As I reflect on the type of life that God has called Christians to live, I often find myself overthinking and overcomplicating the call.
Maybe you are like me.
We live in a flawed, hurting world that is in desperate need of the love of God. And yet, the scope of the need often makes us feel paralyzed to act on the faith that we claim. As Christians, we desire to see the world in a much better place than we currently do for those living in poverty. Yet, we fall into the trap that our actions and faith lived out wouldn’t be enough. Can we meet the needs of the world within our own actions? No, absolutely not. However, when our lives are rooted in the story of the Gospel, the love, and goodness of God, I think we’d be amazed to see the ways in which the Kingdom of God could be visualized on earth as it is in heaven.
In his 1973 book “And there will be Famines,” Food for the Hungry founder, Dr. Larry Ward, recalls an interview where he is questioned on why he does the things that he does. The book reads:
““I suppose that’s why you are doing what you are – because you have seen all those hungry people all around the world.” “That’s part of it, of course,” I [Larry Ward] replied. “But only part. Yes, I live with the nightmare of the world’s hunger. I’ve seen it so many times in so many places. But the main reason I am doing what I am is because of this Book.” And I held up my Bible.” “You may not be able to look with me into hungry faces all around the world, but you can look with me into a Book … which tells us how to react to them and what to do.””
What does James 1:27 mean?
So, how does this Book tell us to react to the poor, the marginalized, and the least of these? James 1:27 states the following:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” -James 1:27
If I had to sum up the teachings of James 1 in a sentence, the following would have to be it: The story that you live in, is the story that you’re called to live out.
Throughout the book of James, the seamless point that is being made over and over is simple yet profound. Yes, we have been saved by grace and grace alone, however, faith without works isn’t faith at all. James over and over again is appealing to his audience and to us, making the point that we mustn’t only be hearers of the word–we must be doers of the word as well.
James recognizes that some may limit their understanding of faith, allowing it to remain confined to their thoughts, or only allow it to be empty words. For James, this is lacking in the faith God calls us to. In reality, the faith that counts is the faith that is lived out in action in a person’s life. You cannot simply say one thing and do another. James is telling us that true faith is faith lived out.
This brings me back to our statement:
The story that you live in, is the story that you’re called to live out.
Now, does James mean that literally this is the only true way that we are to act out our faith, by caring for the orphan and the widow? By no means. Caring for the orphan and the widow certainly is a way for so many of us, but even more so James is pointing us towards the most vulnerable, oppressed, and marginalized in our communities and in the world. In James’ day, the orphan and the widow were without doubt the most vulnerable, oppressed, and marginalized. As James is appealing to his audience, he is charging them to think about who these people are in their context. I believe we’d be good to do the same. This includes the orphan and the widow, yet is also far more expansive than I believe we really know.
Maria Minaya sits with her son on the steps of her hillside community in Lima, Peru.
James is calling people to see the need and to show up. He is leading people to not overcomplicate their calling. Rather, he charges us to show up, to look after, to care for, and to walk alongside. Jesus is the Savior, not us. We are simply called to be faithful and available.
God calls us to be people who run out to the front lines. We too were once the spiritually poor, broken, and needy–and God saved us. Now, he asks us to respond to His love by loving His people just as He loves us. God tells us through James that this is how we express our faith: by loving his vulnerable, oppressed, and marginalized people.
James is telling us plainly that the story you live in, is the story that you’re called to live out.
So here’s the bottom line. Root your life, all of it, in the love of God. If you live in the love of God, you’re called to and will demonstrate His love to others.
If you live out the love of God, you’ll walk with the marginalized and the oppressed. You’ll care for the widow, the orphan, and the poor: God’s people.
Imagine what the world might look like if we all lived this faith out. Imagine what the world would look like if Christians saw responding to suffering not as something to shy away from, not as merely an option, but as a mandate to action, an opportunity to show up and for God to show off. Certainly, this is the world we’re called to pursue. Root your life in the love of God and live it out, showing up in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God’s Story: You Look Like Your Father
What’s the Problem with Poverty?
Ending Poverty Together: Finding Beauty Amidst the Devastation