Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:27
Note from Pastor Grant:
I have noticed that when I take up a cause against injustice or perceived threat, that it is too easy to become worse than what I’m challenging.
In the struggle, my pride and ego easily take control!
Recently, Marlo Fox and I had an e-mail exchange, and she spoke of her challenge to keep the attitude of Christ, while working to alleviate poverty through her ministry.
Marlo tells her story below as a Guest Interrupter:
I was in my early 30’s when I noticed the shift starting to happen inside me.
I had been working on the front lines of poverty alleviation for a decade. That’s 10 years of God wrecking my former self – one filled with naïve good intentions and a limiting American middle-class worldview.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t close to scratching the surface of dealing with issues of racial bias and injustice in both my community and in my own heart. I was, however, becoming “woke” to the ways in which poverty was ravaging people’s lives.
I thought that the world around me was satisfied living in ignorant denial.
My friend group had started to shift, my family was reshaping, and now poverty was no longer about “those people.” It was about me and my people. It had become PERSONAL.
At the same time, I began reading scripture with new eyes.
Formerly the Word had, to me, mostly been a book of morality and living a “good life.” Now, I was seeing and experiencing scripture as a redemptive love story told from the perspective of the poor, oppressed and powerless.
Jesus’s words and life demonstrated an upside-down kingdom that was no longer abstract. I was surrounded by people that embodied what James 2:5 taught:
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
I found myself becoming angry at the middle/upper-class Christians around me. I tried to be an evangelist, calling into question their judgment, apathy, and ignorance. When change was not happening fast enough, when I would get rebuttals or lip service, I became more bitter and self-righteous.
Rather than leaning into humility and love, I retreated into places and people that affirmed my frustration.
I became the judge of those judging. How ironic.
It was a spiritual turning point for me, and I knew it. The problem was, my prayer life was sub-par, so I had no power to recognize or deal with my own ego. What Christ was doing in my life to bring about justice and further His Kingdom, the enemy robbed through my lack of surrender.
I was proud that my actions, my ministry, were backed by scripture that taught a “pure and undefiled religion” to “orphans and widows” in my ministry to “addicts and ex-offenders.” But though a vessel for truth, I had not learned humility.
Under the cover of the good deeds of praying and following my understanding of scripture, I had become a tool of manipulation and self-promotion.
Today, there is a mixed bag of deep heaviness but also great potential for transformation in our families, communities, and nation. Many of us hunger to be a part of positive change – authentic, lasting, and loving change!
Even with the best of intentions, if we don’t draw upon a deep well of time spent in the presence of our Lord, we can do more harm than good.
Here is my invitation for you, and for me:
He must become greater; I must become less. John 3:30-36
Also, a verse that helped me move from just challenging others to changing myself first:
Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23
Marlo is the Executive Director of ThinkTank, an organization seeking to equip other organizations to respond to poverty in ways that promote human dignity and lasting change. She was also a “guest Interrupter” with Interruptions #187 and #252.