On Changing the World

Chances are that if you’re reading this post, and you’re human, the thought of changing the world is at least a little appealing to you. Maybe it’s not what drives you or gets you out of bed in the morning, but let’s face it – you wouldn’t turn the opportunity down, would you?

And, if we could just go ahead and bypass the hard work and promise that the incredibly difficult and tragic days wouldn’t come, who wouldn’t want to be a Malala or Nadia Murad or Kid President? Maybe you don’t have a hero complex, but can you honestly say you don’t have the tiniest dream about being a hero?

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And then, of course, there’s those of us who do get out of bed for the hard work, who relish the late nights (in the morning), and who brace ourselves (and appropriately stock the freezer) for the difficult and tragic days. There are the few who actually and actively do want to change the world.

Sometimes we are called optimists. Or naive. Or dreamers. Or crazy.

And we acknowledge it, too, don’t we? That we are all those things that people call us? We maintain our belief that we can really change the world, all the while knowing that we can’t.

We share quips of wisdom along the lines of changing one person’s world, or casting stones and making ripples. We talk about building the future and casting out darkness.

And I know this, people, because this is my job! This is what I do every day. I’m not criticizing it!

This last week, though, I got back from a really awesome trip to Northern Iraq. I mean, I am still slightly euphoric from my time there, it was just such a highlight. But I was prompted to think long and hard about what my work is accomplishing in the world.

While I was watching some of the 150 students that we are currently serving in our programs rehearse for a theater exhibition full of smiles and pride and confidence, I discussed with a friend the impending conflicts that will come in the next months, sending hundreds of thousands of people into a state of chaos and loneliness and trauma. We talked about how the compassion is wearing thin and where people banded together in unity against the “Other” of ISIS, that bond is weakening, and people are starting to see their differences again.

The victim is a sinner, too, and darkness and hurt only beget more of the same.

Can we cast out the shadows with light? Yes, but a small light cannot breach every darkened corner in such an expanse as we live in.

So, is it all for naught? Will the students we have poured into this summer just disappear into the waves of negative media and the throngs of displaced people crying out for something different, something better?

Do we work tirelessly to change the world, pretending that we believe we could actually achieve our goals of peace, or life, or an end to poverty, or the demise of hunger?

If I can’t actually change the world, does what I can do matter?

And then I was challenged with my frame of reference. Will I change the world? No. I will not. But, I know the One Who ultimately will. And He is the reason why I try.

I know that I will not change the world, and that’s okay, because that’s not my goal. It may be the discourse I use or the verbiage that communicates my vision, but it is not actually what drives me.

If I get out of bed because I think I am actually going to say or do or write something that will alter life for humanity, then I might as well invest in a better mattress and those fancy sheets and get comfy.

But it’s okay, I get up and I keep working because I don’t anticipate changing humanity. I get up and keep working because I personally have been changed, and working for peace and justice and fulfillment reflects the One who changed me. 

Believing I can change the world is short-sighted and self-centered. Reflecting a citizenship that reflects my Redeemer on the other hand, is obedience.

I love the least because that’s what He did. I hold hands with the broken-hearted, because that’s what He does. I fight for justice, because that’s what He died for.

My work is not primarily about me, and it is not primarily about Kurdistan or education or peace. It is primarily about Jesus and what He has presented as a right and good Kingdom. It’s not here, goodness don’t we know that? It’s not here, but I am compelled to live like it is.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10) 

I know I will not change the world. It’s okay. You won’t either. But, if you have been changed, you sure ought to look like it, and the world around you that you touch should start to look more and more like something God designed, because you’re there.

Don’t focus on the world, focus on the change.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6) 

(Thanks, Raby, for challenging me on this.)

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