It’s easy to say that ordinary people can effect meaningful change. However, words alone are not proof. Without substantive evidence, any talk of our power to change the world may be nothing more than wishful thinking.
But it is not so.
Our actions matter, and we are able to do great things in the service of our Lord. The proof is in myriad sources, but the one I choose to cite today is Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet’s Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World through Everyday People.
Why is there any need to speak of restoration at all? Isn’t the crux of the gospel that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, and if we believe in him we will have eternal life with him?
That is true as far as it goes, but it is an incomplete gospel. We can’t even imagine how good the good news is unless we understand it in its totality. Smith and Stonestreet lay it out well:
First, we are ambassadors of the full redemptive work of Jesus Christ. This includes, but is also more than, the rescue of individual souls. The story, as told in Scripture, is the restoration of all things that culminates in the New Heavens and New Earth, when all wrongs will be made right again.
Second, we are not only saved from sin and death but also saved to the life God intended for His image bearers from the beginning. Humans were placed in the world to care for it, and though the fall frustrates our efforts, Christ restores that identity and calling [emphasis in original].
We have more to do than wait for the new heavens to come crashing down on our heads:
Christian, we must not stop at the middle of the biblical story! The story we are part of, God’s story, ends with Christ proclaiming “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). And He brings us into this story, not merely as observers or personal beneficiaries. We are participants, and even champions, in this story.
In one sense we rest in Christ’s finished work on the cross, but in another sense our task is just beginning. Each of us has something to contribute to the great work of restoration.
So, what does restoration look like?
The full range of restorative endeavors is far too vast for me to capture, but a couple examples will be enough to show what is possible.
In the realm of poverty alleviation, the Christian Women’s Job Corps (CWJC) serves poor women by teaching and loving them, and giving them the skills and knowledge they need to become self-sufficient.
From Smith and Stonestreet’s description, specific components include “GED preparation, life and job skills classes, mentoring, and Bible study.”
The CWJC seeks to help women by empowering them to help themselves, rather than simply giving them money, food, or clothing. As their website says, the goal is to offer women in need “A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.” Their programs include practical assistance and exposure to gospel teaching.
This approach embodies mission in the fullest sense of the word, avoiding aid divorced from God on the one hand and preaching detached from material needs on the other.
Finally, the CWJC was started in Nashville by “a small group of people” but grew quickly, going on to have chapters all over the country. That degree of success is never guaranteed, but the point is that helping any number of women become independent is a work of restoration unto the Lord.
Such work is hardly limited to addressing poverty, of course. Many people afflicted by poverty also suffer when they or their loved ones commit crimes and end up in prison. One organization that ministers directly to both prisoners and their families is Prison Fellowship.
Staff members and volunteers preach the gospel to inmates and offer them Bible studies and life-skill classes, as well as mentoring opportunities for both them and their children. Again, as with the CWJC, Prison Fellowship combines evangelism and service instead of prioritizing one at the expense of the other.
Because Prison Fellowship is such a large organization with enormous reach and influence (it is active in more than 125 countries), it may seem like a joke to promote it as an example of what ordinary Christians can accomplish. But no large enterprise starts out that way.
When Chuck Colson – formerly a subordinate of Richard Nixon who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and spent seven months in prison – founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, he was only one man (and a recent convert at that) with “the idea that God had put me in prison for a purpose and that I should do something for those I had left behind.”
That’s the way these enterprises start: someone with an idea of where God’s love can be taken and how. Whether a given ministry or nonprofit ever expands beyond its local city limits is immaterial, for it is of eternal significance when even one life is touched by God.
Nothing Is Impossible with God
Everyone has a part to play in restoring all things, even if it doesn’t involve starting a new nonprofit or ministry.
The only question is what your part is, and as Smith and Stonestreet rightly point out, vocation is key to answering that question:
We should take seriously the particular gifts, abilities, and passions we all have… If God created us in particular ways and put us in particular places, it only follows that we should look for those places where our gifts and our culture’s brokenness intersect.
So consider carefully your gifts, and be clear in your mind about what is possible – literally everything, for nothing will be impossible with God.