One of the saddest things in life is “the feeling of having gone on the trip, but having missed the adventure,” Greg Haugen told a room full of Christian leaders recently. Most of them nodded in assent.
Haugen, the director of International Justice Ministries in Washington, D.C., was one of the most anticipated speakers at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit Aug. 7. He spoke about the profound work his group is doing to secure justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.
In the world at this moment, 1.5 billion people have no access to health care. In developing countries, 60 to 85 percent of prisoners are never convicted or charged with a crime; 27 million people are living in slavery and 2 million children have been forced into prostitution. Just today, 25,000 children will die from hunger.
For these people, one of the absolute hardest things to believe is the Christian assertion that God is good, that God is love.
As believers, we have to step back and ask ourselves, just what is God’s plan? Haugen said. But when we do, to what’s often our astonishment, the answer becomes clear.
“We’re the plan” said Haugen. “God don’t doesn’t have another plan.” Hard as it might be to accept, you are God’s plan to address the injustices of our world.
Haugen encouraged those present to make their leadership matter by leading in the things that matter to God.
“Discover what God is passionate about, and pursue that,” he said, claiming “justice is at the core of the heart of God.”
But even considering the scope of the brutal injustices in this world can make a person feel bolted to their chair. It’s work that feels, “hopeless, scary and hard,” Haugen said. All of us would rather lead in situations that are cheerful, safe and easy. But people can pretty much take care of themselves in these scenarios.
For those who want to pursue the “more demanding climb,” Haugen encourages them to refocus on what God is and what God can do.
“Re-center on the basis of our hope,” he said. “If God is passionate about it, God is responsible for it.”
He illustrated this point by asking people to remember how the disciples fed the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two fish.
“It seemed to them when faced with such an impossible task, all they could do was sit in the paralysis of despair. But Jesus, simply said, ‘what do you have? Give it to me.’ Jesus didn’t ask what they needed. He asked that they have and would they give it to him.”
When the work is of God we’re simply asked to give all we have and trust in God to act, said Haugen.
Working in justice ministries is also scary, said Haugen, who related dramatic rescues of people from slavery that International Justice Ministries have undertaken.
Those slave owners were capable of violence, he said. “But we’ve experienced God. Jesus didn’t come to make us safe. Jesus came to make us brave and to release us from the mediocrity of safe bets. He called us to follow him beyond what we can control so that we can experience God’s wisdom, power and love.”
But doing so can often feel too hard. To address the difficulties, Haugen recommends choosing not to feel safe, developing deep spiritual health, pursuing excellence and seizing joy.
Mother Theresa used to say she couldn’t do her work for 30 minutes without prayer. “If we can get through an hour, or a day, without prayer, we need to consider getting a new life’s work or pursing our old life’s work in needs ways,” Haugen said.
Christians, as they grow, have to leave the safety of the Christian cul-de-sac. They have to choose to pursue excellence and re-claim the rigor of thought and excellence of execution.
“We’ve had enough of the Christian-adjusted scale of mediocrity,” he said. “We need to be evaluated by our outcomes.”
And, perhaps most importantly, leaders in justice ministries need to choose to seize joy.
“The first thing to disappear when spiritual discipline departs is laughter,” said Haugen. “We need to do away with the exaggerated anxieties of self-seriousness. There’s something wrong if Jesus’ yolk is light and ours is heavy. The joy of the Lord really is our strength.”
Haugen’s shared his own feeling about faith when he remembered being a teenager and working out in the gym, trying to build his muscles for football. On the other side of the gym, he remembered, were the body builders – the gym’s elite.
Those boys had grown huge, bulging chests, and arms and legs – lifting, stretching, and toning But for what purpose? Haugen asked. They didn’t really do anything with their muscles. “In a crunch, they were called in to open the jam jar when it was stuck.
The world is waiting to know God through us, Haugen said. Do we really want to be spiritual jam jar openers?
“We are God’s plan.” It can be an adventure of the rarest joy.