The passions that took root during my early twenties convinced me a life devoted to social justice would be my future; a future immersed in helping to restore dignity to communities long abandoned, shunned, or ignored. Words such as “justice,” “mercy,” “intentionality,” and “community” peppered my everyday conversation as these concepts deeply resonated with my soul.
In the midst of a year-long study abroad in London, God profoundly moved in my life showing me how my compassion for the plight of others intertwined with my desire to serve Him. In that year, God’s grace hit me in a way that left me forever changed. My eyes were opened to the truth that loving Him meant being radical for Him. It meant loving the people who didn’t typically walk through the doors of a church. It meant leaving my comfort zone in order to care about the needs of those people society had effectively discarded. It meant extending mercy and pursuing justice.
The next few years were filled with further refinement of my vision for serving God. He took me on a journey that expanded my understanding of what loving His people looked like. The journey included outreach to the homeless, overseas mission work, ministry in urban areas, and further studies in community development. I identified myself as an individual excited about how God’s grace overflowed to the world and passionate about looking at others through the lens of Christ.
God’s call for justice seemed so fundamentally clear to me. I desperately wanted those around me to also grab hold of what God was showing me about His heart for the world. In a variety of ways, I sought to convince others that the call to follow Jesus was a radical call to extend God’s grace to those oppressed or ignored by the world. It meant leaving a comfortable life for the sake of caring for others. It meant seeking justice and working to empower the materially poor.
All good stuff, right?
Well, yes and no. Certainly, God does desire we as His people care about the plight of others and work towards justice. My problem was while my passions for serving the “have nots” in society continued to grow, my heart was simultaneously cultivating a judgmental and critical spirit towards the “haves” of society.
It felt remarkably easy to have compassion for people who seemingly deserved grace. The people broken by society, the people oppressed by choices and decisions far out of their control. I wanted to fight for justice and demonstrate mercy towards these hurting people and broken communities.
I thought my life echoed God’s call to walk humbly with Him as my heart appeared focused on serving others. Honestly, in retrospect, I know pride flowed readily through my veins. I often considered myself better than those who hadn’t grasped the vision I self-righteously had for living this Christian life.
Yet God, in His sovereign wisdom, saw fit to put my dreams for loving others on hold. Through a chain of choices, many of my plans slowly came to a halt. The people I had become used to serving, the soapboxes I had grown accustomed to standing on, and the issues of justice that rapidly fell from my lips were no longer part of my daily life. In their place, God exposed my own ungracious notion of grace.
In a foreign country filled with millions who fit the profile of those I felt called to serve, I was sharing life with people considered part of the privileged middle class. It was here I came face to face with my twisted belief that some people really deserve God’s love and grace and others don’t.
Why was it so easy for me to care for the homeless and fight against oppression while my heart felt judgmental and superior to those who didn’t fully embrace my view of what living radically for Christ entailed? Why was I was so interested in meeting the material and spiritual needs of someone without money or resources, but I easily overlooked the needs of someone who possessed relative wealth?
Jesus told a parable in Luke 18:9-14 that in many ways reminded me of myself:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Christ’s stinging picture of the Pharisee could have been my mirror image. In many ways I was so thankful God have given me a desire to serve and care for people on the margins of society. I felt blessed God allowed me to see ways in which I could fight against injustice in His name. All the while, pride festered in my soul and contempt seeped from my conversation.
The reality of my ungracious heart convicted me deeply as I saw how I had painted a mental picture of who I should serve and who I should be critical of. The truth is no one deserves God’s grace. Not the people broken by society and oppressed by others. Not the people doing the breaking or oppressing. Not the “have nots.” Not the “haves.” Not the people desiring to act justly and love mercy. And definitely not me. None of us are deserving of God’s grace.
By watching God put my passions on hold, I understood I had become so entrenched in how I wanted to serve God, I ultimately lost sight of the astounding love God has for every single person. His grace flows freely to all. Despite our status as undeserving, we are all invited to sit at His feet and follow Him.
In Christ’s drastic kingdom, loving the “have nots” is not an option. However, the deeper truth is loving all people as Christ loves them is not an option. Regardless of wealth or position in society.
Now in my thirties, my days involve managing life in my suburban house while playdates and moms’ groups happily eat up much of my free time. The people I thought I would serve often seem a distant memory from my current life. My daily existence feels far from the frontlines of fighting for social justice. In many ways, I have morphed into someone who historically would have been a recipient of my criticism.
I see the sovereign humor of my Lord; a God who would take me on a journey where I end up living a life that is far from my previous plans. A God who was more concerned with my heart as His follower than with the actual things I did to serve Him. As I glance back over the last decade, I see more deeply what God’s grace is and how that reality motivates me to love others with God-centered gracious grace.
The journey is long and the road continues to wind. With each passing day and with each person God brings across my path, I understand with greater clarity He desires for grace, mercy, and humility to be the overflow of my heart. As His child, God wants me to fully abandon any hint of contempt and consistently demonstrate God-rooted compassion towards all people at all times.