In the course of a day, how many times do you make contact with the suffering of another living being? Really, if you counted them, how many would there be?
It is 6:00 a.m. your radio alarm clicks on and reports that another suicide bomber took out twenty-three more people somewhere in the Middle East (one). Good morning. After mining the nighttime crusties from your eyes and brushing your teeth, you take a scroll through your social feeds. Your college friend just got back from India, a medical mission to the slums, and she brought back scads of photos (two). Joe, whom you haven’t seen in more than a decade, is fighting cancer . . . for the third time (three). A pro-life meme reminds you that more than sixty million have been aborted in America since 1973 (four). The contact points are racking up and you haven’t even had your coffee yet.
We live in a troubled world. The magnitude of suffering can be disheartening. We want to see these problems solved, but they seem too big, too far removed. What can we really do? “Come Lord Jesus!” we say, wanting to escape the difficulty we face. We often fail to remember that come He did, and He brought with Him the answer to all the world’s suffering: the gospel of the kingdom. He spoke of planting seeds, and leavening the lump of dough, expecting increase and harvest, and praying for the kingdom’s success.
Don’t Waste Your Talent
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a story about a master who leaves on a journey. He leaves his possessions (the passage calls them talents) behind him in the care of three servants or slaves. He entrusts these slaves to take what he has left in their care and improve upon it. He does not give them detailed instructions on what to do to gain an increase; he simply entrusts them with the task. Now, when the master returns after a long absence he finds that two of his slaves have taken the talents and put them to work, and they have yielded an increase which doubled what they were given. “Well done, good and faithful slave” says the master, “you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.” The third slave, however, did not yield an increase. He merely hid the talent he had been given fearing that he may lose it and his master would be angry. The response of the master, receiving back the uninvested talent from his slave is, “You wicked, lazy slave . . . take away the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents.”
What does this have to do with our question of how we can personally help alleviate suffering in the world? Well, there are several things this story shows us which may help us toward an answer to this daunting question.
First, this parable is given as part of a larger teaching on what the kingdom of heaven is like. The Master is about the business of building His kingdom, and He involves his servants in the work.
Second, we are the slaves in this story. We are to serve but one master, and that master is Christ (I Corinthians 7:22–23).
Third, our Master gives us things which He fully expects us to use and invest to produce growth in His kingdom.
Fourth, slaves are responsible for the use, good or ill, of what they have been given.
These basics get us thinking about what we can personally do to alleviate suffering in the world around us. We can get more specific by asking ourselves a few questions:
Am I working in tangible ways to bring increase for Christ’s kingdom?
What are the talents the Lord has given me? What skills, resources, opportunities, and abilities does he expect me to use in doing His work?
Does fear of failure keep me from doing godly work in the world as I see opportunity?
Grow Your Talents
These types of questions help us focus on what is our responsibility rather than what isn’t. News travels fast in the age of the internet. With the printing press came newspapers, and with the television came the nightly news, and with the arrival of the internet the updates on mayhem and tragedy sound the alert moment by moment. The overwhelming volume of suffering leaves us deafened.
We can take note that in the story the Master did not hold his slaves responsible for what He had given someone else. The mere fact that we have heard about a problem does not make it our responsibility, at least not in the way we might think. What He does hold us responsible for is following His commands with what He has placed under our management. When we are responsible with small tasks He gives us more to manage. Our responsibilities start small and close to home and expand outward. Many of the bigger evils have roots that infiltrate much closer to home than we think—uprooting and exposing wickedness in your home and community weakens the hold it has on the nation. For instance, I can’t single-handedly put a stop to the murder of the unborn in America, but I can go to the clinic down the street and try to rescue imperiled infants in my own community, I can talk to my friends and neighbors about the wickedness that is going on there, I can plant seeds of righteous indignation that we allow murder to take place in our town uncontested. I can take action within my area of influence to “rescue those who are being taken away to death,” as Proverbs says, even though I may not have the influence to move the heart of the nation. Our communities have in many ways rejected the Living Water they need to be fruitful and have become a barren wasteland which needs to be planted with the seeds of justice, righteousness, and mercy in every area. That kind of work requires laborers who are willing to do the hard work of planting the rows, knowing that the harvest won’t be immediate.
If we want to see the larger problems of the world solved, but are not being obedient to God locally, we should not expect our Master to give us more to manage. Increased responsibility in the kingdom is a good thing, and we should have an Isaiah-like attitude of “here am I Lord, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Our Master’s words, “You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things” should ring in our ears, urging us to daily faithfulness in every small thing, while keeping us alert to greater opportunities for service. The “many things” need doing, and we should desire to do them. We cannot ignore the suffering of a world crushed by the curse, but you don’t start weight training with a thousand pound load—you have to build muscle for that.
Sisters, it may encourage you, as it does me, to remember that in the economy of Christ’s kingdom, faithfulness in the mundane holds great value. Practicing obedience in small duties fits us to carry greater responsibility. To our surprise even the duties we see as small may have far rippling effects. Our view is myopic so we don’t see how our faithfulness at home affects the world at large. What does it matter in the grand scheme of things if I honor my father, pray for the persecuted, visit widows and orphans in distress, or keep my word to my neighbor?
You may not be single-handedly curing cancer, but your faithfulness in small things still matters. When you declare the crown rights of King Jesus over the spot of earth on which you stand, you are planting seeds of the kingdom in your family and local community. Each time you choose obedience to God over faithless disobedience you are living the life of a faithful slave to the One True Master. And, as our Master tells us, the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which is small when planted, but grows into a tree larger than any in the garden (Mark 4:30–32). It is possible that your talents, if put to work, might plant a kingdom seed which will grow into a tree to bear fruit for those who live far beyond the borders of your garden.