Lent: Deeds of Justice & Service
Lent is my favorite. Even though it’s a completely made up season with only a symbolic basis in a myriad of random biblical traditions, I love it. I like it more than Christmas and all the random Monday holidays (read: three day weekends) and even my best friend’s birthday, all combined. It’s that awesome. Google will tell you that Lent is a time of preparation and penance, culminating in Holy Week and Easter celebrations. For those who take part in this 40 day adventure (more if you count the Sundays), it is a challenge of self-discipline, sacrifice, and devotion. Three things that sadly take a disproportional amount of my energy… But at Lent, we’re asked to give up our vices or even some necessities, denying ourselves and focusing again on God, recalling all the sacrifices of His Son. I love Lent because I am asked to focus on perhaps the only thing in my faith of which I am wholly certain: Christ’s life.
I am a fairly new Christian, and it has been quite a trip thus far. It hasn’t been easy starting this journey in my adult life. Indeed, it has been a difficult learning process, as I choose to walk down a path I know I’ve always been on, but couldn’t always recognize. This walk has required me to thoughtfully reconcile every part of my life and my consciousness, questioning and challenging my faith as much as I have myself. This is hard work. This is spiritual growth. This is also going a little bit crazy.. but that’s just life, really.
So what does Lent have to do with this blog? Why am I writing this?
Because this year, my prayer focus for Lent will be on service. Because quite honestly, I have thought way too much about myself over the last six months or so. So, I am giving up a few ways I fruitlessly spend my time (read: Netflix), tithing the extra scholarship I was blessed with this semester, seeking out service opportunities in Madrid, and generally finding ways to give more of myself to others. And how wonderful it is, that this blog gives me a space to talk about this today, the first day of Lent! It’s all coming full circle, you see.
Years ago, as I started to reflect on what service means to me, I initially looked at my past, searching for some event or person in my life that inspired me (as these stories often go). There were a number of friends, teachers, and events I could have considered, but no singular item stood out. If anything, I naturally surrounded myself with those opportunities and people simply because I felt kinship with them. Growing up, always knowing that I was after something more than where I was, I went boldly after this heart of mine, so bent towards service. And it has brought me to amazing places.
In the last four or five years I have been blessed in unbelievable ways, and as I prepare myself to walk into the next stage of life, to continue to build a career in social justice, I’m betting on God’s blessings. I’m betting on the heart He called me to seek after. I’m betting on Him. And so through this post, by writing publicly about something I scarcely talk about casually, I am devoting it all back to Him. So thank you for reading even this far.
What does service mean to the Lord?
In my little college group back in Boston this fall, we read “The Reason for God,” by Timothy Keller, a rather celebrated pastor and theologian who lives and works in Manhattan. While I can’t claim to have read the book in its entirety (as life got busy and some weeks were skipped), the end struck a chord with me and seemed to vocalize the very kind of life I want to live, one that makes such simple sense to me, in a way that makes me feel whole:
“The purpose of Jesus’ coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world.”
“The gospel story also makes sense of our delight in the presence of beauty, so Christians become stewards of the material world, from those who cultivate the natural creation through science and gardening to those who give themselves to artistic endeavors, all knowing why these things are necessary for human flourishing… In short, the Christian life means not only building up the Christian community through encouraging people to faith in Christ, but building up the human community through deeds of justice and service.”
It is remarkably simple, but powerful. Service is how we do the work of God here on earth, bringing pieces of heaven into our own corner of the world to which we are called, wherever that may be. It goes far beyond charity and service projects, and gets at the very core of the work one decides to do in life, in any field. Anything we do is a service unto the Lord.
With that said, there’s something else we have to realize. These passages reminded me of a second, truly amazing book I read while I was in Ghana last summer: “The World Is Not Ours To Save: Finding The Freedom to Do Good,” by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, an activist of nuclear non-proliferation, who is also a Christian. Drawing from the beautiful images of a kingdom-come in Micah, he writes for Christian activists not unlike myself, who feel a deep desire to make a life of social justice. He ultimately says we ought to act on this, because to do this work is to bring the kingdom of heaven here to earth, to be a part of the new creation we are all waiting for. The author’s conclusion, though, is a thought woven throughout the book: the humble realization that we cannot – in any absolute way – save this world from all its struggles and injustices. Only Christ can, has, and will continue to do that. But where we work, if we work hard, from there great change will come.
So what does this mean to me? Maybe even to you, whoever you, my reader, are?
At Jubilee, a college conference my group went to last year, the final speaker said something at the very end of the conference, which I think sums it all up pretty well: “Find what makes you tick in this world, and do that work – whatever it is, whether its a hobby or a career. Because God delights in that, and the whole of creation hums and ticks to watch you do that which makes you hum and tick. Find it, and there you will do His work.”
I don’t yet know where in this world I will be, or what area of my chosen field I will labor away in. But I do know that I have never truly failed in following this path from its beginning. And so, I will continue in this prayerful season of Lent that is upon me, to find ways to actively seek it out, so that I might seek Him out.