Responding to Human Need
normally complacent and “together” people discover that
they have needs, they often don’t know that they can turn to
God and the Christian community for friendship and answers, or they
can’t see the connection. If our Christianity is to be
relevant, it must touch people where they are living. It must be
happened in your neighbourhood last Sunday?
to church is not the first thing that springs to most people’s
minds on Sunday mornings, even when facing problems. Or any time,
for that matter (apart from weddings and funerals, and even that is
occurring less than it used to in the West).
last Sunday, for example. In my culture, some Dads and Mums slept in
or lay in bed reading the newspaper while the kids (not necessarily
from the same marriage) got up and turned on the cartoons or logged
onto the Internet to play games. Breakfast followed, either together
or separately, depending on what Saturday night was like. Some
children went to McDonalds, perhaps with a non-custodial parent.
After breakfast, Dad mowed the lawn or washed the car while Mum put
through a load or washing and reminded the children to empty the
dishwasher and complete their homework. When they were finished, a
few kids washed their dogs or took them for walks. Others cycled to
the park or met friends at the local playground. Mum drove to the
shopping centre (regardless of the actual distance from the home).
Then Dad took the family to the beach. After lunch a few drove to
the oval to watch a football game (“the footy”); others
saw the re-play on television later in the day. The afternoon
finished with a BBQ and preparations to go back to work or school on
Monday. With the kids ensconced in bed Dad and Mum turned on the TV,
saw snapshots about people doing terrible things to one another,
sighed at platitudes from a politician and watched a thriller before
going to bed.
yes, a few people also went to church. (Next year the number, as a
proportion of the population who do so, could well be less.) In some
cases, the neighbours went to the mosque and heard an inspirational
message or denunciation by the mufti or sheikh.
didn’t most people go to church? Why should they? If asked,
some of them would have said they didn’t feel like it. Others
would have reported that with work schedules increasing they valued
their family moments (or time out with serial families) and didn’t
want to waste precious hours attending Victorian-style ceremonies
they didn’t really understand, for objectives to which they did
not subscribe, to worship a God they did not believe in or could not
see. For postmodernists, “church” has fallen out of
style and they are simply not inclined to go to there without a good
reason. “I’m not religious”. “I go at
Christmas; that’s enough”. The assumption is that church
is only relevant for people who “need it”. Like the
first aid kit, it is best left locked up until someone injures
locked-up most churches are; people needing help, counsel, prayer,
answers and support during the week often encounter closed doors and
are obliged to wait until the next advertised service (“All
majority of people feel self-conscious about walking into church
building uninvited. A friend told me she went to a church service
for the first time in years and, when she got there, no one said
“Hello”. She felt awkward and out of place, standing
alone, wondering what to do next. Everyone seemed to know other
people. They gave the impression they knew exactly what was going
on. This made her sense of isolation more acute. “I stood
out.” Without a good reason to stay she waited around only as
long as she felt it was polite to do so, then beat a hasty retreat.
No one noticed when she arrived. Probably no one saw her depart.
Their equanimity was undisturbed.
goes without saying that few people will return to a church
fellowship if they do not make several friends quickly. If they take
the initiative and make an approach, they are never sure what the
response will be, so (in the end) they opt for caution and decide not
to make themselves vulnerable. Why make matters worse?
people have complex and deeply felt needs. It is important that they
hear from other ordinary people why they are Christians, and why they
believe in God. Ordinary people experience stresses, have mortgages,
and have moments when they know they aren’t coping, when what
they have is inadequate. For all our efforts and bonhomie, things
often don’t work out as we wish. Blame the environment,
parents, politicians, hormones, childhood trauma, the Devil (“He
made me do it”), Irish people, Muslims, the media, global
warming, or the Internet. Blaming others enables us to say that “we
can’t help it” and somehow shift responsibility.
However, the blame game doesn’t improve our inner resources to
deal with what is going on.
the true story of the English couple who decided (at the height of
the Cold War) that living in Europe posed unacceptable threats to
their children growing up well-adjusted and free from the possibility
of contamination as a result of nuclear war or accidents. One day
they scanned the atlas in an effort to find the least complicated,
safest place on earth in which to live. When they had made their
decision they sold up, transferred their money abroad, said good bye
to extended family members and set off. They arrived in Stanley, the
capital and only town of the Falkland Islands, just before General
Leopoldo Galitieri, the President of Argentina sent in the first wave
of troops to occupy the islands (subject of a long-standing dispute
with the UK), provoking a short but disastrous war. Weeks later, I
watched a victory parade organised by the UK Government in London and
contemplated the lot of those who seek solutions and occasionally
find themselves worse off than when they started.
the hassles that people around us face (in varying degrees) and for
which they seek to answers: loneliness; boredom; anomie; emptiness;
guilt; rejection by parents, friends, spouses, children and
colleagues; low self esteem; anger about circumstances and people;
feelings of failure and blame; hurts from other people; unrealized
hopes; bitterness; loss of control; unemployment; sickness;
confusion, betrayal; and uncertainty about the future. In some
countries these are compounded by war; hunger; disease; break-down of
society; social injustice; genocide; prejudice and natural disasters.
Many of these hassles are invisible to the neighbours (“We
want our privacy”), but they are just as real as it they
weren’t covered up.
solutions appear to be no better. Those who are bored spend more
time watching depressing television shows or hanging out with other
bored people. Drugs are increasingly sophisticated. Those with
academic interests discover that Rationalism is not so rational after
all and that so-called Positivism is fundamentally pretty negative
and doesn’t offer any panaceas. People interested in spiritual
things, but disaffected by churches, turn to the cults; some end up
in the occult, witchcraft and New Age groups. Gymics are seized on
by those seeking solutions. I saw one advertisement that offered a
week in Australia’s Hayman Island, which is part of the Great
Barrier Reef. Everything was included, nice accommodation, meals,
air-conditioning, white sand and days lounging by the pool. The
package was called the “Marriage Saver”. Politicians
discover, to their chagrin, that people don’t turn to them for
viable answers; they score less than 1% on most trust indicators.
some go to church, where they hear people singing hymns like, “I’ve
wrestled on toward heaven, through earth and wind and tide”.
Sounds like escapism. Is this all Christianity has to offer? More
and women need to be given the capacity to change, to be renewed from
the inside out and to start all over again.
came into the world to reveal a loving, caring, present God. He died
on the cross to secure forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.
He sent the Holy Spirit to give us power to face life. He gives us a
new beginning and a profound sense of hope. He offers true and clear
guidance from His Word. He accepts us, makes us His children and
gives us brand new identities and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians
5:22-23), so that the change we experience is tangible. He tells us
who we are: His children, chosen for a purpose, made in His image,
able to enjoy Him and receive His love. That’s what being born
again is all about.
heart of Christianity is relationship and renewal, starting with God
who reached out to us through Jesus and drew us back to Himself. The
world’s religions tend to emphasize either a high and lofty God
who must be worshipped, obeyed and appeased, or vacuous notions of
striving to reach divinity by ourselves. By contrast, the Holy
Spirit comes into our hearts calling God “Abba, Father”
(Romans 8:13-17). (In the Middle East where I lived, it is common to
hear children calling “Abba”, or “Dad” to
their fathers. Our relationship with God is real and continuous.
Jesus talked about this in terms of “My father and your
Father”. John 20:17)
is about being given power by God to accept responsibility for our
actions: to say “no” to lying, cheating, immorality,
anger, harsh words, hate, grudges, blaming others, impatience, road
rage and generally bad attitudes. It is about choosing to be in
right relationship with Him; setting the right (durable) goals; not
taking short-cuts; seeking God’s Kingdom (His will and plan in
our lives) first, making decisions we know to be right, no matter
what the cost and using our freedom to submit and serve Him.
all this is true, why don’t we hear more about it? Well might
should we respond?
can we respond to the deep needs of society around us in a
“Christian” way? Like a coin, the answer has two sides:
by having a relationship with God that is genuine; and by letting it
we need to do an inventory and make sure our own faith and
relationship with God are up-to-date. We can’t give what we
don’t have. Like Mother Hubbard, if we open the cupboard to
find it empty everyone will go away hungry.
is your Christian experience? Is it active or in sleep mode? Is God
real or an idea? Is prayer a chore or a choice? Does it work? When
was the last time God spoke to you and you knew it was Him? Are you
motivated and led by Him? What is your relationship with the Holy
Spirit like? Is He important in your life? If you feel close to God
at church on Sunday (assuming you do), does this happen during the
week? Does “abiding in Christ” (John 15:1-8) mean more
than the words of a song? Do you need to repent of sin in your life
and get back on track? Do you get enthusiastic about your faith?
the concept of “enthusiasm”. The Greek word
means “in God”. Our lives are bound up with His. He
gives us strength to live. He has made us part of a world-wide
community of people of like faith. He has given us hope for the
future. Christians who are enthusiastic about God have infectious
faith, the kind that gets those indifferent Dads, Mums and kids out
of the house on Sunday morning to enjoying interacting with other
word “joy” has also long been associated with authentic
Christian living. Well known Christian author and apologist CS Lewis
(1898-1963) used the term as part of his autobiography (Surprised
by Joy) when describing his
conversion from atheism to
Christianity. Every great
revival has seen a rediscovery of the sense of joy in the presence of
God among Christians (Psalm 16:11; Nehemiah 8:10). Many people
confuse happiness with joy. Happiness indicators can go up and down
with circumstances, but joy is lasting. Jesus spoke about joy when
facing the cross (John 16:24).
should be the most enthusiastic, joyful people around. Research into
the most influential Christian movements today confirms that
passionate spirituality is what separates them from either the glitzy
or the morbid alternatives. Jesus fulfilled His mission with
passion. The early church was passionate about God and getting the
job of evangelism done. However, while enthusiasm is great, it
doesn’t always last the distance. Passion alone is not enough.
Paul described the anti-Christian Jewish leaders of his day as
having zeal, but “not based on knowledge” (Romans 10:2).
Muslim suicide bombers are zealous to the point of death, but
passionate about faulty ideas. We can be passionate about the wrong
things. Or we can confuse how we “feel” with how we are.
Let’s get passionate about the things of God.
about when we don’t feel enthusiastic or joyful? I have
written elsewhere about what could be called the Christian’s
“spiritual fainting fits”. There are days when we “feel”
less spiritual, less inclined to be bubbly. Not everyone has a
constantly strong and revolutionary personality. Those who study
temperament remind us that “it takes all kinds”. The
fact is, God can use whatever temperament we have.
reality of our Christian witness is not measured by an “Effervescence
Meter”, but flows from whom we are in Christ, recipients of
every kind of blessing in Him (Ephesians 1:3), irrespective of
mercurial moods and personality traits. Guess what, people generally
understand that. “Abundant life” is a fruit of “abiding
in Him”, not just having an unending succession of good days.
second response is to be “real” with others. In the West
(in particular) faith is deemed to be an intensely private matter.
So, too, are personal problems. When facing difficult situations,
the temptation is often to create a façade, to tell a
different story, rather than admit our limits. Let me illustrate.
is a friend in Singapore who loves to travel. He can talk about
different countries with authority and in considerable detail. He
has photographs of most of the popular holiday destinations in
Europe, North America and Asia. You name it, Chua has seen it all.
He has friends over and he talks to them about what he has seen in
the world. But before you feel slightly envious of the opportunities
that have taken him so far from home, I’ll let you into a
secret. Chua confided to me that he downloads all his photos from
the Internet. That’s right. He has been the USA once, because
he has family there, but the rest of his photographs were taken by
other people and adopted as his own. It would now be a tremendous
loss of face for Chua to tell his neighbours that he has given them
the wrong impression. Scratch the surface just a little and the
façade comes away. That’s a common human condition.
real means living as though we actually believe the Gospel and that
our relationship with God is authentic, even when people look
closely. Much of what non-Christians perceive to be associated with
Christianity is not genuine. Sure, faith is subjective, but when
otherwise rational people live on the basis that God is with them,
inside them, skeptics take notice. People bored with “religion”
need to see for themselves that God is real to us, all the time.
write, it is nearly Christmas time. The shop windows are cluttered
with Christmas decorations. Sound systems pipe generic carols into
every corner of the store, so that purveyors of luggage, kitchenware
and cosmetics alike are reminded of the season. Religious themes are
Christmas lights and decorations line both sides of the street and
are hung across the lanes of traffic for several kilometres. Harried
shoppers will soon emerge to battle the queues; they will loathe
shopping for gifts intended to bring joy. Politicians and
businessmen pose in front of gaudy snowmen in the tropics and purr
quotable quotes to eager journalists. The only thing missing from
this scenario is the guest of honour. He is not needed any more; the
traditions have gained momentum and roll along satisfactorily. The
problem with anti-reality, however, is that, when it is over, there
is no trace of what all the fuss was about. It is hard for rhetoric
to generate a meaningful shadow. Next month the music will change
and the CDs and synthetic trees will go back into the basement; the
religious themes will be considered inappropriate in this pluralistic
society. So, how much of it was real? Sound familiar?
are drawn to what works
Andrew, a fisherman and one of the initial disciples, met Jesus, the
first thing he did was go and find his brother. He then brought him
to Jesus (John 1:40-42). This teacher was different from all the
woman at the well in Sychar was so challenged by an encounter with
Jesus, that changed her life, the first thing she did was return to
her village and urge her neighbours to come and meet him (John
4:28-30). Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was so eager to see Jesus
that he climbed a tree on the main road and waited for him to walk by
(Luke 19:1-10). Crowds followed Jesus because he gave them hope and
meaning; they had never seen anyone like Him (Luke 4:42). John tells
the story of certain Greeks who were in Jerusalem during Jesus’
last visit to that city. They came to the disciples and said, “We
want to see Jesus” (John 12:20-22). When the first Christians
started to preach that he had risen from the dead, the Jewish
religious leaders discovered that they had “been with Jesus”
is something infectious about each of these encounters. The
followers of Jesus had the greatest impact when they came straight
from His presence, on fire, inspired, alive. Onlookers were not
drawn to form, tradition or programs, but to the reality of Jesus.
There was something real, something fresh about a personal
relationship with the Son of God that transformed lives. There were
always some who doubted (cf John 1:46; Matthew 28:17), but this did
not stop them. Stephen told the court of the Sanhedrin that he saw
Jesus in heaven; he was killed for this statement, but others were
deeply impacted for life by his faith and testimony (Acts 7:54-60).
personal presence of Jesus in each of these lives gave their message
credibility and magnetism. What those around them saw was not a
matter of mere activity but life; it had a heartbeat. That is why
some of the best evangelists are new Christians; they are not bound
up by process or obligations, but share the Gospel because the joy
and life they have in Him is fresh and they seem to know what they
are talking about. People watch them and want the same things
because what they have “works”. Let’s get back to
basics and get on fire for God. Friends of John Wesley used to say
that he told them to, “Get on fire for God and people will come
and watch you burn”.
are I have been given God’s life. What a privilege. When we
know Him, we are complete (Colossians 2:10). We can touch others
with His love. People all around us have been made to know God and
are hungry for what is missing in their lives. They are spiritually
aware and searching. Our mandate is to show them the way “home”.
We don’t have to impress them with our grandiloquent knowledge
or hyper-spirituality; the life of Jesus in us will do that and will
draw attention to Him. Then they will say, “I’ll have
what they are having”. Not our charisma, but the sign of
living faith in a living God, His power that works in us (Ephesians
could be more relevant.