project somewhere in the area each day. We would show up and get to work, but we were far from the first to arrive on the scene. We had a terrific Mission Project Coordinator named Lisha Storey who had scouted the city for days before we arrived, identified projects worth our time, and got things all set up so that when we walked in the door we could get to work and make an impact. We also had a beautiful Camp Supply Coordinator named Lisa (I can say that because I married her) who made sure we had all the supplies we needed to get the job done. God works kind of like that, but on an even grander scale. And because He works like that, the second step in battling injustice is that it’s always right to do the right thing. When we step out in faith to tackle injustice, we’re always in the right. Even if things don’t go so well in the short term, we’re still right because we’re joining with God in playing a much longer game that He’s actually already won in Christ. We’re just joining in the victory party.
The third step in the process is to submit the whole thing to God. We can have all the grand plans in the world for what we plan to do to tackle a particular injustice, but unless those are also God’s plans we are wasting our time in a big way. Worse, we might run off the rails and contribute to the problem. And the way we make sure our plans and God’s plans align is that we pray fervently for a season before we get started on anything else. Surrendering to God leads to greater things. And when we get started, the fourth step concerns our character. If we set out to battle injustice and don’t have our own character squared away, we are unnecessarily limiting the impact we’re going to be able to have. Humility ultimately wins the day. We will battle injustice effectively when we are honest about who God is, who we are, and the implications of those two facts.
At long last, then, we get active. We take big, sometimes bold actions to oppose the injustice in our crosshairs. But, as we do this, we never forget that success or failure doesn’t rest on our shoulders. We are not the one on whom everything depends. We are to be bold, but leave the results to God. As we follow Him faithfully, trusting that He will keep things well in hand as we go, and rather than trying to do everything on our own, we will find the success we seek.
So then, we’ve arrived, right? We’ve battled the particular injustice we are focusing on to the ground. Victory is ours. Now we can sit back and relax, yes? Not so fast. We may have won this one battle, but the war isn’t over. In fact, until Jesus returns, it won’t be over. As long as sin is loose in the world, there will be no end to the injustices we have the opportunity to face down around us.
And indeed, this is exactly what Esther and Mordecai found. They successfully put an end to Haman so that he could pose no more active threat to the Jewish people, but the decree he had convinced the king to sign was still in effect. What’s more, it was put into place in such a way that it could not be revoked. They had put an end to one injustice, but there was another waiting in its wake.
Here’s how things went down. When Haman was killed, the king promoted Mordecai to his position and gave his entire estate to Esther who promptly put Mordecai in charge of managing it for her. When they figured out there were no legal recourses to seeing Haman’s decree undone, the king gave them leave to write whatever law they needed to in order prevent the massacre from going forward as planned. What they did was to give the Jews the right to defend themselves against any enemy who planned them harm. On the same day Haman’s decree would go into effect, the Jews in every city were allowed “to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods, on one day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.” And, with the exception of a description of the inauguration of the Jewish festival of Purim which still exists today, that’s basically the rest of the story. The Jews successfully defend themselves, Mordecai and Esther become legends, and everybody lives happily ever after…sort of.
You see, while this story does have a happy ending, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Eventually the Persians were conquered by Alexander the Great and the Greeks. Alexander eventually died, and the Egyptians and the Seleucids split up his empire, fighting over the region of Palestine. While the Egyptians tended to be a bit more benevolent as far as rulers go, the Seleucids were awful. The Jews did manage to overthrow the Seleucids and rule themselves for about 100 years (a story told in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees which you can find in a Catholic Bible that includes the Apocrypha). But then Israel was conquered by the Romans and the rest is history. One injustice after the next after the next. And this is our experience too, isn’t it? Think over the history of our nation. We overthrew our British masters, but left slavery in place. We had to go to war to finally get rid of slavery, but that just gave way to the Jim Crow Era. We finally put that mostly to rest in the Civil Rights movement, but the sexual revolution and the Great Society of the 1960s led to a whole wave of new injustices that we are seeing come to bear today. And I could try to start listing out all the injustices facing our society today, but we might be here the rest of the day. Again: As long as there is sin in the world, there will be injustice to battle.
So what do we do? I mean, given the conversation we’ve been having for the past six weeks it doesn’t really seem like giving up and walking away is the way to go. We are called to do something about injustice. And something in us wants to do something too. Consider the lyrics from Matthew West’s song “Do Something,” and see if these don’t ring a bell you have struck before: “I woke up this morning/saw a world full of trouble now. Thought, how’d we ever get so far down? How’s it ever gonna turn around? So I turned my eyes to Heaven, I thought, ‘God, why don’t You do something?’ Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of people living in poverty, children sold into slavery. The thought disgusted me. So, I shook my fist at Heaven, said, ‘God, why don’t you do something?’” In the song and in life, do you know what God’s response is to this common cry? “I did, I created you.”
Just like Haman’s decree still had to be thwarted after he was, just like cancer never sleeps, just like the emergencies of life don’t stop happening, so also injustice never takes a break. That means we can’t either. We must live life ready to stand up for God’s kingdom. Live ready to stand up for God’s kingdom. Okay…but how? I mean, that sounds kind of inspiring as far as ideas go, but what does it actually look like when the rubber meets the road? How do we live ready to stand up for God’s kingdom?
Let me give you four ways we can do this. And hear well ahead of time: None of these things are the kinds of things we would normally consider as reserved for the most spiritual followers of Jesus out there. This is not a list for the super-Christian. These are things that each and every one of us can put into practice starting today. The first thing we’ve got to do is to diligently study the Scriptures. The works these 40 authors contributed to the world under the guidance of the Spirit spell out for us in pretty great detail God’s concern for justice. They give us numerous specific details as well as a narrative context within which we can better understand those details. The more we study the Scriptures, the more we will come to see life through the lens they offer us. When we see the world as God desires for us to, leaning into justice will become natural for us. If we are going to live ready to stand up for God’s kingdom, diligently studying the Scriptures is going to put us in a place to understand what that kingdom is supposed to look like so we know what exactly it is that we are standing for.
The second thing we need to do is to commit ourselves to constant prayer. Like diligently studying the Scriptures, this practice shapes our worldview. Here’s why: When we put ourselves in a place in which we are constantly having a conversation with God—this is a learned discipline—we will begin to see the world as He does. It’s the same thing that happens when you spend a lot of time in conversation with any person. You gradually adjust yourself some to the way they see the world. Well, if we are adjusting ourselves to the way God sees the world, we will be more in tune with His heartbeat for justice. Specifically, we need to pray the prayer I’ve talked about several times recently: “God, where are you at work in the world around me and how can I join you?” We should pray for sick people and hurting people. We should pray for our needs whatever they may be. We should pray for lots of things. But this is a prayer that needs to go pretty high on our list: “God, where are you at work in the world around me and how can I join you?” As we pray that prayer fervently—with passion and focus and intentionality—He will begin to answer it. And as He moves in our heart and mind to not only show us where He is at work, but to invite us to join Him in His work (the same work that He is always doing behind the scenes), our whole lives will become focused in that direction. We will indeed live ready to stand up for God’s kingdom.
As important as looking down into the word and up at our Father is in terms of living lives that are always ready to stand up for God’s kingdom are, we have to make sure those aren’t the only places we are looking. We need to be sure we are looking around too. This is the third thing: We’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on in the world around us. Think about it. If the only places we are looking are up and down, but not around, how are we going to understand our neighbors and what they have going on in their lives? How will we know which issues impact them the most? How will we know which cultural trends are having the most significant impact on their worldview? If our exposure to the world isn’t very big, how will our understanding of it be? We’ve got to read the papers. We’ve got to listen to the news. We’ve got to pay attention to which magazines are the most popular and what they are saying. We should know which books are best-sellers and which movies are dominating the box office. We should have at least a passing familiarity with the latest viral internet memes like the Laurel vs. Yanny debate. (Quick show of hands: Who heard Laurel? Who heard Yanny?) The point is: We’ve got to know what is going on in the world around us. We need to know so that we know where the injustice is raging most recently. Because, when we know, we can see more clearly where our God is working and join Him when He calls. Live ready to stand up for God’s kingdom.
The final thing we can be doing to always be ready to fight injustice is to cultivate a heart that really does care about it. Now, perhaps this seems obvious or simplistic, but I assure that it is neither. We get excited about and move to take action on the things about which we are the most passionate. If you show me somebody’s calendar and their bank statement, I can tell you the thing that gets their heart beating hardest. I wonder: Do you spend any regular time or money battling injustice? More directly: Do you really care about injustice? The best way to start to develop this is to get involved in serving people who are active victims of injustice of some kind. Serve in a soup kitchen. Help out at West Stanly Christian Ministries. Volunteer with the Pregnancy Resource Center of Albemarle. Find another organization you like and get involved. As you begin to get to know the people who are victims of injustice and learn about their situations, you will start to care. As you learn to love them, you will care. You will begin looking for ways to bring justice to their situations. And as your heart starts to beat with the pulse of justice there, it will get into your blood. You’ll begin looking for more ways to be involved. You will begin living ready to stand up for God’s kingdom.
The bottom line for all of this is that righteousness must become our habit. Righteousness is a big word that we sometimes throw around without really understanding what it means. In spite of that, it’s a pretty simple idea. Righteousness means right relationships. It means we are rightly related to God and to people. Stay with me: When we are rightly related to both God and people, battling injustice will come naturally. All four of these things help to increase the amount of righteousness in our lives. And when righteousness becomes our habit, injustice becomes our foe, and God Himself becomes our champion.
Injustice abounds, folks. It’s everywhere we look. And our God is at work behind the scenes of all of it, laying the necessary foundations for it to be overcome at every point. He doesn’t want to do this alone, though. He wants us involved in the fight. All of it. The journey won’t always or even often be easy, but it will always be good. It will put us in the path of the kingdom which is where real life is always to be found. So live ready. Live ready because that’s where life is to be found. Live ready to stand up for God’s kingdom. Live ready to stand up and fight injustice.