Back in college, two roommates and I launched a campus chapter of Heifer International, a global charity that gives livestock and training to people in developing countries as a way to help them lift themselves out of poverty. (If you receive a cow, for example, you can sell the milk, as well as breed it and sell the offspring.)
The three of us had a blast brainstorming viral marketing (black-and-white flyers with simply the word “HEIFER” on them, which we plastered all over dorm windows and mailroom bulletin boards), visiting Heifer’s downtown Chicago offices, and raising money for a cause we believed in.
When Bono – yes, that Bono – visited our school to help raise money for his nonprofit work fighting AIDS in Africa, the three of us were gifted front row seats.
Still, starting a campus ministry and maintaining one are two very different things. After our initial launch we needed to meet with some upperclassmen to begin building partnerships and support to go beyond our initial six-month push.
We gathered with two other leaders of college nonprofits, my roommates and I breathless with excitement. Together we could build something beautiful; we had no doubt.
The upperclassmen were guys, both highly respected on campus, both devastatingly handsome. Sophomore me was giddy to be at the same table with them, much less have their ear as we pitched our project.
My roommates and I talked about Heifer, about how we’d felt God’s leading in starting a college chapter, about the overwhelming student response. They listened politely, nodding here and there but never smiling. As we finished our explanation, one of them cleared his throat and asked a question we’d never expected:
“How can you be spending all this time fundraising for Heifer,” he asked, “when there’s such a huge famine in eastern Africa? Don’t you care about that?”
My roommates and I fell silent, glancing nervously at one another out of the corners of our eyes.
“Of course we do,” I said.
“Well then,” the other upperclassman said, “we should spend some time in prayer for eastern Africa.”
We dutifully bowed our heads. A few moments later the meeting dissolved with no further conversation about Heifer.
I didn’t realize it then, but we’d been the casualties of a false dichotomy. You’ve probably faced one at some point, too. A false dichotomy is a logical fallacy–a gap or leap in logic–setting forth an untrue either-or scenario (i.e. “If you really care about this, it means you don’t care about that.”).
- Why do we spend so much time talking about next year’s budget when our national borders are a mess?
- The church shouldn’t talk so much about sexual sin when there are crises in education and public housing.
- Or, as those two upperclassmen put it over a decade ago: How could we raise money for a long term charity when there’s an emergent famine taking place right now?
It’s a popular rant on social media where people shout each other down when they feel their own pet issues, charitable causes, or heart projects aren’t being given a proper due.
But here’s the thing, friends: we are finite. God gives each of us the same number of hours in a day. We all have limited energy, emotion, and brainpower to spend.
So how do we decide what deserves our passion, our drive, our time and our prayers?
We can’t. But God can.
God sets each one of us in a specific context. We are given a particular story. Gifts, passions, talents, and perspectives that are unique to each one of us.
Our job is to listen. Not to the pundits or the politicians, the talking heads or the screeching podcasts. Not to the Twittersphere or the Facebook frenzy. We are to listen to God. We do this by quieting the noise and tuning in to Scripture, to listening prayer, to trusted friends and mentors, to the church, to the experiences God has used to shape and teach us.
As Jesus puts it in John 10:27,
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
God calls each of us to serve, but not to burn out in a blaze of glory trying to do allthethings. Where is God calling you to follow him in service?
God leads us to speak up against injustice, but not on every issue at every turn or we will simply become resounding gongs and clanging symbols to whom no one listens. Where is God calling you to follow him by speaking up?
Above all, God calls us to listen to the still, small voice of the Spirit that will guide us out of our comfort zones and toward greater love for God and neighbor, often in small, local ways. Sometimes in huge, tremendous ones, too, and we must not shrink back from these. Who is God calling you to love?
When God puts bringing a meal to your neighbor on your heart, you needn’t feel guilty that you haven’t solved world hunger, too.
The key is to listen.
God will be faithful to guide.