I wrote last week about the very personal reasons that I have been working so hard for the past several years, and particularly the past few weeks, for what I believe to be long overdue reforms that would restore justice to our nation’s immigration laws. The previous Monday, I wrote about the various reasons that I think that seeking justice in this and other areas is mandatory for all Christ followers. I stand by both of those posts.
But I also think a certain corrective is in order, if you’ll forgive a rather personal reflection that is only marginally about immigration issues. The Scriptures command us to work diligently (Galatians 6:9, Colossians 3:23) but only for six days out of seven. Last week, during a refreshing time in Chicago with some dear friends in a Leadership Cohort through the Christian Community Development Association, a local pastor spoke to us—and it seemed like it was directed to me—on the topic of the Sabbath. We are commanded to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8) precisely because God himself rested on the seventh day of Creation (Exodus 20:11).
Of all the Ten Commandments, this is probably the one that I break most frequently, and probably the one whose violation I most readily justify in my own mind. Sure I’m working seven days a week without much of a break, but I’m working for a good cause, maybe even a holy cause. The truth is that even when I am not traveling and try to take Sundays “off,” it often becomes the one day of the week to do all the “work” that is not explicitly tied to my paid employment. In addition to going to church, it’s the day that I run errands, wash my clothes, clean my apartment, and lead Bible study with some kids in my neighborhood. And even if I keep my computer turned off and don’t do the same sort of work that I might do the rest of the week, I can barely go ten minutes without scanning my phone for emails or Twitter updates. I tell myself that I just don’t have time to genuinely take a break. But the challenge from this pastor last week forced me to think: if the Maker of the Universe could stop for one day, and if there was no exception to the command to Sabbath-keeping noted for Moses, David, Esther, or Elijah in the important work to which God had called them, it takes a great deal of hubris to imagine that my work is so uniquely vital that I merit an exemption.
Indeed, at the core of my seeming inability to rest is an iniquitous, prideful overestimation of my own importance. I’m occasionally given credit for some part of the shift occurring in evangelical Christian views on immigration. Sometimes I begin to believe the hype. But the reality is that I’ve very seldom really known what I was doing: I’ve seen one opportunity after another open in front of me over the past several years, usually in ways that I could not possibly have orchestrated had I tried. I’ve worked closely with Willow Creek Community Church over the past several years, for example, but I never convinced them to care about immigrants or to leverage their influence so as to make immigration reform more possible. God was at work in the hearts of various leaders well before they met me, and I simply provided information and ideas on how to respond. Similarly, I’ve been praying for years that Focus on the Family would join in the effort to see just immigration reform legislation passed; last weekend, I had the privilege to speak on immigration at a Focus on the Family-sponsored conference, but I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up there.
It is abundantly clear to me that the Holy Spirit has been guiding the evolution of thought among American Christians regarding immigration issue. It is, as Scripture tells us, “not by might, nor by power, but by [God’s] Spirit” that transformation occurs (Zechariah 4:6). Scripture tells us that God loves, provides for, and establishes justice for immigrants (Deuteronomy 10:17-19, Psalm 146:9): I simply have been privileged to be an up-close witness to the work of God’s Spirit.
Recognizing God’s role in this process is actually a huge relief. We are called to join God in seeking justice, and we are to be good stewards of our time, working diligently. We are, as the prophet Isaiah puts it, to “spend” ourselves (Isaiah 58:19) on behalf of those who are vulnerable, but that same passage tells us that we will find joy in the Lord only if we “keep [our] feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as [we] please on [God’s] holy day” (Isaiah 58:13). We can rest—at least one day out of seven—because God is always at work (John 5:17). As the title of a new book that I’m eager to read puts it, “the world is not ours to save.” Like John the Baptist (John 3:30), we must constantly seek to become less, pointing others to the true Savior of the world.
It’s actually a lot easier to write a blog about Sabbath-keeping than it is to stop writing, turn off my computer and my smartphone, and then keep them closed for twenty-four hours. But I’m asking God for grace to trust in his promises and to rest in his provision, repenting of my pride and unbelief. The church should work hard for justice, but we also need to take a weekly rest, trusting in the God who does not need our help to establish justice.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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