Recently, I have been reading about some of the Christian mission work that is going on in Africa, partnering with local peoples to affect change in some of the poorest, most disease-stricken, underdeveloped places in the world. The stories are compelling no matter who you are. But the deeper you get into the writer's words, the more boldly and unapologetically she comes after you, saying, basically, that she doesn't understand how you can read this book and not give her money or how you can read this book and not travel to Africa yourself to lend a hand.
What are you? Some kind of monster? Some kind of "Christian" in name only?
Just this morning, I was catching up on my Twitter feed from the overnight hours and saw a Christian who has a passion for social justice quote some statistics about how few (relatively) of a select demographic of Christians share the same concern that he has. His tone was condemning. He doesn't understand how you can know this is happening and not be doing something about it.
You must be some kind of monster. Some kind of "Christian" in name only.
This is what passion does to us if we're not careful. It overruns whatever humility we have and speaks out in condemnation of those who don't share our passion, particularly our passion for the Lord's work that He's given us. I mean, what are you?
But can I tell you what happened when I read those books about Africa (both by the same author, so one "story")? God ignited in me a deeper passion for my own community. God opened my eyes to see the needs right here in my own place in the world that need His touch. God sparked within me the desire to go out and do what's being done in Africa right here in America.
It's not at all that I don't care about starving children in Africa. It's not at all that I'm not concerned about AIDS. It's not the slightest bit that my heart doesn't break for the street children of Kenya and the orphans of Swaziland. It's not that I don't rejoice at the possibilities of hope there.
It's simply that Africa is not the place to which God has called me right now. And if I let this missionary guilt me into channeling my missions energies toward her work, then I am shortchanging the missions that have captured my holy heart.
Or what about the guy on Twitter? When I read his passionate pleas and commentaries on the issue that God has placed on his heart, I feel more strongly the issues that God has placed on mine. I am drawn deeper into my own mission because of his.
It's not that I don't care about his cause. It's not that I don't think it's worthy. It's not that I think he's wasting his time or misdirecting his energies.
But if I'm not careful, he could misdirect mine.
The truth is, there are plenty of problems in the world to go around. That's part of what it means to live in a fallen creation. And yes, when God has placed something on our hearts, we want nothing more than to heal it in His name. We want nothing more than to bring His people together around it. But it's not the work that should be uniting us.
Imagine if every Christian in the world gave their resources to the missionary in Africa. We could make great strides on that continent, maybe even wipe out most, if not all, of the problems we perceive there (some of which have more to do with our Western standards of living than any actual deficit, but some of which are legitimate human concerns). But if we all directed our missions money and energies to Africa, what happens on the other six continents? What new problems are allowed to take root and to grow there?
What if we all took the Twitter guy's cause as our own? We could do great things, amazing things, but what would we be ignoring in our own places?
More importantly, what would we be ignoring in our own hearts?
My heart aches for the brokenness around the world. It does. But my heart yearns for the change that God has called me to make in the place where He has called me.
And what binds us together as His hands and feet should not be the cause we're working for. It should not be the place on the map on which we stand. It should not be that we're putting all our efforts in the same boat. What binds us together is the passion that we have for Him.
So I look at the woman in Africa, and I pray for her and her work, and I pray for the people there who are caught in the crosshairs of need, and I am thankful that God has made persons like her who have a heart for the work there, who can go to a place like that and do that kind of work. And I look at the guy on Twitter, and I pray for him and his work, and I pray for the people he will minister to with the love of God, and I am thankful that God has made persons like him who have a heart for that work.
But then I take both of those stories and turn the fires they kindle toward the work that God has called me to, which is neither in Africa nor on Twitter. I turn them toward the peoples He's placed in my path. I turn them toward the causes He's set me to work on. I turn them into holy fuel for that little spark of ministry that's in my own heart.
And maybe you think I'm heartless because I'm not giving to your work in Africa. And maybe you think I'm a terrible human being because I haven't dropped everything and run to your front lines. And maybe you want to call me a "Christian" "in name only" because I seem to not be doing anything about your particular cause.
But I am doing something for His.
I say all that to say this - don't let others bully you, especially Christians, into investing in an account that God has not given you. Find your heart for Him and live there. Live out of that passion. It's not our concern about orphans or our heartbreak over AIDS or our busyness in feeding the hungry or whatever that binds us together as His people; its our heart for Him. It's that holy fire that burns within us that makes us, collectively, His people.
There are plenty of problems in the world to go around. Find the one He's called you to work on and get started, whether you read about it in a book, saw it on Twitter, or spied it in the eyes of your own weary neighbor.