This morning I listened to a short reflection* about how small actions can make a big difference. The example used was how significant it was for Desmond Tutu when as a young boy he saw a white priest doff his hat in courtesy to his mother who was a domestic worker. Growing up under apartheid in South Africa he had never seen a white man show such respect to a black person before and it had a profound impact on him.
It was only later that Tutu learned the priest he had met as a young boy was the great anti-apartheid campaigner, Trevor Huddleston. In amongst all the ‘important’ things that Huddleston achieved in his life, he would never have imagined the impact that this simple act of courtesy had. And yet Tutu cited it as a key moment in his upbringing – a moment which helped set him on the incredible path he took of helping bring hope and change to millions of people.
What difference should faith make?
The story of how Huddleston’s small act made such a big difference got me thinking about the areas of life which should be affected by our faith. In what ways should faith make a difference to how we live? These are the ones I came up with:
- Privately. Authentic faith should be always changing us in ways that only we know about. Through prayer we seek God’s grace to shape and influence our inner lives, to allow divine love to repair, restore and re-orientate us. Real faith makes a difference when no one is watching.
- Personally. Authentic faith influences our small, daily decisions about how we behave, like our attitude when driving and how we treat our families. But it also influences the big choices that we make about our life: the house we buy, how we use our money, where we send our children to school. Faith is expressed in the personal values we live by.
- Practically. Authentic faith is expressed in actions which make it tangible and visible to others – especially those who are poor and suffering. Beliefs only become faith when they are put into action. This is why the Bible continually emphasises the inseparability of loving God and loving our neighbours. We are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others.
- Professionally. Authentic faith has to be expressed in the realms in which we spend most of our time and our energy – and for many of us that is in paid employment. In reality there is no sacred/secular divide: the workplace is just as significant a realm as ‘church’ for us to express our faith and hope in the living God.
- Publicly. Authentic faith can never accept being relegated into just a private realm. Faith has things to say about how society is ordered and how communities operate. From the start, Christianity was a public movement, described in the New Testament as the ‘Ekklesia’, which means public assembly. Back then, the Christian faith was never seen as a ‘private matter’ and neither is it today.
- Politically. Authentic faith cares about how the structures and powers in the world can be shaped to create greater fairness, justice and peace. When we look at the injustices and violence in places such as Iraq, Syria and Gaza we cannot pretend that faith has nothing to do with politics. If Jesus had not been a political threat to the Jewish and Roman authorities then he never would have been crucified.
Of course this is all far easier to write than to live out! And of course different branches of the Church have different strengths in regard to these areas. This is why unity among Christians is important, so that we work together to show the difference that faith makes.
Faith must make a difference to how we live. As Brennan Manning wrote:
“The greatest cause of atheism is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
*Listen to the reflection by Dave Tomlinson on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought