on prayer and justice

Today, on the 3 towards Hastings, a boy wearing 2 pairs of pants, stained jacket, and carrying a cardboard call for change: “EVEN PENNIES HELP.”

And the thoughts in my head: Surely, giving him my pennies isn’t helpful. Well, maybe a little. Perhaps I could give him the $5 in my wallet and trust that he’d use it towards a hearty McDonald’s meal deal. But, reflecting on books and conversations I’ve had about “helping” the poor, perhaps I could [even better] envision pointing him towards a service that offers employment training, mentors him, and helps him develop into a self-sufficient human being who gains dignity from his work and is able to pay for a proper room with a shower and coffee maker and books to read. But. Even as I was thinking these things, did I stop to pray? The absence of any kind of prayer reflex was both not a surprise, and a staggering jolt to the heart.

The refrain has an insistent echo in the mind of the young privileged Christian who has a heart for social justice (at least that’s the lens I’m speaking from): “become the answer to your prayers” (there is definitely a book with that name). If we were just to pray and not actually use our God-given hands and feet to accomplish the justice we pray for, what’s the use, right? I think it was Claiborne who wrote that when we turn to God to ask about why the world isn’t becoming a more just place, our greatest fear should be that He turn and ask us the same question.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that trendy social-justice-oriented Christians tend to de-emphasize “just praying” (as if that could accomplish anything) and do action. Because doing action is what brings God’s justice. My very lack of prayer for the boy on the bus this morning is evidence. Eep.

Prayers aren’t just requests for God’s blessing and kingdom to come here, before we set out to do the real work. Nor do we just sit down with God and get His instructions for how we are to do justice today (or “convince ourselves to do what God wants us to do” – a troubling line from the book I mentioned above). I really fear that a lot of social-justice-oriented Christians don’t spend enough time praying to bask in God’s character and his work and his love. And the realization that God’s kingdom simply won’t come here fully until He comes back to reign.

Prayer, the silent (read: NON-ACTIVE) space, needs just as much thoughtfulness, diligence, sweat and tears as the real work.

Do we [do I?] believe this?

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One thought on “on prayer and justice

  1. I like to sometimes buy a cup of coffee or give them some change, yeah it won’t solve any big problems, but it will make their day better.

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