Ordinary people often feel powerless to improve our society, or even our lives. We can, and we do, but we can do it better.
Last night after dinner my family and I were discussing some of the Middle East events of the day, and the picture was not pretty. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were capturing more territory, killing more people, and destroying mosques and other religious sites. Hamas and Hezbollah were launching rocket attacks on Israel, who was retaliating with air strikes, killing many. Syria remained embroiled in its civil war, and the “Arab Spring” of 2011, with all of its hopes of democracy, has turned sour. My daughter, visibly troubled, asked what our government was going to do about all of this mayhem. I answered that no matter how powerful, governments have limited ability to intervene. The American President Barack Obama, who some consider to be the most powerful man in the world, has four main elements of American national power that he can use to accomplish US goals in the world, which in this case is to restore peace and stability and promote democracy.
1. Diplomatic power – the ability to persuade other nations to think, speak and act in a way which furthers, or at least does not oppose, US interests.
2. Informational power – the ability to influence other nations via culture, mass media, research and development, intelligence, and cyber activities.
3. Military power – the ability to influence or compel other nations to act in accordance with American interests by physical force.
4. Economic power – the ability to influence other nations via providing or withholding money and other economic resources.
With respect to the Middle East, the US has diplomats working furiously to persuade all of the parties to the conflicts above to lay down their arms. America is using Voice of America, international cooperation agreements in science, arts, and hundreds of other areas, intelligence and cyber activities to encourage (and threaten) international players. The US military has fought in the region for the past 10 years, and America gives billions of dollars per year to all sides to influence them into peace. Nonetheless, lasting success is elusive.
Developing nations such as Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) have slowed their rapid growth and have major environmental and demographic struggles. Conflicts, such as that between Japan and China for the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands, and that between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, loom. Developed nations such as the Western democracies have difficulty doing much at all, domestically or internationally. America struggles to reform entitlement spending, taxes, and immigration, and falls deeper into debt. Europe languishes, with the South needing ever more money from the North and the European Area unemployment rate at nearly 12%. The very existence of the European Union as it is currently constituted is in doubt.
With this as context, we gathered for our nightly family devotions. After reading and discussing a chapter in Exodus, my son assigned each of us items for prayer from the book Operation World, a prayer guide for the nations. Almost every night for several years we have prayed through this book, learning about the work of God in the world and intervening before the Lord on behalf of the nations. It is one way that we regularly bless the world.
What can regular people like us do to bring glory to God and make the world better for all?
In the song Do Something, Matthew West reminds his listeners that Jesus is the head and Christians are the body of Christ. Therefore we need to act to spread His message and promote peace and justice on earth.
1. Glorify God at all times and in everything that you do.
2. Be excellent at whatever you do. It does little good for a plumber who is a Christian to pray and give money to important causes if he is dishonest in his business dealings or incompetent as a plumber. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”
3. Develop the character of God. If Christians were consistently people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, the world would be a different place.
4. Pray for the peoples and the nations, and that justice and mercy will go hand in hand in every situation.
5. Read, study, ponder, and memorize the Bible every day.
6. Repair relationships with others; forgiving those that you should forgive and allotting more time to people than things.
7. Repent of your sins and confess them to God, and to others if you have wronged them.
8. Share your needs with others, encourage them to share theirs with you, and work together to meet those needs.
9. Study the issues and learn about them in detail; they are generally much more complicated than the media reports.
10. Give money, other resources, and time to your local church or a charity engaged in causes that God has called you to advance; those that you care about.
12. Teach your children and those who follow you. Success without successors is failure.
13. Share your beliefs with others in your circle, and your church, community and elected leaders.
14. Boycott companies and countries that behave badly or support causes and people with which you disagree. Patronize and invest in their competitors
15. Do business with companies that express your values, such as small, local companies instead of big, sprawling ones.
16. Go to troubled areas yourself in conjunction with a group supporting good work there.
17. Do things yourself – cooking and eating together with your family at home, gardening, and other home projects make each family more independent. They also can save money by decreasing sales tax and fees paid.
18. Spend less money on yourself. Instead invest more in productive enterprises and donate more to worthwhile causes.
19. Consume less media, whether television, internet, social media, or whatever. Spend more time reading and thinking and less as a passive receiver of information.
Whether we look at military conflict, economic issues, or cultural trends, the world does not seem to be getting more stable. Governments are unable to make lasting, positive change. However, this has always been the case. It is not government but people who make the world better. Whether the people work in the government, work in the private sector, volunteer, or go to school, individuals make life better, or worse, for each of us.
Ultimately, it is God working through His people that makes our world better. Participating in His work requires faithfulness, sacrifice, and patience. Few changes happen quickly, and those that do often do not last. The path to lasting change in the world, in the church, and in our lives, is laid out in 2 Chronicles 7:14
“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”