God stands in the congregation of the mighty;
He judges among the gods.
— Psalm 82:1
You can read the verb, “stands”, in two ways: one is that He is already standing, the other describes the action of Him rising to His feet. I prefer the latter in this case, largely because I always envision God as sitting on a throne, and if He gets up, we really have to take note.
So what would motivate God to rise to His feet? Read on.
How long will you judge unjustly,
And show partiality to the wicked?
Are you talkin’ to me?
Defend the poor and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy;
Free them from the hand of the wicked.
— vv. 3-4
I said, “You are gods [mighty ones],
and all of you are children of the Most High.”
— v. 6
“Gods”? “Mighty ones”?
This is the root of “Applied Christianity”. The Holy Spirit that Jesus sent after He had risen to Heaven makes us “mighty ones”. He (the Holy Spirit is a Person, and is identified as “He” throughout Scripture) gives us not only authority over the natural realm* but also the motivation to step forward in the first place and the strength to see whatever assignment we are given right through to the end.
The assignment can be something spectacular, like healing; but we have to remember that our overall purpose is to effect positive change in the world and in the people around us. That starts in our own backyard, and I believe that the situation that causes God to rise to His feet and say, “Now hear this!”, is that we tend to ignore our own backyard.
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
— Acts 1:8
Those are Jesus’ last spoken words to us on earth, before He ascended to Heaven, so as a “parting shot”, they carry particular weight. He gives us the assignment to be His witnesses, and since there are no “accidents” or “throwaway lines” in the Word of God, let’s take note at the “order of operations”:
- Jerusalem (the home church)
- Judea (the immediate area)
- Rest of the earth
And here’s the rub: “Samaria” is our own backyard. It was a land of outcasts, with people of mixed ethnicity, worshipping strange gods and generally regarded as “unclean”. Yet Jesus went out of His way to visit Samaria and many people came to know Him as a result.
Today’s “Samaria” is Skid Row: Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, New York’s Bowery, East LA and Watts, King’s Cross in Sydney, and anywhere the “good folk” tend to steer clear of because the people are sketchy and the whole vibe makes you want to take a shower.
Vancouver’s Downtown East Side
Places like these need witnesses to Christ. Yes, there are organizations that provide services, but the assignment we get from God is to get in there ourselves, whether part of an organization or separately. Hope in Christ is the main thing that the urban poor need as they struggle against drugs, homelessness, poverty, chronic illness and, indeed, the “judgment” of the “good people” living just a few blocks away.Let the Holy Spirit lead and strengthen you, because you may be exactly the person someone needs to meet.
New York has The Bowery — served since 1879 by the Bowery Mission
You don’t have to be a professional, like a social worker or a doctor. Just pray for strength and motivation on those days when you don’t feel like going (I served on the Downtown East Side for a decade, and you better believe there were days when I would rather have stayed home with a beer and a ballgame and the cat on my lap) and be prepared to exercise the power and authority you now have. You’ll be surprised at the positive response you get — and as I’ve said before, you never know: that word from you, that gesture, that time of just sitting with someone and Being There, could be just the thing someone needs to see a light in their own darkness and start back on the road to newness.
You’ll even find the poor, homeless — and occasionally remarkably resourceful — not far away from the tourist resorts on Maui.
Consider this: does your church do outreach in your own local Samaria, or is there a lot of focus on overseas ministries and missions? While we can easily be moved by images of human misery in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Jesus’ directive to us is that we need to tend to our own backyard before turning our attention there. It’s not “someone else’s job”: our Samarias need Christ and that is our job.
This isn’t to dismiss overseas missions, but if the primary focus becomes our own backyard, I believe our work “to the end of the earth” will be even more effective.
To bring us back to Psalm 82: are we, who are now made into mighty persons by the Holy Spirit, exercising that Authority to defend the poor and fatherless, do justice to the afflicted and needy, deliver the poor and needy and free them from the hand of the wicked? Or are we “showing partiality” to others?
Remember the words of the Canadian evangelist, Oswald Smith:
The light that shines the furthest burns brightest at home.
*Another of my favorite entries over the past year, since I’m away for much of September.
**I’m not making the claim that the Holy Spirit has made us “mini-Gods” on earth: consider what He says in Verse 7: “you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes”. All of our Holy Spirit authority is still subject to God’s will; however, His word makes it very clear what His will is — and what it is not.