A month ago, I was excited to be attending the first ever Just Love alumni event in the North (titled ‘The Call to Justice’) —not least because it was a ten-minute walk from my front door! It was a day to be refreshed, not only by the teaching, but also by being surrounded by the inspiring people that make up the Just Love community. It is an incredible and rejuvenating feeling being in a room of people who are full of the love of God and passionate about pursuing his heart for social justice.
This joy also reminded me of the challenges that come between events, when we are spread out across the country. The ﬁrst challenge is how to maintain a justice-centred way of living; the second is how to make this life sustainable; and the third is how to remain humble throughout it. All these can be diﬃcult when you aren’t surrounded by a group of people pursuing the same goal, and so I would love to share with you what I learned about how to face these three challenges on the alumni day.
1. Justice is God’s Plan, Not Our Ideology
In order to maintain a justice-centred life, we need to remember that justice is at the centre of our faith rather than being a niche ambition for some Christians. Rev. Richard Bentley shared his experience of pursuing God’s heart for justice in the North East. The passage he shared from in Jeremiah really showed me how being a part of the Just Love community does not make us Christians who have ‘specialised’ in social justice, but Christians who know the biblical call to social justice and understand that if God’s heart is for justice, ours should be too: “He defended the cause of the poor and the needy, and so all went well. ‘Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 22:16)
If we truly know that to defend the cause of the poor and the needy is to know the Lord, the Creator of the world, how can we not long for justice daily? Yet, things of the world can draw us away from this truth, as Richard demonstrated by sharing several lessons he had learned during his ministry. The one that stood out to me was that as justice-seeking Christians we cannot be driven by ideology. We have to keep our eyes on God, and not on our idea of what justice is. This sometimes means compromising our ideals, sacriﬁcing a particular part of the justice-dream we’ve envisioned, in order to remain in pursuit of the larger justice goal. For example, hosting a street party that will really beneﬁt the community even though it isn’t zero waste (my personal example, but many of us have experienced that need to compromise!). To maintain a justice-centred life we need to remember the biblical call to justice and ensure that it is really God’s justice in our hearts, not an ideology of our own creation.
2. Rest is God’s Gift, Not Our Burden
But how do we keep justice at the centre of our lives without burning out? The key is sustainability, which Josh Smedley tackled by pointing out the gift of limitations. Serving others should not come at the cost of losing our sight of Jesus. As we serve a God who worked and rested, we ought to similarly act against a culture that tells us to always be busy and anxious by valuing Sabbath rest. Josh then gave us some very practical tips to help us do this, emphasising two core values of self-care and time management—if we value these, we will be on our way to living sustainably! To live sustainably we need to shift our identity from extremely busy people trying to be God and ﬁx everything, to people who understand our humanity and our God-given limits that encourage us to rest.
3. Jesus is the Saviour, Not Us
The ‘trying to be God’ identity leads me to the ﬁnal challenge: humility. Sometimes we see the vast amount that needs to change (just in our local area, let alone the world) and try desperately to solve every social injustice that we come across. Zoe Matthias (the ﬁrst alumna to give a talk at an alumni event!) spoke about calling. What stood out for me was her saying that it’s so easy to think that pursuing our calling means doing everything to solve every social justice issue. But we have to know that we are not saviours: Jesus is THE saviour. One way of ensuring our humility is to recognise our individual calling. By placing God’s call ﬁrst and turning to him for direction we are gifted with the limit of a speciﬁc path down which to pursue justice. Ultimately, humility is acknowledging that Jesus is saviour, not us, and abandoning our worldly dreams to pursue God’s heart for justice in the way he wants us to.