The Micah Challenge is a global Christian campaign to end extreme poverty. Inspired by scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit, and covered in prayer, this group advocates for a more just world. They are convinced that extreme poverty and hunger will not be overcome by securing more food, but by securing more justice. This motivates them to engage in transformational advocacy, an activity that they define as “the process of challenging ourselves and our leaders to change behavior, policies, and attitudes that perpetuate injustice and deny God’s will for human flourishing. ”
Over a cup of coffee (fair trade of course), I had an engaging conversation with Jason, a passionate young leader who serves as the Director of the Micah Challenge. Jason is the son of Egyptian immigrants and the plight of the persecuted church in Egypt compelled him to enter the struggle for justice. His hunger and thirst for justice is palpable. It was clear that the motivating force in Jason’s life was not a political agenda or economic ideology. His commitment to justice and devotion to helping others engage in this cause is guided by these ancient words:
“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8).
What does the Lord require? Three things: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. The intersection of justice, mercy and humility become the sweet spot of worship.
Honestly, life with God would be simpler if the requirement was the sacrifice of a ram, a cow or the offering of a thousand gallons of the finest olive oil. While it would make quite a mess in our sanctuaries, at least we could walk away from that activity with the confidence that we had done what the Lord had required. Having completed our requirements, we could then get on with the rest of our lives. The truth that flows from the lips of Micah is a challenging one: it is impossible to fulfill your obligations in an hour on Sunday morning. It is impossible to complete your requirements with an offering left on the altar. God wants our lives twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. Acting justly, loving mercy, and walking in humility, day in and day out is what the Lord requires of us.
I am sure you have heard the apocryphal tale of the child, the elderly man and the starfish. While walking along a beach, an elderly man saw a young boy in the distance who was picking up starfish off the sand and gently tossing them back into the ocean. As he neared the boy, the man smiled and said, “Why are you throwing starfish back into the water?” The boy replied, “The sun is up, and the tide is going out; if I do not throw them back in, they will die.” The man commented, “But, son, don’t you realize that so many starfish wash up along every mile of this beach? You cannot possibly make a difference!” The boy listened politely. He then bent down, gently picked up another starfish and tossed it past the breaking waves. “Sir,” he replied, “I made a difference to that one.”
This past summer, while riding my bike along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Hilton Head, South Carolina, I witnessed this story being played out in real time. It was low tide and there are hundreds of starfish grounded on the beach. Right before my eyes there were a small group of people picking up the starfish and gently returning them to the ocean.
The challenge to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly can be overwhelming. With so much brokenness and need in the world, is it possible to make a real difference? At times I have no idea where to begin. In those moments, I remember to pick up the closest starfish and return it to the water. Continually praying, discerning and asking God to show me what it would mean for my life to be the intersection of justice, mercy and humility.
Perhaps it begins with the coffee we drink or the chocolate we eat. Maybe it involves the clothes in our closets or the investments in our 401(k). It might entail serving a meal to the homeless and learning more about the causes of homelessness in your city and then advocating for real change. It might mean writing a monthly check to sponsor a child in the developing world and exploring the root issues of poverty, hunger and disease.
What would it look like in your life to take the Micah challenge? For this is what the Lord requires. This is true worship.
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, A Movable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days, which will be available in early Spring 2014. You can learn more about the project here and also download my latest work, An Everyday, Ordinary Liturgy in the Snippet Store.