(by Mike Southon)
It is a great joy to be writing about Law and Justice, and praying together with all of you. There is so much to pray about, but I wanted to write about some specific things in Australia and overseas that are currently on my heart in my ministries.
Justice in Australia
It feels so appropriate that we are praying for Law and Justice as we barrel towards the Federal Election (21-May-2022). As I write, I’ve just watched the first leaders’ debate, and the idea of justice – in all its forms – was the basis of so many of the questions and answers.
We all want justice, but even faithful Christians have different visions of what a “just” Australia looks like, how we might get there, or which political party will best achieve it. So what do we pray for?
I am a member of a political party, and I firmly believe that their vision of Australia is somewhat more “just” than alternatives. However, I don’t pray that they win. I pray that God’s will be done.
We must work hard, pray hard, and proclaim hard –
but always with the humility
that recognises that there may be a better way,
and that God may have better plans
There is such a profound simplicity and humility in the request that Jesus taught us to pray: “your will be done”. It does not ask for this specific outcome or that, but submits to God’s will. Humility forces us to recognise that our vision of how to reach a better Australia may not be God’s. Our ideas could be wrong. Our preferred political party might be the wrong one for this moment. We must work hard, pray hard, and proclaim hard – but always with the humility that recognises that there may be a better way, and that God may have better plans.
One way or another, God will reveal his plan for Australia’s government for the next three years. Whatever it is, it will be good. Even if the “other” party wins. So we can pray in the security and knowledge that God is on our side.
People tell me that the major parties
have moved away from Christians,
but the reality is that Christians left first
But there is one specific thing that I pray for. The particular structure of Australian politics gives Christians a unique opportunity that I constantly pray we take up – just as the Apostle Paul used his Roman citizenship in service to God.
Speaking with Christians on all sides of politics, I am told over and again that the biggest problem we face is that there are not enough Christians in our political parties. Fifty years ago, it was usual for Christians to be active in a political party, but the past few decades have seen a massive drop-off of Christian involvement. People tell me that the major parties have moved away from Christians, but the reality is that Christians left first. Regular committed Christians make up 15% of our population (NCLS), but we certainly do not make up 15% of our political party membership. Imagine how different things would be if we did!
So I pray that many Christians will join the local branch of their preferred political party, and live as salt and light in those vital institutions. No party is perfect, but no human is either. Being part of a political party is not the same as agreeing with every one of their policies. Rather, policies are developed by those within the party, so membership is the greatest way of having a voice for change.
On the practical side, I am part of a formal network called Christians for Labor – christiansforlabor.org – that connects and encourages Christians in the ALP (Australian Labor Party) to help be both faithful and effective. I am not aware of an equivalent single network in the coalition (Liberal and National parties), but there are a number of smaller networks that I would be delighted to connect anyone who was interested (email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for the Australian political party or organisation you are interested in).
More importantly, please join me in praying for God’s will in the upcoming election, and the future of our political parties.
As we turn our eyes outside of Australia, there is so much we can pray for. In the poorest countries of the earth, justice is rare and law can become a tool of oppression. Ever since Paul collected money for those suffering famine in Judea, Christians have been at the forefront of caring for the poor, and we will continue to do so in both prayer and deeds.
However, we in Australia can fall into the trap of jumping straight from seeing a need to throwing money at it, and we miss a vital partnership.
When we wealthy Christians
resource our brothers and sisters
in the developing world to serve,
we reflect the true nature of Christ’s church
I firmly believe that the engine-room of effective ministry is the local congregation of God’s people – gathering together and then going out to proclaim and serve. I also believe that the local church is the engine room of effective aid, relief and development. It is one thing for a big western organisation to fly into a place and “give aid”. It is something completely different when the local church in an impoverished country is resourced to give support to the people around them, in the name of Jesus. When we wealthy Christians resource our brothers and sisters in the developing world to serve, we reflect the true nature of Christ’s church – gathering and serving locally while united across the globe in prayer and fellowship.
There are many Christian aid agencies who work in this way – one of which I work for. Anglican Aid – anglicanaid.org.au – focuses on resourcing the church in the developing world to plan and execute their own aid and development projects, as well as sponsoring Bible training for the future leaders of those churches. I mention this so I can tell you a story that continues to encourage me.
For a number of years, Anglican Aid has been supporting basic theological education for the church in Madagascar. Despite what we may see in documentaries or Disney movies, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries on earth, with 75% of the population living on less than $2 per day, and the south of the country is very dry and prone to droughts. One such drought struck in 2019, leaving millions of people starving. The local church asked us for help, and within a couple of weeks we had provided emergency aid, and church ministers were out distributing food and supplies to the drought-stricken villages.
Christianity in Madagascar is very shallow, with most people following ancestral religions. Rev. Gaston, one of the ministers distributing food, told us that villagers were shocked that he would go to an unknown village and give to strangers: “A lot of people are being baptised because they were being touched by the love, and asking ‘what religion is this that cares?’”. In the following months, Rev. Gaston has baptised over 1700 new believers, and started 7 village churches.
the simple fact that God’s people, motivated by Christ’s love,
reach out to their neighbour and care for the most vulnerable
is a powerful testimony to the gospel
I hear stories like this time after time. Whether it is emergency relief, water developments, disability inclusion, women’s refuges or children’s schools; the simple fact that God’s people, motivated by Christ’s love, reach out to their neighbour and care for the most vulnerable is a powerful testimony to the gospel. When we strengthen the local church, they transform the community both physically and spiritually.
So please pray with me that God will continue to use us, his church, to care for the most vulnerable people in this world. Pray that we as a local church can reach out to those in Australia. Pray also that we can build real partnerships with God’s people in the developing world, to resource and empower them.
(all references from the New International Version)
One person considers one day more sacred than another;
another considers every day alike.
Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.
Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.
Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord,
for they give thanks to God;
and whoever abstains does so to the Lord
and gives thanks to God.
For none of us lives for ourselves alone,
and none of us dies for ourselves alone.
If we live, we live for the Lord;
and if we die, we die for the Lord.
So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life
so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?
Or why do you treat them with contempt?
For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.
Instead, make up your mind
not to put any stumbling block or obstacle
in the way of a brother or sister.
“If you say, ‘How we will hound him,
since the root of the trouble lies in him,’
you should fear the sword yourselves;
for wrath will bring punishment by the sword,
and then you will know that there is judgment.”
(by Bjorn Schmid)
It is very easy to apply laws and judgements on others, especially to those we don’t know personally, or to those whom we are angry with. Anyone who breaks a law that we consider ‘right’ can evoke our ‘righteous’ judgement that they be punished – the more ‘right’ we consider the law, the more punishment we can consider all offenders should receive. When punishment is meted out to lawbreakers, we can consider justice has been done.
There is of course an established precedent for this: God gave His laws to Moses, and then Moses gave them to the Israelites along with the punishments for failing to keep those laws. The government and criminal legal systems in most western countries are based on much of these laws.
We need to understand that the same laws and practices of justice apply also to ourselves; there really isn’t one set of rules for others and a smaller set of rules for me. Also, we don’t set the rules or the rewards and punishments for keeping or breaking those rules; they are set by others (unless we happen to be a ruler or judge over a region or nation). We certainly aren’t God to set and alter His laws or how they apply to us; God’s laws, and mercy, are complete and apply equally to all people.
Through His perfect life, death, and resurrection, Christ Jesus made it possible for our sins to be forgiven and forgotten. As the ultimate judge that we will all bow down before at the end of time, He will determine our eternal fate with fairness but total justice. We will reap what we have sown in our lives, God cannot be fooled or bought off by anything we can do or bring.
Only our honest repentance to God of our failing to honour Him and His laws will open that one door to His mercy. Only our total surrender of our life to Him and the acceptance of His mercy will bring us forgiveness and freedom from His judgement. Only He can clothe us with His righteousness and call us His children. He created those healthy laws because He loves us, and He created a way for our forgiveness and redemption into His eternal kingdom because He loves us. If we accept His offer, He gives us a new heart with His laws written on it to replace our rebellious heart; we become a new creation, truly in the image of God.
Let us pray to our Lord, King, and Judge for ourselves and our neighbours:
Lord over all the heavenly and earthly realms
and all who inhabit them,
we give you sincere thanks
and honour you above all.
Thankyou God for creating us,
thankyou for redeeming us through Jesus,
and thankyou for cleansing us
with your Holy Spirit’s fire
to become Your eternal children.
Forgive us please Father for our sins and mistakes,
help us we earnestly plead to not repeat them,
and give us peace where there are earthly consequences,
advise us how to set things right with others.
Fill us daily with Your Holy Spirit,
guide us minute by minute on the path of righteousness,
and show us those things not of You that are still in our soul.
Above all Father, teach us Your love;
show us step by step how to forgive others
and demonstrate Your perfect love to them.
Strengthen our resolve to not jump into judgement
of other people’s failings and weaknesses,
remind us of our own weakness without You;
teach us how to love all our neighbours.
Grant us Father your love, joy and peace,
we ask all these things in faith,
submitting ourselves to Your will,
in the name of Jesus,