Category Archives: community

Economic justice and the Lord’s Prayer: How they intertwine

The Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels, is a central part of every Christian tradition. Its beauty and brevity, breadth and depth, welcomes our humble devotion, bold petition, transformative forgiveness, and alertness to the spiritual battle waging within and around us.

Right after the opening phrases of submission to God’s sovereignty and welcoming his reign in all of life, comes a simple petition: “Give us this day our daily bread…” For first century believers and most people since, this is not a casual phrase, but a real plea for provision for oneself and her or his family. Many people throughout most of history have spent their time laboring for daily bread. This prayer includes pleas for rain in season and a good harvest, wages paid to laborers, and a host of connected circumstances that allow life for another day or year.

In our 21st century globalizing world, this prayer is a cry for economic justice, a plea for all the systems of local and global economies to function so that we can flourish. In the last half century, two to three billion people have come out of abject poverty because of access to global markets and systemic and technological transformations that connect us as never before. In fact, in 2020, the United Nations declared for the first time in human history more people were above the line of abject poverty than below the line.

These heartening developments must not allow us to ignore the pressing needs of so many mired in despair and destitution. Whether it is rural or urban poverty in the West (with so many food deserts just minutes away from abundance), famine and pestilence in global locales, or warfare raging around the world, there is much to do for all concerned with justice.

What this plea implies

When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we acknowledge the Lord as our source. We are also praying for all the people and systems to function in order to be sustained in our physical and social lives. Bread literally requires a global/local community: farmers, millers, co-operative grain storage and distribution, bakers, distributors, and retailers. Of course, in some locales sources and sales are simplified, but the principle is the same: It truly takes a community for our daily bread.

If we expand “bread” to refer to all the needs that sustain our physical lives (and therefore our social welfare as well), this petition takes on broader implications. We are praying for systemic access, equity, and opportunity for all to flourish. We are praying for those with bread to share it with the hungry (Is 58; 1 John 2-4). We are praying for just conditions for all that are engaged in the exchanges that bring us our products. We are praying for justice. We are not praying for a particular political ideology, but for private and public, personal and social to integrate well according to the precepts and wisdom found in the Scriptures, including gleaning laws and generosity, personal responsibility and community concern for the marginalized.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” We serve a God offering abundance (John 10:10). We serve a God who can meet all our needs and more (Luke 6:38; Eph 3:20-21). We serve a God who answers the needy of others through the sacrificial generosity of others, even folks far away (Acts 15; 2 Cor 8-9). When we voice this prayer, we are committing to action on behalf of the voiceless.

May this prayer continue echoing from prayer rooms and churches, private devotions and public spaces until Jesus returns. And may it stimulate generosity, new relationships, economic and social reforms leading to the table of abundance for all.

Some Wisdom for the Journey

We cannot make every cause our own. We can be well-informed on issues, but each of us must focus on the particular concerns we are equipped for. What areas of the common good are we called to influence? For some it is pro-life issues (yes, we must all care about this). For others, it is education, homelessness, employment, affordable housing, personal life-change, etc. If we each find our place, our community will flourish. If you are not sure, begin with where God has you today and allow your character, competencies, and charisms to bloom where you are planted.

Pause and pray. Reflect and rejoice.
Lament and laugh. Today is a gift, tomorrow is a hope.
Bless many secretly, affirm someone openly. 
And remember Kierkegaard: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

Nuance, perspective, and subtlety are lost is our world of instant data, reaction over reflection, and “narratives” we refuse to abandon or adjust. The Bible informs us that we are beautiful and broken, have a divine design and destiny, and are capable of unutterable evil and supererogatory virtue. Let’s embrace reality with the confidence in the One who unites eternal truth and human reality – Jesus our Lord. 

Self-Denial is not Self-Destruction

Many times, in our work journey, my wife and I have faced difficult environments and sought the Lord’s wisdom on whether to persevere or to find a better place for our gifts and skills. Years ago, a close friend and prayer partner remarked: “You cannot leave something just because it’s hard.”

How do we know when the current toxicity at work is a sign for fidelity under trial — or when it’s a providential indication to move on? Here’s an insight that has helped us make several transitions under trying circumstances: Biblical self-denial is not a call to personal self-destruction.

When our Lord Jesus Christ summons us to “leave all and follow” and “deny yourself and take up your cross,” it is an urgent summons for kingdom obedience — and no excuses will do in light of the master’s call. No institutions, relationships, or internal fears should hinder our obedience to the gospel call (Luke 9:57–63).

But it’s important that we understand the boundaries and focus of this summons to suffering. Our leaving, self-denying, and refusing to excuse delays means relinquishing our sovereignty in favor of God’s, choosing his will over ours. Self-denial focuses on taking off the old nature, putting on the new nature empowered by the Spirit, and submitting to the ways and will of God (Eph 4:22–24). As theologian Dale Moody once observed, “Human sovereignty leads to frustration. Divine sovereignty brings all responsive persons to fulfillment.”

Biblical self-denial, then, does not eradicate God’s callings and gifts, nor does it repudiate the good works preordained for the believer (Eph 2:10). We are accountable to our heavenly master for how we use all the resources he’s entrusted to us (Matt 25). We are also accountable to keep all his commands; therefore, any call to cross-bearing will not violate other divine commands. For example, God may take your family through deep waters, but he will not call you to stop caring for your marriage and family in the interests of work.

Consider the distinctions between biblical self-denial and unbiblical self-destruction:

  • Self-denial calls us to unselfish service; self-destruction demands we cease being the person whom God designed.
  • Self-denial calls us to bless those around us and not resent others’ success; self-destruction happens when we’re subjected to unnecessary harm.
  • Self-denial commands us to seek the good of others; self-destruction occurs when we let fear displace faith and fail to step forward.
  • Self-denial helps us discipline our responses; self-destruction leads to toxic and unjust environments that harm others.
  • Self-denial cooperates with God in our battle against sin; self-destruction is when we try to be someone else.
  • Self-denial enables us to learn new skills and adjust to rapid change; self-destruction looms when we either refuse to change or presumptively assume roles we’re unqualified to fill.
  • Self-denial means we learn emotional intelligence; self-destruction comes when we’re constantly crushed in spirit.

In challenging work environments, we need the help of the Holy Spirit to apply the above insights. Prayer with trusted family, spiritual leaders, and peers will help us “understand the hour.”

In one difficult church we served, we persevered, helped shape a new staff, and prepared a fiscal pathway for flourishing. All of this was in the midst of unfair attacks and dysfunctional relationships among some leaders. We stayed the course and things improved. Then all the pathologies reappeared in a moment, and we realized we could no longer function as faithful stewards of God’s calling.

In another settings, we persevered through multiple transitions — including times of unfair accusation — and saw the community weather the storms and come out healthy. We left that church due to a new call, not a need for healing.

There is no formula for guidance in difficulty at work, but there are biblical promises of wisdom as we seek God with all our hearts and cry out for grace (Prov 2; James 1:5). God delights in giving wisdom, and its fruits are peace and justice for ourselves and others. Before we leave a trying situation, have we done all we can to bring change that benefits the whole and not just our position?

Self-denial is not self-destruction. God allows tribulation so the character of Christ is formed in us (Rom 5:1–11). Our personalities, natural and spiritual gifts, sense of purpose, and opportunities all exist for the glory of God and the good of others. Seeking happiness is not wrong, but we must remember that it derives from pleasing God and serving others.