This week the mainstream media has run stories from around the world of atrocities that have been going on for some time, but some of them are starting to get the international attention they deserve. Many of you will have read and seen the graphic images of Christians being beheaded, raped, slaughtered, and driven out of their homes in Iraq. And I’m sure I don’t need to give you the details of the situation in the Middle East – you can google it and wade your way through the mountain of opinion and articles. I can’t make sense of it myself.
Every day I read of causes and campaigns that we can give to, which may relieve pockets of the suffering for some, but the systemic issues remain unresolved and we can feel like our efforts were so temporary. One heartless dictator falls, another rises, sometimes far worse, to take his place. Girls are rescued from sex trafficking, but others are moved in to take their place. And sometimes projects are successful, with local people empowered and equipped to change their own communities -stories of hope, of courage, and of overcoming. I love it when that happens!
Then there’s social media giving us the ability to become aware of what is happening in other parts of the world as its happening. Still, the stories that don’t often make it to the mainstream news are the ones we’ve seen many times before: the monsoons in South East Asia; the overcrowded refugee camps with a sea of despairing faces; the fighting in the Middle East – unless of course there’s a new twist or a massive number of casualties that we simply can’t ignore, and then it might make the news.
So where does that awareness lead us to? Once we spend a day or two outraged, expressing opinions and taking sides in wars, and perhaps throw up a quick prayer, what action has really been taken to truly get involved and bringing the incredible love of the Father into communities, people groups, and nations? Awareness should lead us somewhere, right? If not our own hands and feet sent to those in need of a touch of heaven, then surely set to task with what we can actually do?
Awareness without action is quite simply apathy, and I believe it’s the greatest challenge we presently have in the Church. It keeps us from sharing the eternally life-changing message of the gospel with our loved ones; it holds us captive from discovering what our greatest purpose and destiny for our short time on earth; it spreads and strengthens its grip using religious language, unhelpful man-made traditions, and just plain ol’ self-interest taking the front seat.
Apathy is a lack of interest or concern, and it’s a war to wage amongst ourselves. It’s a war I have to wage within myself as well. I wish that wasn’t the truth, but it is. I also think that apathy can rise from a place of feeling powerless and overwhelmed, and also not knowing just how incredible Jesus can actually be in each of us. What to do about apathy? I’ll get to that in a sec. But first, let me give you a personal story of apathy.
I haven’t been entirely just warming a church pew for my 20-something years as a Christian.
Honestly, I’ve given to tons of charities and individuals, to everything from work with orphans, emergency relief, evangelism, everything. I’ve fundraised countless times for others going overseas, as well as myself. I’ve given like a mad-woman at times, even when it has meant my own discomfort, inconvenience, hunger, unpaid rent, and holey clothes!
I’ve signed petitions, sent letters to Members of Parliament, stood collecting on the street and gone door-to-door, volunteered for everything from stuffing thousands of envelopes, fed the homeless, helped drunk teens, prayer walked all over the world, and helped prepare rice meals to be sent overseas (that one was fun).
I can give you first-hand stories of poverty and injustice that I’ve seen with my own eyes – drugged babies by their begging mothers to make them appear more desperate in India; a woman washing a few metres away from a man squatting in the same trench in Mumbai; orphaned/abandoned children on the streets in the Middle East; the crumbled remains of a war zone in Cyprus, ‘no man’s land’, accompanied by the stories of relatives still mourning the loss of their missing ones… OK, I’ll stop there, you get my drift.
But here’s the thing… one day I can weep over what I see or read, telling myself that I’m going to do something, then the next I’m absorbed with planning my children’s birthday party with cute decorations and fun-shaped food, or complaining about the hot water running out once my kids have drained it dry. Or that they won’t eat their vegetables.
I want to change the world one day, and then the next my brain is back to being numb and consumed with the issues of life again. I, along with plenty of others, frequently switch off to the images of war, disease, injustice, and dire poverty, many times because it’s uncomfortable; because if we chose to feel, we might have to do something. We might actually have to do something inconvenient, time consuming, expensive, or life-changing.
I’m a mix of being exhausted, tired of caring about everything and everyone, apathetic, overwhelmed… but also compassionate, intentional, deeply caring, and extremely passionate about seeing nations transformed. I’m a big mess.
Even with some ‘missions streams’ running through the course of my life, I still struggle to overcome this giant called apathy. So I’m not on a high horse telling you here to care like I do. I really do struggle to know how to live in that place of tension – where I enjoy the life God’s given me, yet also participate in bringing God’s Kingdom to earth.
So again, what to do about apathy?
I believe apathy is displaced by a personal and profound revelation of the Father’s absolutely over-awed incredible plan for your life. When you know who you are, and who Jesus wants to be to you and through you, you can’t help but be propelled into action. Apathy is displaced by love. The kind of love that looks like something. The more time I spend with Jesus, the more uncomfortable I become with being a spectator.
So consider this: do something different today than what you usually do. Have a different thought. Ponder the possibilities. Seek the Lord and find out what he’s saying about who you are. Discover your truest identity, and dream big with how you can be used to change the world. And that’s not supposed to be a cliché… you actually can change the world for someone. Every single life is worth enough for Jesus to die for – so every life is worth touching with the power of love that is found in Him, be it outside your own door, or further afield in the world.
Is there a nation on your heart? A cause? Human trafficking? Humanitarian and emergency assistance? Foster care? Orphans? Shifting atmospheres in prayer? Are you a pioneer at heart, or a much-needed partner to follow another’s leading? What are you natural and learned skills? Jesus is interceding at the right-hand of the Father for you – what’s He praying over you?
Friends, I haven’t yet worked out how to live from a place of perfect peace and joy (the abiding atmosphere of heaven), as well as allowing my heart to bear the burdens of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Or how to be truly moved by compassion without it knocking me off my feet, and I lose joy as my natural state of being. If you have, tell me here.
But I’m sure committed to finding out how to be less manic and fickle, and more consistently committed to living out the life that I’m here on earth for. I don’t want to cope with the enormity of the task by flicking a switch off in my heart, as I believe there’s a better way. I’m searching to find it through allowing God’s heart to increase in capacity within my own – lest apathy takes hold of me and keeps me from pursuing the extraordinary life that is mine to live. God help me from becoming indifferent.
The task of bringing the Kingdom to earth is indeed overwhelming, because it’s not meant to be undertaken by only a few. It takes us all.