Loving The Least Of These
What Difference Can One Person Make?
by Tom Davis
I have a Masters degree in Theology and never remember studying anything about caring for the poor or loving the least of these. But then I grew up. I left seminary and started reading the Bible for myself instead of focusing on what my professors wanted me to learn.
What I saw shocked me. Over 2,000 verses on justice and poverty, numerous accounts of Jesus caring for the ‘down and out,’ and hefty commands to love the widow and orphan. If this was important to God, I had to make it a priority in my life
Here’s a question for you: “Do you believe you can make a difference in the life of one person representing the least of these?” Most of us think the answer is ‘no.’ My life is too busy, the needs, too great. But let me assure you, not only is it easier than you think, it also brings the deepest kind of joy to our lives because we are involved in something so much bigger than we are.
I won’t bore you too much with the overwhelming statistics about orphans in our world. Suffice it to say that too many children are living without the protection of family and are exposed to the most horrible abuses imaginable. You can read more at my blog Notes from the Field (www.cthomasdavis.com).
As the president of an international orphan advocacy group, people are always asking me: What can I do to alleviate the suffering of people living in extreme poverty? What I can do to help orphans?
These are huge issues. Almost 3 million people in the world live on less than $2 a day—how can I help? With 150 million orphans what can be done? In my book Fields of the Fatherless: Discover the Joy of Compassionate Living, I came up with simple ways to help people live into new ways of thinking. You wonÕt solve your problems by thinking about them and hoping they get better. You change the world by choosing to live into new ways of thinking.
In that tradition, I’ve developed a five step way to put action to your thoughts.
Step One: Pray
If you’re rolling your eyes, then let me encourage you to stop now. Prayer is probably the most undervalued Christian discipline of our day. Do you remember the movie The Usual Suspects? In that film, Kevin Spacey’s character (the infamous Keyser Soze) says: The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.
I believe Americans don’t pray because we doubt the existence of Satan in our world. To back up that claim, I would send you to speak with any number of pastors from the developing world—particularly Africa. The African church is keenly aware of Satan’s impact and influence over that continent. You will hear story after story about demonic possession and deliverance from our African brothers and sisters.
But we’re way beyond that in the U.S. We’ve moved past the devil, and in many ways we’ve moved past prayer.
Prayer, however, should not be underestimated. When Jesus is not with the disciples or preaching what is he most often doing… praying! When you are tempted to dismiss the effectiveness of prayer, remember the example of Jesus and the words of Kevin Spacey.
Pray 5 minutes a day for what you want to change in our world. Pray for orphans. Pray for food. Pray for health. Just pray, and pray specifically. Pray for compassion and courage. Pray for understanding. Pray for change.
Step Two: Fast
If prayer is undervalued, fasting is most certainly under-practiced. We’re the fattest country on the planet! We invented “fast food” and the “convenience store.” We have a whole channel devoted to FOOD! Going without food is not one of our cultural virtues.
Like prayer, it is hard to find the modern day value in skipping meals. As more and more Christians are unearthing the disciplines of the past, fasting is poised to make a “comeback.” Everything old is new again someday.
Fasting is a private act of sacrifice between you and God. By fasting, you become the living sacrifice, sustained by the breath of God, rather than the bread of man. There’s a spiritual transaction when you give up food in favor of God. You place yourself in His care—acknowledging that He is the author of life, and you are but a weak and broken vessel that needs sustenance every so often. God needs none of that, you do. By giving it up, you place yourself humbly under an infinite God and his love, mercy, and power.
I have also found fasting can serve as an act of solidarity for those who are experiencing a “lack” of any kind. Fasting brings you face to face with what billions of our global neighbors face each day in the struggle for food security. Fasting is a great teacher—especially of empathy toward others.
Fast 5 hours per week for what you want to change in our world. Pick a mea… any meal. You have 21 to choose from. I suggest picking lunch on Monday. Just skip it. Go from breakfast to dinner with nothing but water or juice. Once you’ve mastered this, skip two meals (on the same day). One popular fast is dinner to dinner. Soon, you’ll be going 40 days in the wilderness.
Step Three: Give
Jesus puts the finest point on giving that has ever been made: Where your money is, your heart will be also. There’s really not a whole lot more to that statement or the entire discipline of giving. We may think we’re giving with our intellectual gifts—but Jesus rightly pegs giving as a matter of the heart. By giving our money away with no return in sight, we are binding our hearts to a cause. The more we give, the more the heart takes ownership.
This is an often underappreciated dynamic in the 21st century. We want quick results and instant return-on-investment. We’re more enamored today with “get rich quick” schemes than ever before. We want instant results when we give.
Giving is also a form of sacrifice that, like fasting, acknowledges God’s ownership of the earth and all that is in it. You do not give to impress others or to keep up with the Joneses or even because you “have to.” You give as an act of investing your heart in the heart of another. You sow a seed—hopefully one of those kingdom of God mustard seeds—into some part of Christ’s church.
Give $5 per month for what you want to change in our world. But what can $5 buy you? I believe that’s the wrong question. If you’ve never given, or given without praying and fasting first (hint hint), then take this opportunity to do so. Find a cause or organization and commit to just $5/month. Pray that God would use your mite (or mustard seed) to grow something mighty. I promise what He will grow is your desire and passion to give more.
Step Four: Serve
Jesus lived and worked among the people. And they weren’t the pretty, nice, put-together people. He hung out with hookers and loan sharks… Sitting down, face-to-face, just listening to their stories. Jesus served the outcasts. Unlike the first three disciplines, Christian service is far more practiced in our world. Why? It’s tangible and right out there for you to see.
There are millions of Americans who go on short-term missions vacations (oops, I meant missions trips) each year. I say “vacations” because many well-meaning people evaluate missions trips as if they are on a pleasure cruise. “What are the bathrooms like? Where will we sleep? Can I bring my hairdryer? Will I be able to call my boyfriend? Is it safe?” I’ve heard them all.
Apparently we’ve come a long way from Isaiah in the throne room declaring, “Here I am, Lord. Send me!”
Our preoccupation with comfort and experience has drained the power of a true “missions” experience. Good missions should be done with empathy, intelligence, and abandon.
Serve 5 days a year for what you want to change in our world. That might be half your vacation time in a year. Take 5 days and find a trip, an organization, or a cause that you can work for change. Perhaps itÕs one of the organizations youÕre giving to?
Step Five: Recruit
Jesus was a shameless evangelist. Are you ever envious of how easy he makes it look? “Hey Peter, follow me.” And off he goes. You’re an evangelist too. How many times have you:
Insisted a friend see a movie?Got a book for a friend?Invited someone over to watch a TV show?Set up a friend on a blind date?
If you haven’t done any of those things, please get out more. We are all evangelists for what we find valuable. One way to engage your world is to tell others about what you want to change in the world.
Recruit 5 people to help you change the world. You can do this through a blog, a small group, a speaking opportunity, or any number of social networking Web sites. Take time to build a community of people who are doing all five of these steps. If you get 5 people, and they get 5 more, you’re up to 25. If the 25 get 5 more each, you’re up to 125. Once you hit that point, and 125 people recruit 5 each, you’ve got 625, then 3,125, then 15,625É.and off you go. You multiply your passion by recruiting others. Start with 5, get them to join you on living out social justice.
To know Jesus is to love and advocate for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the outcast. Everything else is negotiable. Everything else is about living something other than what Christ did or said in the “red letters” of the gospels. Caring for the least of these is about putting the words of Christ to action and watching the miracle of what happens when you become Jesus to a dying world. To find out more about this movement, buy the book, Fields of the Fatherless, or, check out my blog at www.cthomasdavis.com or join us at www.5for50.com.
Adapted for mtlmagazine.com.