One cold January night at 1:30am, a woman screamed “somebody please help me” in the middle of my block in Jackson Heights, Queens. It was loud and desperate. I got up to see a man from our 2nd Floor window grabbing her violently. I put on my pants, grabbed my keys and ran out while my wife called 9–1–1. As I made eye contact with the man and he realized that I was not going to leave, he moved away quickly. Then, I spoke directly to the young woman. “The police are coming and I’m not going anywhere,” I said. She was obviously distraught and I tried to remain calm.
Then I realized, the police were coming and I was not leaving.
The police were coming and that could be very bad for me.
I could have been killed while my wife watched from upstairs and my sleeping daughter was awakened by the gunshots that killed her father. And all of this because I was perceived to be a threat, instead of the one who called for help because of the color of my skin.
As the blue lights came up the block and the officers emerged, I put my hands up with my arms wide and said with a smile, “thank you so much for coming.” I updated them on the situation and tried to advocate for the young woman who was justifiably inconsolable. Shortly afterward, I went back inside with my heart was pounding while I stood in the elevator. Not because I had met an abuser in the street but because of the police who came to help. Lord have mercy.
As I reflect on these moments, I ask myself now, what does my reaction say about me?
I carry deep fear and the collective trauma of African Americans in the United States that doesn’t just exist in my mind, but is thriving in reality. How do I receive and live out of the love of God and not the fear of man?
I saw the policemen before me as a threat to my safety and genuinely thought they could take my life. This awareness is necessary in this world because of my skin color, but the fear of the police mirrors the perceived fear I believe they have of me. Therefore, I have to ask myself, how do I see every person as someone made in the image of God, even when they don’t perceive me that way? Even when I am afraid?
Jesus said in the beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and commands me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. Law enforcement and communities of color have been put against each other since the inception of the United States. That is the narrative of this world, but how do I pray for law enforcement and seek the good of the people holding up social structures in place that wish to do me harm? How do I pray for my enemies and seek a justice that frees the oppressed and the oppressor?
It’s because of occurrences like this that I believe anyone engaged in seeking justice and loving mercy must walk with God. They are inextricably linked. Thus, we must cultivate a Prayerful Resistance so that our inner lives with God sustain all of our external activity — especially our activism. I believe that all followers of Jesus must develop a spiritual resilience that allows us to push back against the darkness with the marvelous light we have and know. Because seeking justice results from a humble walk with God and walking with God compels us to seek justice. We must do this even when experience, anecdotes, statistics, and history say otherwise because Jesus is Lord, God is Sovereign and our allegiance is to a different Kingdom.
Essential to the life of an Emotional Healthy Activist are disciplines of prayer, fasting, praise, and delight. Moreover, these discIplines must be carried out in both solitude and committed community. It is the disciplines of prayer, fasting, praise and delight that lead to individual and collective, faithful, sustained, Christ-centered, biblical advocacy and witness. This is the foundation of prayerful resistance and Emotionally Healthy Activism.
Since Jesus ascended into heaven, His true followers have been in a state of prayerful resistance. Jesus told them to wait and be filled with Holy Spirit. Women and men who sat, ate, prayed, and waited in that upper room resisted fear of ridicule, rejection and death. They sought to be citizens of the Kingdom of God before they were citizens of this world.
The Acts Church prayerfully resisted racism, classism, and sexism in Acts 6 as ethnic minority widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of food. In Acts 10, God reoriented Peter’s heart to make space for Gentiles in it because non-Jews, through Christ, now had access to Yahweh too.
During Jesus’ ministry, Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector sat beside one another at His feet. Zealots were known to confront, even assassinate tax collecting Jews who worked for the oppressive Roman Empire. Now, they shared a common mission. Luke the Physician and Mark, a historian, had no business with fishmongers like Peter, James, John and Andrew. But now, they were united by their Father’s business. And women like Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Mary the Mother of Jesus were just as integral as the men surrounding Jesus. Not to mention the “gluttons” and “drunkards” that regularly called Jesus company who were now filled with the spirit and not excessive food and wine! This was a diverse, reconciled group of people resistant to the order of the day because they were reoriented by an encounter with the Risen King.
Since the Fall, violence, racism, sexism, political powers, greed, hatred, and the Enemy have opposed the Kingdom of God. Whether for comfort, culture or control, the urge for the Church to build walls between “us” and “them” has also been at odds with the Kingdom of God.
And since the Fall, God planned for faithful followers to reflect His light in the darkness.
The question is who will take that light now? This isn’t just true in America when there is strident political division or when nations warred against each other in World War I and II. The question that God asks in Isaiah 6, “who will go for us?” is one He is always asking and our time is no different and no more urgent. He is at all times looking for those who are willing and He, by His Spirit will make us ready and able.
Who will preach a Gospel that is Good News for the rich and the poor? Who will plead the case of the undocumented, unborn, the widow and the orphan? Who will care for the sick, disabled and incarcerated? Who will give food to the hungry and clothes to the naked? Who will stand up for wise stewardship of creation and against those trying to destroy it?
Isaiah answered, “send me!”. But only after he confessed could he be cleansed by God. And only after he had been cleansed could he be sent.
Conviction of sin and the righteousness of Christ, followed by sincere confession of personal and collective sin, is where our activism must begin. I am not the messiah and neither is anyone else on this planet. Therefore, just like Isaiah the prophet was guilty of having unclean lips when his occupation was to speak truth, I also desire to end injustice, but participate in the systems I want to stop. My action, inaction, ignorance and apathy centered upon my will, wants, and needs keeps patterns of sin and exploitation in place. Only out of God’s love, forgiveness, and His sanctifying presence can we press forward in bold humility — not prideful confrontation.
Prayer, fasting, praise, and delight cultivate an intimacy with God and others, as we practice these disciplines individually and corporately. The pattern of the Lord’s prayer, true fasting, along with with singing, painting, dancing, psalms, poetry, and other praise unto the Lord create sacred space for praise, petition, thanksgiving and intercession.
The Lord’s Prayer, when divided into 7 sections, provides a marvelous pattern of speaking and listening to God that makes us sensitive to Holy Spirit and grounds our identities in the family of God — not the actions we undertake or the things we want or have.
We must come to God with all of who we are — the joy, pain, sadness, anger, delight, frustration and hurt. We must remember who we are in light of Christ so that we can live into the words of Romans 12:1–2 :
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
For followers of Jesus, prayer is a rebellion against the status quo. It calls on the God who created everything to reconcile all things to Himself — the broken people, messed up relationships and unjust systems. He invites us to a holistic freedom that restores the shalom He originally intended. When the disciples came to Jesus in Matthew 6, He instructed them how to pray. Jesus’ teaching is clear, succinct and full of faith in Our Father. The Lord’s Prayer can be quoted verbatim during a daily office or quiet time of reflection, but as we put our faith into concrete action. it must become the pattern for our prayers and petition.
The Lord’s Prayer
“Our Father who art in heaven”
Most of us begin our prayer times with what we want and sometimes veer off into trying to convince God of how important what we are doing should be to Him. It is important for us to share all of who we are with God and He is glad to hear the issues pressing on our hearts. Our times with Him, though, must begin with an acknowledgement of who we are and who He is. Quite practically, it allows us to place God on the throne of our hearts as God Almighty while also taking a place in His lap, at His feet or in His arms as His beloved child. Prayer for the child of God begins with an acknowledgement of that closeness and intimacy. He is Our Good Good Father as the songwriters have said and that truth is the very core of Christianity. For Christ-Followers, we were once enemies of God, but have now been welcomed into the family and are made co-heirs with Christ. Specifically for Christian activists and those who prayerfully resist systemic injustice and oppression, we are not primarily protesters, workers for justice or advocates. We are children of the most High God whose identities are fixed by love and cannot be shaken. We are not more of who we are because we attend a protest, rally or march; and we don’t belong any less if we don’t. This is the freedom that comes from being a Christian. We act out of a loving, obedient response to a loving Christ who was obedient to death, even death on a Cross.
Concurrently, as God is our intimate Father, He is also God Almighty and maker of heaven and earth. After all, if He was not the Sovereign God above all gods, there would be no need to ask Him for anything. He is God and we are not. He is God, high and lifted up, and we are to revere and honor Him as such. His Holiness and power cannot be denied, and it is this marriage of holy righteousness and loving intimacy that drives us to worship.
“Hallowed be the name”
We see this reality play out In Isaiah 6. We see the prophet overcome by the holiness of God as he enters the throne room. God is Holy and we are not. It is only by His abundant grace and mercy that we dare petition the Creator of Heaven and Earth. He alone is worthy of worship. He alone deserves all praise. It is with this posture in mind that Jesus instructs us to come by focusing the beginning of our prayers on the majesty and wonder of our amazing God. And in this posture of intimate reverence, we can’t help but praise Him. Hallowed be the name is a sentence prayer of praise.
For Emotionally Healthy Activists, our petitions are always preceded by embracing our position and entering into praise. Praise reminds us that the joy of the Lord is absent of circumstance, and worship is necessary, regardless of our status and lot in life. Psalm 145:8–13 says:
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
9 The Lord is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.
10 All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord,
And Your godly ones shall bless You.
11 They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom
And talk of Your power;
12 To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts
And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
And it is words like these that root our prayerful resistance not in social media strategies or powerful contacts, but in reliance on the all-wise and merciful God who spoke the Earth into being.
“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”
Therefore with Christ and His love at the center of our intercession, it is an impossibility to harbor bitterness, resentment and the desire for revenge. It is a painstaking effort to justify violence, abuse and the need for selfish gain. However, if the prayer starts here, as most of our petitions do, our wills and desires are at the center because we have not taken the time to put Christ in the middle. Because it is true that our hearts are prone to wander, as the hymn says, and deceitfully wicked above all things, as it says in Scripture. Without an intentional heart set upon Him, we will strive towards building our own Towers of Babel while calling it the Will of God. His Word becomes a proof text, not the place from which we take our orders, and we use Him to justify our actions, as opposed to working out of justification through faith in Christ. Therefore, inviting His kingdom to come is at the same time a command for our kingdoms to go. The vision for reconciliation in and through Christ, and simultaneously, the renewal of all things by His grace and mercy are our focus, not the fulfillment of parental expectations, a. political platform, ethno-centric superiority, a nation state, economic system or personal philosophy. It is the overflow of an encounter with God, rooted in our adoption into the family of Christ, and the indwelling of Holy Spirit within us. That understanding is key to why we call this prayerful resistance and not strategic thinking or arrival at some logical conclusion while considering all of the facts. Our invitations to act by His grace and the power of the Spirit come straight from the throne room of Heaven so that we might say like Christ in John 4:34 that “our food is to do the will of He who sent Me” and exclaim boldly to those who ask questions, “I must be about my Father’s business,” as Jesus did in Luke 2:49.
Give us this day our daily bread
The prayer continues with the first request. If we are keenly aware of our total reliance on Christ and the need for God’s provision for our very breath, along with the knowledge that Our Father in Heaven actually desires to give us what we need, then coming to Him is a regular occurrence, not a seldom event. An Emotionally Healthy Activist that is prayerfully resistant to the patterns of the world does not see Our Father in Heaven through earthly eyes. Regardless of the abandonment, abuse, and unavailability or the love, care, and concern of our birth fathers, Our Father in Heaven is infinitely better and entirely otherworldly. His love for us overcomes and exceeds anything objectively good or bad that we experience on this planet from our biological parents. Thus, we can come to Him regularly with our pain, sadness, suffering, wants, and needs and He is always there to receive us with compassion and love, not disdain, disgust or criticism. Chapter 1 of the Book of James says, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let Him come” and Isaiah 55 provides a bold invitation to come and have food without cost and drink without fee. The kingdom of God is abundant and Our Father is lavishly generous.
These are the rules of the Kingdom of God that is coming to Earth, and it is cause for worship and praise, out of the relationship that we are granted with the Father through the sacrifice of Christ. So, we can ask for what we wish, trusting that He is working all things together for our good in accordance with His Will, which because He loves us, is always for our benefit and His Glory. Emotionally Healthy Activists know our place as children of a Mighty God and Loving Father who is worthy of praise, honor and glory. We rest in the knowledge that His ultimate plans for all of creation are unquestionably good. And thus we can bring our requests to Jehovah-Jireh, Our Provider, and He will give us above and beyond what we can ask, think, or imagine because eyes have not seen and ears have not heard the good things Our Father has in store for those that love Him. This truth is essential to hold close to one’s heart, but even more crucial for the Child of God who explicitly desires to His faithful witness.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
For this portion of the prayer, without the aforementioned truths in the forefronts of our minds, this point of the prayer takes a frustrating turn and many people vacate this journey with Jesus altogether. In many of the workshops that I lead, faces contort and those who desire to change the world because of the pain and harm caused unto them, their families, people groups’, etc., get uncomfortable. This is because core to the life of a Christ-follower is regular confession and forgiveness. The reception of radical forgiveness and grace from God through Christ, and then the extension of that same grace and forgiveness to others in the name of Christ who gives it to us, is a Holy Act that followers of Jesus are called to. For someone who is not intimate with the Jesus of Scripture and rooted in community that practices this type of gracious living, this would seem preposterous, a betrayal and even a violation. That is why a rhythm of reflection on the nature and magnitude of sin and the amazing grace of God towards us is key to the life of an Emotionally Healthy Activist.
To reiterate, for followers of Jesus seeking to advocate for those who are marginalized, abused, and violated, the ability and willingness to forgive and ask for forgiveness is the central practice of faithful, sustainable Emotionally Healthy Activism. The implications for this are again not about how “woke,” socially conscious and involved we are in the social movements around us, but more about our status and relationship with Jesus while living and moving in the world. All engagement for followers of Jesus against injustice is an overflow of the abundant life we have with God and the gifts and freedom we receive from Him, including His grace and forgiveness.
For Jesus says in Matthew 6:12–15:
12 And forgive us our trespasses, as we have forgive those who trespass against us. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others then your Father will not forgive your trespasses.
The people of God are ones marked by the practice of forgiveness. That is that we regularly extend the grace of God given to us, to others no matter how often or how grave the offense. What Jesus says here is that if we don’t forgive others, He will not forgive us. I believe that this is crucial because at issue is not primarily if I don’t forgive one offense against me, then God will not forgive an offense I have committed. Instead, the focus is on our identity as children of God and the practices that co-heirs with Christ exhibit in the world.
Continuing on we see the following in 1 John 4:18–21:
18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment, so the one who is afraid is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should also love his brother and seek the best for him.
The Love of God being perfect, complete, and all satisfying for the children of God relinquishes any dread, fear, or trepidation that Christ-Followers have in this world. This is because fear, as 1 John 4:18 says, has to do with punishment.
Moreover, Romans 8:1 proclaims “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Furthermore as Paul says, we are no longer slaves to sin but to righteousness, and that we are saved by grace through faith so that no man can boast. And it is out of our justification through Christ’s work and not our own that we serve and work out of the freedom that He has afforded us on the Cross. These are not cherry-picked passages of Scripture to prove a point, but the overflow of a mind set upon things above directing all towards a different way of being. Thus, Emotionally Healthy Activists, out of the abundant acceptance and love of God, love and accept those around us — even and especially those who harm us or seek to do us harm.
It is impossible, per the word of the Living God, to love Jesus while holding onto and nurturing hatred, bitterness, and the desire for revenge against the men and women we see every day of different races, ethnicities, faiths, opinions and backgrounds. If we claim to do so, then we are liars if we say we are children of God. Our commission as witnesses of Christ is the intended and practiced radical, compassionate love of Christ for all people — even and especially our enemies and those who offend us. This is because of His explicit command to love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us. As Romans 5:8 proclaims He demonstrates this type of love: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
This teaching is consistent with a parable from Jesus in Matthew 18. In this illustration we see the eternal consequences of a heart set against the merciful purposes of God while receiving His mercy at the same time. The passage is as follows:
21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Peter, always the talkative one and, I would daresay, like many of those who have a proclivity towards justice and fairness, asked a sincere question: Do we really have to forgive them, Jesus? And if so, can it be just a few times. Jesus’ answer is clear and resounding. Forgiveness, in this case, is the release of bitterness, anger, and more importantly condemnation, as judgement and vengeance belongs to God — not us. Harkening back to the beginning of this prayer, God is God and we are not. The first slave in this passage signifies those who received the radical grace of God via the metaphor of an unpayable debt. Then he turns to a fellow slave, assaults, and imprisons him for what is no more than a dollar in our day. Upon hearing this news, the master who was merciful to this servant reverses his position and places this wicked servant in prison. Jesus does not leave ambiguity or space for interpretation here. God will do the same to us if we harbor bitterness and resentment against those who have wronged us.
It is worth mentioning that forgiveness does not say that the pain, abuse, or trespass was not evil, not destructive or some small matter. Forgiveness is not the dismissal of the offense committed. It is a proclamation from a follower of Jesus in word, deed, and thought that the pain and brokenness experienced will not steal the abundant life available to us as children of God. It is a heartfelt acknowledgement that God, the Love of Christ, and the abiding presence of Holy Spirit truly is higher, longer, wider, and deeper than anything we could ever know. Forgiveness must be the way of those who shout “Black Lives Matter” towards those who hold tiki torches and chant “White Power.” Forgiveness must be the way of those whose land was stolen from them and those whose scalps were taken as well. Forgiveness must be the way of those who follow Jesus because it is His Way towards us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
For Emotionally Healthy Activists, we will be tempted to the destructive, racist/prejudiced tendencies of our parents and communities. We will be tempted to worship the gods of money, power, and independence of our culture. For those who prayerfully resist, the vice of overwork claimed as godly burnout will raise its head and beckon us to build an identity upon accomplishments. Alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, shopping, Netflix binges and other habits that numb us to oppression become a reasonable, even socially acceptable escape. Yet, all of these things are tools of the Evil one and just as Adam and Eve were tempted to go their own way, we are invited to figure out how to make it on our own because “We know ourselves best.”
That is a lie from the pit of hell. God is a Good Father, He made us, and He alone can save us. The beginning of this prayer is true to the end of it. It is Our Deliverer who will lead us out of temptation, destructive generational patterns, and social problems of sin and disobedience. God is Our Refuge and strong tower, so it is He who will protect us and lift us up. Followers of Jesus don’t have skills to help us cope, we have disciplines that raise us to new life. The difference between those who want to change the world and those who seek the renewal of all things in Christ is that followers of Jesus place the world in the hands of God; and those who don’t submit to Jesus develop plans, strategize and take actions to better the world according to their own hearts and minds. And to try and grasp for control of this world ourselves is to proclaim that God is not on throne, taking the seat instead for ourselves. It renounces our place as Children of God and His place as Our Father and God in Heaven. We replace His purposes with ours, His work becomes our work, and this prayer turns into a chant unto ourselves instead of a rhythm to put the focus on Him. These are the profound evils from which we need deliverance and if the enemy is like a roaring lion going to and fro seeking whom He can devour, it is only God who can give us the will to forge a way forward and truly overcome.
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen!
Lastly, because while bringing our prayers and petitions to God, especially when they are full of pain and suffering, it is easy to waver and lose focus. Our problems become bigger than God and we don’t leave our cares at the foot of the Cross, but pick them back up and feel more stressed having named all that’s bothering us. This is because being a slave is more familiar to us than being free. As the saying goes, “Jesus may be in our hearts but Pharaoh is in our bones.” Thus, the patterns of our families and the ways of history or our current day can distort how we perceive God, and so we pray. Therefore, the final portion of this prayer reorients us once again so that the reality we wish to reflect in the world is God’s and not our own. The power which will bring that transformation to pass belongs to God and not my family, ethnicity or social group. And the Glory is not mine to claim, but all praise and worship are due unto the Holy One.
All people, but especially activists, seek to be seen, heard, felt, validated, valued, trusted and most of all praised. We desire recognition for the hard work and sacrifices that we make to seek justice. This acknowledgement, empathy, validation, and reward is not evil. It is good and we were made for it. The problem is when we seek it from people and not from God. Therefore, again we can move into the center of our work, and God is pushed to the side in exchange for our own sense of purpose and need for support and community. The hardest truth that we as prayerful resisters face is that our complete and utter satisfaction and contentment can only be found wholly in Christ. We are totally complete in Him before we act, serve, work, give, protest or advocate. Thus, the glory, honor, power, praise, and purposes can be His because our identity is fixed and unable to be shaken.
With the Lord’s Prayer in mind, we see a pattern throughout Scripture that God consistently transforms us — not just through mountaintop experiences that make that last valley bearable or only in the valley when things are not going as we like. His presence is with us on the mountaintop, in the valley, and in between those low points and high peaks. There must be disciplines that we can practice to orient ourselves around the love of God and not the fear of what might happen to me as an African-American male, or you as an immigrant, woman or white man. There must be practices that ground us in His care and concern for us and not our material poverty or riches, present health or sickness, or latest story on the news.
Romans 12:1–2 says,
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
After the disciples were filled with the Spirit, they went out on mission in power and boldness. They were blessed and sent to the ends of the Earth with the Good News and the presence of God. But somehow, 2000 years later, I long to be filled with strategy, techniques, and Christian material, not Holy Spirit power. I am often blessed and sent from my favorite church communities to lunch with a fresh motivational message for another long week of work. My Christian shopping cart is full butI am not equipped to cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach the Good News of Jesus for all people. I am not challenged to press deeper into the heart of God for my neighbor instead of myself. In the words of leadership at New Life Fellowship Church, I often make my faith private, instead of personal. Sadly, I often make Jesus into a personal assistant whose specialty is self-help, not the Son of God who is my Savior and the Redeemer of all Creation.
Fasting is another discipline that allows us as prayerful resistors to enter into the longing for the Kingdom of God through the physical reminder of the lack of something we desperately need. The pangs of hunger mirror the longing of creation for the Creator God who originally spoke it into being. The sacrifice of food and comfort reminds us that our only true comfort is in the presence of the Living God. It proclaims that He who sustains us will fill us. Our God is not our stomachs or appetite. We fast to stand with the poor and marginalized though we live in a land of abundance and plenty. All of who we are gets aligned around the purposes of God and what He wants to accomplish as we wait to be filled by Him, rejecting the instant gratification of our culture for the fulfillment of our deepest longings in Christ.
Thus, we replace meals with prayer, time in scripture, and intercession for the powerful and powerless. We dedicate this time and energy towards service to God and one another. Fasting is a crucible for reorientation. Note, if one is fasting from something other than food like social media, shopping or social media, the substitutions of those habits by spiritual disciplines is the same. This is crucial because our cultural Christianity often revolves around pursuing comfort and avoiding suffering. America tells us that whatever we want, we should have and that is not the way of the Kingdom. Our resistance isn’t running off of one prayer meeting, protest, or rally, but constant encounters with Jesus in prayer, scripture and worship. The discipline of fasting shapes us so that when things are the most difficult, we still abide in God and make our homes in Christ. Specifically, while pursuing justice, spiritual disciplines allow us to constantly see ourselves, our neighbors, and enemies as people made in His image to flourish, work, rule and create.
Now, it must be said that fasting is an offering, not a deposit. God is not a cosmic slot machine or vault of blessings where we put in the right combinations or code and unlock the blessings He promised us. God will not be manipulated or coerced. He is God Almighty, worthy of worship, praise, honor and glory; our fasting is a tangible reminder of our longing to be filled with Himself and emptied of all else. Fasting, for the activist, points to the Cross of Christ and our sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of our deepest desire — not the removal of a statue, passage of a law, or repeal of a conviction. This is deep and holy work as we let go of the things of this world, and press into the reality of the Kingdom and the presence of the Living God to become more full within us. Thus, the discipline of fasting and orientation around Jesus is what gives us the ability to participate in the fasting that Jesus calls all of His followers to in the famous passage from Isaiah 58.
PRAISE & DELIGHT
When Jesus is firmly in place as Messiah and awareness of God’s sovereignty over our individual and collective suffering are constants, then we can truly praise Him and delight in what He has created and gifted to us. For activists, without a rhythm of praise and delight, it is impossible to embody the Joy and Hope that are the unique gifts of Christ to a broken world with broken people.
Praise is due to God no matter our circumstances because God is on the throne. Hence, we as Christians can live out Psalm 34 and have praise forever on our lips, whether in prison or on the street, employed or jobless, surrounded by trouble or sitting untroubled. Because Emotionally Healthy Activists clarify expectations and know our value and our values, we are able to place our hopes on things above. And with rhythms of prayer and fasting that orient our lives around Christ, praise and delight breed a joy and hope that renounces the cynicism and hopelessness that plague our fallen world. As I reflected on my being named a New Abolitionist, the question was posed, “What do you uniquely have to offer the movement to end modern-day slavery?” My response was swift and decisive. I have hope that doesn’t disappoint and joy that is my strength.
Followers of Jesus who actively engage in prayerful resistance offer the Hope of Christ that does not disappoint and a joy independent of what surrounds us. Therefore, praise can break out at any moment when contemplating the Goodness of Our Father, what He did for us on the Cross, and what He will bring to pass at His appointed times. Words can flow, poems can be written, songs can be sung, and meals cooked as glorious offerings of worship to our God.
And because God is God, we can rest from our work and cease activity for one complete day a week to delight in the things of God. Good meals, sleeping in, talking with friends, and playing sports are gifts from God that we can enjoy freely as God’s children. Vacations from work and extended times to recharge after difficult seasons are pleasing to God. Space to celebrate and take in the goodness of the Lord is honoring to Him and good for our souls. But it is also a rebellion against the norms of this world.
Likely the hardest act for an activist is to resist action by taking a true Sabbath and embracing godly pleasure and delight. Therefore it is the honoring of the 4th Commandment above every other sign that an activist is truly engaged in prayerful resistance.
Dr. Robert Mulholland says in “The Deeper Journey” that:
“I hope you are beginning to see that that the Christian life in its fullness is far more than being active in Christian community, affirming a certain set of beliefs, or adopting a particular behavior pattern. These are the secondary result of a primary reality of a life engaged in an ever deepening union with God in love.”
He goes on in the book to explain how many of us construct elaborate false selves that we project out into the world; and are willing to do anything to protect and defend this false perception. This is especially dangerous, he writes, when a false self “finds religion” and justifies this personal disintegration with faith. I would go further and say that the most destructive false identity is when a religious, false self claims to be acting justly on behalf of those who are poor, marginalized, and oppressed when in reality he/she is only building his/her identity.
I discovered this inconsistency in my own heart with the barrage of terrible news cycling non-stop on television, social media, and the radio over the last several years. I can pray, fast, worship, and seek the Lord for deep personal and social transformation; but rest and delight felt slippery and elusive. I remember sitting in front of my computer when the Trump administration enacted the first “muslim ban,” rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, did not immediately condemn white supremacy after Charlottesville, and other personally hurtful events during 2017. My head ached from the emails and text messages asking “what can we do?” I felt tension because my identity was grounded in my ability to influence people, not my identity as a child of God.
I could not rest because I did not trust that God would move if I sat still. I could not sleep because I needed to feel seen, heard and validated. I desired to be in the street because I felt scared and alone. And most of all, if I slept, rested, and embraced my role in the family of God as His child on the Sabbath day, people might ask if I was really who they thought I was. Questions like this flood my brain in seasons like this:
“Is Jonathan really an activist?”
“Does he really care about Puerto Rico?”
“How can he be taking a sabbath when another Black male has been killed by police?”
I felt condemned by my inaction and left out if I didn’t respond. I was already abandoned by those in power and fear abandonment by those in the margins as well. All of my prayer and devotion was undone by my fear of being left out, not belonging, and deemed as worthless because of my weariness and lack of capacity to engage yet again with so much pain and injustice.
American Christianity is shaped by a long list of things “not to talk about” and injustices like segregation, redlining, and economic inequality leave many congregations ignorant of and disconnected from one another, non-Christians, and anyone who doesn’t check certain political, ethnic or social boxes. How could I rest as long as this was the dominant expression of Jesus in my country?
Now I, by God’s grace, may be able to right my ship to feel valuable and worthy apart from my actions through reflection, prayer and worship; but that is rarely the case. This is why surrounding myself with a community rooted in the Love of Christ and adoption into His family is deeply important. This is the core difference between a “Christian Clique” who seeks justice and a “Witnessing Community” committed to seeking justice and walking humbly with God. A “Christian Clique” is less organized around the Risen Jesus of Scripture and more about the gods of our race, family, class, and sexuality that is baptized by a watered down, self-centered version of the Christian faith. In contrast, a “Witnessing Community” is organized around an encounter with Jesus and the actions of its members flow out of this new, redeemed family. There is a healthy reflection and disciplined obedience that is characterized by prayerful responses, not hasty reactions. This does not mean that followers of Jesus don’t respond quickly to conflict and unrest, but at all times our responses, by God’s grace, are grounded in the overflow of a relationship with Christ, not a second-hand spirituality or in service to a false self.
This journey with Jesus on the straight and narrow is especially difficult since we are prone to wander. It was never His intention for us to do it alone. It is impossible to live the Christian life separate from other disciples. Additionally, it is unbiblical to live the Christian life apart from the poor, suffering and marginalized. Some people like to say, “it’s just me and Jesus” as a point of pride; but if Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane desired for the Apostles to stay with Him, surely we need encouragement and fellowship as well. The disciples did not pursue God in isolation. Instead, they were part of a vibrant, diverse, reconciled community in Christ that pursued even deeper conciliation. And, though I feel unseen and unheard by White American Evangelicalism and other large sections of American Christianity I am seen, heard, felt, and loved by my Father in Heaven. In His kingdom I am not invisible, marginalized or left out. Every color, creed, and background has access through Jesus Christ — including me and those who share the color of my skin. But, in moments of deep pain, I need to be reminded of God’s love for people of color and those on the margins of power and privilege. And I know that I’m not the only one. Hence, His community plays the pivotal role of bearing burdens in love and lovingly nudging one another back towards Jesus.
We are to live in beloved, reconciled community pursuing justice, loving mercy, and growing ever closer to God and one another in Love through Christ Jesus by the power of Holy Spirit. This community is not named Rome, United States, China or any nationality, clan or social club. This community is the family of the Living God.
Essential to the life of an Emotional Healthy Activist are disciplines of prayer, fasting, praise and delight. Thus, prayerful resistance is active work against the patterns of personal, relational, and systemic sin because of who Jesus is, what He has done, is doing and will ultimately bring to pass. These discIplines carried out in solitude and committed community yield much fruit and bear witness to the Risen Jesus. This fruit is beautiful and long-lasting because prayerful resistance leads to collective, sustained, Christ-centered, biblical advocacy and witness. This is a type of evangelistic witness in word, deed, and power that invites people into intimacy with Christ. It is this type of witness that caused an uproar in Jesus’ day because those outside of the family of God were able to see the renewal that the Children of God experienced. This is the redemption and renewal that all of creation longs for, and this intimacy with God and one another is why every person was made.
WHAT ARE WE RESISTING?
Followers of Jesus are inherently resistant the patterns of this fallen world and desire to bring our personal lives, relationships, and systems and structures in line with the shalom that Christ intended. So if prayerful resistance is key to following, it is important to answer the question — what are we resisting? This question is key because our definition of resistance is not driven by guilt, shame, fear, obligation, ungodly anger or praise for ourselves.
I say this because if I allow my anger, sadness, and frustration with the mass shootings in Sutherland, Texas or Las Vegas, the terrible abuses of power by Sheriff Joe Arpaio that were pardoned by President Trump, or continued neglect of Native people in America on Pine Ridge and other reservations, then I will live enslaved to my Facebook wall, Twitter Feed, and whims of journalists and pundits, instead of in total surrender and obedience to my Lord Jesus Christ. If I am constantly riding emotional waves because of my own personal tribulation, relational conflict, or family drama, I am not centered on the radical love and acceptance that comes through Jesus by the power of His Spirit dwelling in me. Thus, I am subject again to my own will and desires, which in no way lead to sacrifice, justice or godly suffering. And, I am not able to see outside of myself to participate in God’s larger story. These tensions happened for me as my father-in-law and mother battled cancer and ultimately passed away while the murders of men and women of color by police dominated my conversations with friends, family and colleagues.
I spent hours agonizing over whether or not I was doing enough to care for my Mom and even planned to spend extended times in Brodnax, Virginia far away from New York City as her condition worsened. My wife and I spent days in her childhood home studying the Bible and watching TV, soaking up time with her Dad that seemed to constantly be slipping away. The pending deaths of my family members coupled with the daily killings of people who look like me and my siblings and its mass distribution on YouTube was crippling at times. Moreover, the collective dismissal of the fear that my community experiences because of racism and white supremacy since our fateful arrival here as slaves, was called “overblown” or “not even real” was difficult as well. Most hurtful though during this season of death and loss was the unwillingness or inability of some in our Christian community to grieve and connect either with the personal plights around us and/or the reality of racism and violence in our country.
In the middle of these storms, it became easy to orient my life around the problems I saw and not the God I could not see. I believed I had no other choice. Therefore, my “resistance” was not prayerful, but reactive. I succumbed to my fear of scarcity, my acute need for survival, and ultimate self-preservation amidst my physical and emotional limits, systemic oppression against people of color in this country, and spiritual warfare present at all times.
An unlikely passage of Scripture during a spiritual formation retreat some years ago with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship reorients me often. The important verse, 1 Corinthians 10:13, says: No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man. This passage in context is about Israel’s consistent sin of idolatry and Paul is warning followers of Christ not to fall victim to this temptation as well. Idolatry is the orientation and submission of our lives around something other than the One True God. Additionally, pride can be defined as when the self fills our entire scope. Therefore, when I center my own fears and beliefs about the world, I begin to orient myself around my own comfort, stability, and security amidst my feelings of danger and uncertainty. My own vantage point and perspective fill my outlook, along with self-determined remedies to the internal and external tensions threatening my personal kingdom.
Thus, my fear drove me to an unconscious pridefulness, and ultimately to make an idol of myself and all I determine to be worthy of value and preciousness. Subtly, instead of seeking out scriptures, wisdom, and community to draw closer to God, I went to people and the Bible for artillery and armor to defend myself. Along with that, I sought out Ted Talks by influencers and books on strategy and leadership. I started to believe that I could “think” my way out of “this,” trusting the successful Civil Rights Leaders and justice movement leaders throughout history that I read about while circumventing the conflict and suffering they experienced. Leveraging my connections, influence, and charisma, I would get people to follow me, and lead a movement for change that answers life’s hardest questions and affects real change in seemingly intractable conflict. This is a perversion of what God intended for me, my family, and those downstream of my leadership.
Followers of Jesus don’t believe that protesting will somehow make up for the things that we’ve done, nor are our donations atonement for the shame we feel for benefiting financially from a system that exploits and oppresses those less powerful or fortunate. We don’t rally because we are afraid of how others will perceive us if we don’t show up, or believe “nothing will happen” without us. We don’t resist out of ungodly anger and hatred that dehumanizes people made in the image of God, reducing them to their race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or other false wall built by our own hearts or larger society. And last, but certainly not least, we don’t advocate to see His Kingdom come more fully on this side of heaven for accolades, awards and admiration. We don’t sign and share petitions for Facebook likes and virtual affirmation.
When we become committed disciples of Christ, we exchange our guilt for God’s grace knowing that we act, not to pay for our sins ourselves, but because God has paid for them Himself. We give up our shame for solidarity and instead of distancing ourselves from our individual and collective brokenness, we move closer to the pain and suffering within ourselves and of others with the love of Christ at the center. We release our fears of judgment, injury, and suffering to walk in faith because He who began a good work will bring it to completion and full maturity. Moreover we move beyond our anger so that we don’t nurture bitterness in our hearts; and we perform acts of mercy that affirm that all people are made in the image of God, especially those would mean to do us harm. Lastly, Emotionally Healthy Activists engaged in prayerful resistance are not mobilizing to bring glory to ourselves, but to give all of the praise, honor, and worship to the Lord Jesus Christ. And this again is the goal of all prayerful resistance, that Christ should be glorified and all people brought into reconciled relationship with Him.
With the above in mind, our resistance then is not primarily against a person, people group, platform or social flashpoint. Like many theologians explain throughout the centuries, our world is in desperate need of prayerful resistance by Emotionally Healthy Activists against the World, the Devil, and the Flesh. This unholy trinity is not a new paradigm but a very old one. Theologians like Thomas Aquinas and John of the Cross use this three point opposition to the Will of God in this world to give Christ-Followers a point of reference. This frame for me is rooted in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in Chapter 1:1–3 where it says:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
In this passage we see that the temptations and opposition that we face as we pursue justice and righteousness are threefold. There are cultural, social, and political patterns that push us away from God’s will for our lives and obstruct our participation in the renewal of all things. Worries about financial stability, personal injury, social standing, and more often lead us away from obeying Jesus. Thus, our actions are more oriented around the patterns of our families of origin, cultural expectations, or accepted professional pathways, not direct invitations from God. This is the course of the world that leads us away from the patterns of Our Lord and out of being numbered with the prayerfully resistant. We see the patterns of the world at work in the opposition to the American Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King’s response to it in this passage in the Letter from Birmingham Jail:
You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
In this letter we see that there is clearly a way that things work in the South — racial segregation, violent subjugation of African Americans and all non-whites through lynchings and beatings, along with intimidation by any who would resist the status quo. Conversely, there is the pattern of the Kingdom of God that is breaking through where the image of God is valued in all people and dignity granted to people of every skin color. MLK and those participating in non-violent protest are holding fast to the family of Jesus and the vision of beloved community. Observers have two clear options. They can go along with the regular course of events or join with God to break the yoke of oppression and violence against those with darker skin. They can choose to give into the fear of change, discomfort, or pain that privilege and their present situation allows them, or press through to be obedient to Jesus. There is no middle ground.
This was true in the 1960’s, the times of Jesus and today. I have the option each day to speak up when I hear a man catcall a woman or walk past the homeless person on the street without acknowledging his/her presence because as the rapper Tupac says, “that’s just the way it is.” I have the option to choose to be a steward of God’s resources and buy LoGOFF products or purchase chocolate, sugar and coffee that is cheap, convenient, and produced by slave labor because “it’s always been this way and it’s not changing.” We must resist the vision of the world that says personal, relational, and systemic injustice will never be broken and proclaim in word, deed, and power that Jesus is Lord so we will love intelligently and live differently. This type of prayerful resistance is the embodiment of Romans 12:2a, that disciples must not conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing our minds. Additionally, it shows our allegiance, and is evidence of our adoption into the family of God and not the ways of this world as James 4:4 explains:
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Ephesians 2:2 next mentions the “prince of the power of the air” and this acknowledges the role that spiritual warfare and demons have in opposition to the people and purposes of God. Paul expounds upon this spiritual reality in Ephesians 6:10–16:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
If Romans 12:2 focuses on the patterns of the world being resistant to the people and purposes of God as physical in nature, then the Prince of the Power of the Air is referencing Satan and powers explicitly that are supernatural. Ephesians 6 does not merely implicate the systems, structures, and patterns of the physical world but the spiritual as well. The supernatural adversary is Satan and his demons, all of whom are ultimately subject to Jesus, yet reign in parts of this side of Heaven where the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come. Therefore, Scripture is clear that not only are Christians pushing back against forces of sin and injustice that are visible, but also against those that are invisible in the name of Jesus. Consequently, prayerful resistance requires not only physical weapons but spiritual ones as well. And to dismiss the supernatural or say the Enemy isn’t real is not only untrue, but disobedient and dangerous. These truths are essential to keep in mind for prayerful resistance because it is a constant reminder that the one who ultimately gives us access to complete victory is Christ.
Further examination of the armor of God in light of our prayerful resistance leads to great insight and specificity that can ground us firmly in His victory afforded on the Cross and not one that we think we can obtain through our own efforts.
The Armor of God
The first piece of armor given to us by God is usually translated as the belt of truth. The image though is a little more substantial than a piece of leather or cloth that holds up our pants in the present day. A belt for a Roman soldier held his sword and straps of leather, or some other material hung down, to protect the lower body. Therefore, it is the Truth of God that holds us up, holds us together, and protects our most vulnerable areas. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and as Colossians 1 says, “He holds all things together.” And that includes our very lives in the face of the enemy. Followers of Jesus who claim to seek His justice, but don’t cling to the Truth or allow it to hold us up are held together by something else that will certainly leave us unprotected and destined for destruction. Thus, out of the Truth of God’s promises, we press on towards the day when all will be made right.
Next, Paul explains that we receive a breastplate of righteousness. In those times, a breastplate would have covered a soldier’s entire torso, especially his heart. Consequently, our hearts are guarded by God’s righteousness that is “God’s own perfection in every attribute, every attitude, every behavior, and every word.” If we are held together, stabilized and protected by the truth of God, then the first area of attack from the enemy would be to sow lies. Our feelings are important and pivotal for being whole, redeemed people. Like the hymn says, “our hearts are prone to wander” and Jeremiah 17:9 says, “our hearts are deceitful above all things.” So as followers of Jesus, especially those walking out the ministry of reconciliation, we must guard our hearts against seeking our own righteousness, justification and confidence. Our righteousness is firmly hidden in Christ and thus our justification is fixed, not fleeting. Our status in the movement of the kingdom of God, as aforementioned, is not predicated on our showing up at a protest, what we post or don’t post on Facebook, or how much money we give away. Our righteousness is hidden in Christ and it is the very sacrifice of Jesus that guards our hearts against the lies of the Enemy who certainly says otherwise.
Only after we are held up by the Truth of Christ and our hearts are set on and hidden behind His righteousness, can we move forward with deep conviction and our feet shod with His Good News. This conviction is the Gospel of Peace and the readiness to preach it in word, deed and power. The images that come to mind as I think of this readiness is not of a Roman soldier’s sandals but of tying my basketball shoes, football cleats, or soccer boots a little tighter. There was a constant desire to be ready to respond to whatever might come. Similarly, we are to be vigilant in our preparedness to practice the peace-filled pursuit of following Jesus. We are ready to step out on faith and preach in Word, deed, and power the love of Christ unto Salvation and His kingdom that is coming and has come in Christ. We do not fit our feet with shoes of contempt, judgement and prejudice. We do not fit our feet with anger, hatred or the art of persuasion. We fit our feet with the Good New of Jesus and are ready to share wherever we go.
Now, with our most vulnerable parts protected and a message for the world, we are ready to move forward. Therefore, a shield for this journey makes sense as the next accessory. To reinforce this shield’s purpose, Paul explains that it is not to protect us from physical arrows but the “flaming arrows of the Devil.” Satan literally means the “the accuser,” and for the Emotionally Healthy Activist participating in the renewal of all things through prayerful resistance, it is the faith of Christ that shields us from doubt, temptation, fear and despair. The Enemy’s only goal is to destroy us and distort the Truth; and we as followers of Christ proclaim into the brokenness of this world a future kingdom rooted in the ways of God. Looking around us, it may seem as though the Kingdom of God is not at hand and the wicked prosper more than those who seek Jesus. This is precisely why we have our shield of faith because faith is the subject of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, says Hebrews 11:1. We who prayerfully resist yield not to temptation, but press on fueled by the hope that does not disappoint.
The penultimate piece of armor is our helmet of salvation and much like the time when this verse was written, helmets haven’t changed that much; but instead of protecting our skulls from damage, it seems that this armor is to protect our minds from spiritual attack. It is not a helmet of bronze but one of salvation. This is because we must set our minds on the salvation of God through Christ Jesus, not our own efforts or some other means of redemption and renewal. Again, the Enemy desires to steal, kill and destroy; our thoughts are a battlefield. To genuinely engage with issues like racism, sexual violence, human trafficking, climate change, and the everyday suffering that interrupts the abundance that God desires for us can lead to depression, weariness, and a numbness that causes emotional distance. For activists, pain and suffering can cloud our judgement and our ability to see other people and situations as God does. We who prayerfully resist in the midst of personal and social turmoil are held up by His Truth, guarded against insecurity by His righteousness, and able to walk in peace shielded by faith. With these truths in hand, we take our thoughts captive and make them submissive to God’s work, the ultimate salvation of all who believe in Christ. Paul reiterates the reality of this spiritual battle in 2 Corinthians 5:3–5:
3 For though we walk in the flesh we are not carrying on our [spiritual] warfare according to the flesh and using the weapons of man. 4 The weapons of our warfare are not physical. Our weapons are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ.
For followers of Jesus, it is a faithful act to be intellectually rigorous. We think, preach, practice, speak, teach, and love intelligently according to His Will and not our own. This takes not only an emotional resilience, but an intellectual one as well. Fortunately, we who work out of the finished work of Christ with access to all wisdom can move forward with all we need including the protection of our minds.
Last, but certainly not least. is the only offensive weapon in this outfit for spiritual warfare. Paul explains in this letter to the Church at Ephesus and to believers today that the way to war and win against the Enemy in the spiritual realm is to use the very words of God. We see Jesus respond to the temptations of the Enemy while He is in the desert with verses from Deuteronomy. Additionally, we see Him drive out demons in Matthew 8, rebuke the pharisees in Matthew 23, and halt an unjust execution in John 8, all with His words. He does not raise a fist or pull a knife, Christ opens His mouth. Therefore, if we are to be like Him walking in His authority, our weapons also are the very scriptures He has given us.
For Christians, our battle is already won so we fight knowing the result — especially when it comes to spiritual warfare. 1 Peter 5:8 further emphasizes our dependence upon God for life and freedom. It says:
8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
Lastly, followers of Jesus must prayerfully resist the Flesh. Different from the other forces at work against God’s people and His purpose in Scripture, this opposition is against an internal position that leads to ungodly action, not an external force that pulls us into disobedience. The Greek word for flesh, sarx, is used, meaning the physical body. It could also be interpreted as our physical bodies and all of its members as Paul uses in Romans 7. At first glance, this resistance might seem to be directed against our physical bodies, but that is not the case. It must be mentioned that the Bible does not say that our bodies are evil. In Psalm 139 we see that God created our bodies and formed us in our mother’s wombs with loving intention. In Genesis, we see clearly that He made us in His image and literally breathed us into life. Bluntly, Ken Shigematsu says in God In My Everything that “if our bodies were inherently evil then God would have never placed Himself inside of one.” Therefore, there must be a deeper meaning. I believe the true meaning can be found in Galatians 5:16–24.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also [l]walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
Here we see the sinful desires of the flesh and the results that follow when we act upon them juxtapositioned with the desires of God and the fruit of a life lived following Him. Thus, the Flesh centers us on our own will and practices over and against the Will and the corresponding commands of God. The fruit of a life centered on the God of the Bible is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Conversely, these things are not fruits of the Flesh. Instead immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and the like are what occur.
For those who seek to participate in the ministry of reconciliation and prayerfully resist the patterns of the world, it is impossible to center on ourselves and practice peacemaking. Our wills and desires must be laid down to reflect His blessed will in the world and participate in it. This looks like the radical grace extended from Christ-Followers at Mother Emanuel to Dylann Roof after he killed 9 of their friends, family members, and co-laborers in Christ. This looks like US soldiers asking for forgiveness from Native Americans at Standing Rock. This looks like men and women leaving their jobs to spend time with their children and nurture their marriages, or sit down on the street to dine with a woman or man who call that street home. The Flesh would drive people made in the image of God further from the God who made us and to look away from all people who are different and disagreeable; and the Spirit compels us closer because of Christ’s love. The Spirit is the fuel for justice and the Flesh is its opposite.
Paul expounds upon the Flesh in Philippians 3:
Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
Flesh in this passage is not tied to his body per se, but indicates an internal disposition linked to a choice as to where Paul will put his trust. He resists the urge to stand on his ethnic heritage, cultural identity, education, class, and accomplishments for justification. Paul knows that these things cannot bear the weight of his identity, instead choosing full reliance on Christ and rejecting these idols for true worship. Again, it is not that our heritage, ethnic identities, and accolades are worthless in and of themselves. His contention is that to build an entire life upon those things is poor and foolish, especially when compared to the deep riches of Christ. He chooses not to walk in the false self but in the fullness of the Spirit. He goes further to say the following in verses 7–11:
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
These two images of the Flesh must be named and rejected by followers of Jesus to participate in prayerful resistance. Whether it be our ungodly desires and the associated results that go against the purposes of Christ or the temptation to build an identity on the things we have done, awards won, and articles published. Per Galatians 5:17, the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another. Followers of Jesus choose by His grace, at all times, to walk in the Spirit.
It is my firm conviction that Christ is the Savior of the world and His great commission for us is to be His ambassadors preaching the Good News of Jesus in word, deed and power. Our Father is not building a nation or state, but a church, a new family with Christ at its head. To join this new family, we renounce our former selves and walk in a newness of life. This includes our activism, pursuit of biblical justice, and every act in opposition to oppression, violence and death. This prayerful resistance to the World, the Devil and the Flesh as we are conformed to the image of Christ is sustained by individual and communal disciplines of prayer, engagement with scripture, praise and delight. This constant abiding with Christ undergirds the life of an Emotionally Healthy Activist.