What Can I Do? / What Do You Want?

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Discussions about “race” and racism eventually end with application questions. The debates fizzle. The heat cools. The air clears, and most everyone asks some form of “So what now?”

In my experience, the application question often takes two forms. Some people ask, “So what can I do?” Others ask, “So what do you want?”

There’s a world of difference between those two questions. The word choice often reveals a heart choice.

“What can I do?” often signals a heart that’s moved of its own accord toward engagement, commitment, and action, however feeble and novice. The question assumes personal responsibility and investment. It’s not about you but me. The person who asks this question often feels ownership of the issue and its resolution.

The second question, “What do you want?” often reveals a heart choosing to dig in. It shifts responsibility (or blame) from the questioner to the other. It’s not about me but you. It’s still playing defense. The question doesn’t come from willingness as much as a kind of defiant resignation or exasperation or grudging tacit admission of defeat. It often hopes there’s no answer to the question and finds relief in silence and glee in seemingly insignificant or impractical responses.

For those who ask, “What do you want?” I would simply say: It’s not what I want but what Jesus wants. Until you’re asking yourself what your Lord wants from you, you’re asking the wrong question and no answer will suffice. The good news is that the Lord tells us all exactly what he wants from us. We see it in the Great Commission, with its emphasis on making disciples who “observe everything he has commanded.” By “everything he has commanded,” Jesus means everything. For example, the Lord means the “new commandment” he preached in John 13, that we love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34). And I think the Lord has in mind a right application of old commandments too. Like the “weightier matters of the law: mercy and justice and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). The Lord means for true followers to be as scrupulous about these weightier matters as they are about the comparatively lighter issue of tithing and giving. All I want from brethren in the Lord is what Jesus demands of them. As long as you think those demands come from me and not from Jesus, your heart will remain resistant to the truth and the calling the Lord has on your life. It saddens me for you, because there’s more to Jesus than you know, and he has more for you to do as you follow him than you’re recognizing.

For those who ask, “What can I do?” I would say, “It depends.” It depends on who you are, where you are, and what providentially the Lord has given you to work with. Let me flesh that out with a series of application questions I shared with my church family a couple of weeks ago. I hope they help. The questions provide general guidance on finding your particular lane and running in it with freedom and confidence.

  1. Identify your attitude. What attitudes and feelings are at work in my heart when it comes to pursuing biblical justice? How are those attitudes affecting my perception of people, situations, and most importantly God?
  2. Identify your topics and learn. What are the issues that affect my family, my neighbor, my neighborhood, my church, my country, and my world? Which things hit close to home and therefore are close to me and those I love and serve? Which things are so important in the world at large that as a “world Christian” I should study?
  3. Identify your “local lanes.” Of the things that hit close to home (my family, my neighbor, my neighborhood, my church), which ones will I get involved in? What are the opportunities for involvement and service?
  4. Identify your responsibilities, authorities, and influence. How has God uniquely situated me to play a part in addressing this issue(s)? In my callings as Christian, spouse, parent, neighbor, vocation, what obligations, decision-making ability, and influence fall upon me, and how should I steward them?
  5. Identify your strategies. What will I actually do given my topic, my local lanes, and my callings? Not everyone is called to do everything. If you don’t head a national organization with access to major media, you’re not likely the one who needs to be the national spokesperson. If you’re not a legislator you’re not likely the one to introduce a major bill. But you might be a father with a child on the autism spectrum and fighting to be sure she and other students have resources in their local school is right in your lane. Or you may be a freelance writer and lending your services to a worthy local cause is a perfect fit for who you are. What will be your strategy given who you are?
  6. Identify your allies. The pursuit of biblical justice has always been a team sport. It’s always been a project God’s people are to join together to work on. But it need not be limited only to your tribe of Christianity or even necessarily to Christians. Who are the people and organizations of good will who image forth God’s likeness in the pursuit of justice in a way that isn’t repugnant to the Scriptures and the Lord? Which of them might join you or might you join in the pursuit of righteousness?

I know this isn’t a laundry list of “easy steps” to begin a life of doing the weightier matters of the law: mercy and justice and faithfulness. But hopefully it’s a little bit of principled help to those who are asking, “What can I do?” And hopefully a few others might consider what they’re saying when they ask, “What do you want?” Hopefully.

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