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Humans are more than fact-accumulating machines. I think we all feel this in our gut. Have you ever been at a cookout just waiting for the food to be done and the inevitable LeBron vs. Jordan discussion breaks out? You can guarantee there is a moment when statistics are tossed aside and an old head yells out, “BACK IN OUR DAY, YOU HAD TO GET HIT TO SCORE AND WE DIDN’T TEAM UP!”

We know that we are more than just the facts we listen to. If we look at the political positions we take, the sports teams we love, or where we land on a favorite music artist, it is often more than just an acknowledgment of information that shifts our views.

Spiritual Disciplines

Everyday there are several rhythms that shape our beliefs. What podcast do we play the most? What books do we read? What channel do we go to for our news? Who do we follow on Twitter?

I began thinking more deeply about this recently as our church joined in a fast to start the new year. During this time, I immersed myself in some works considered classics on spiritual disciplines. At the same time, I was also reading “Rethinking Incarceration” by Dominique Dubois Gilliard. I began to have one of those moments of holy discontentment that I could not shake.

In the classics I read, there was no model for prayer or meditation that advocated or even referenced the oppressed. There was no spiritual model that emphasized a rhythm of continual prayer for those in society most in need. There was not a single section on fasting that made sure to include what Isaiah 58 defines as a just fast that doesn’t exploit workers. This biblical model includes an active role in setting the oppressed free through meeting needs for food and shelter.

Take it to the Lord in Prayer

If you are a Christian, chances are you have heard the phrase, “It’s impossible to hate someone that you’re praying for!” from the pulpit. That is because there is an intimacy that happens when praying for someone else. Deep prayer for others effectively binds us to one another in love.

Christians should add praying for those who are most in need to their intentional spiritual disciplines. Our prayers should include the fact that we live in a country where 1 of 3 Black males will be incarcerated. We should weep and pray about the Black men, women, boys, and girls who can be killed just because someone “feared for their life.”

It is convenient to leave out these faces in our prayers. When a prayer that speaks of God’s love theoretically but ignores the man whose family is ripped apart at the border, we need to pause and reflect that this must change.

Nicholas Wolterstorff discusses a group called the “quartet of the vulnerable” in his book “Justice: Rights and Wrongs.” He touches on God’s emphasis on orphans, widows, immigrants, and the poor. Wolterstorff describes justice as rooted in inherent worth. Justice declares that people are valuable and have a right to the necessities in life because they are created in the image of God. In the Psalms, there are multiple texts that highlight justice for those in need. One example would be Psalm 37 which emphasizes both justice for God’s people and a right posture towards God while that justice may be delayed.

Practicing the spiritual disciplines should be directly tied to those God said his love is directly tied to. A form of personal piety unanchored in social responsibility is rightly critiqued by many in the modern evangelical movement. Many evangelicals may (rightfully) discuss things like art, business, and economics but ignore the zoning laws preventing communities from building wealth. There is much talk of cultural change but these discussions rarely touch on those the Bible says our spiritual lives should be impacted by.

Investing in communities to build up the marginalized in our communities demands a day by day approach. What we do daily is who are eternally. It is a billboard for what is most important to us. This inadequate diet of spiritual disciplines divorced from justice can grow the believer to some extent but only as a child raised on pizza and soda. It should be of no surprise that until this union of injustices invades our “spiritual” lives, the American church will remain malnourished and defective.

In “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” Bryan Stevenson writes, “The measure of our character is how we treat the poor, accused, and condemned.” It would be a terrible reflection on Christians to ignore the marginalized every single day in the ways we pray, fast, read, give, and worship — all in the name of seeking to know a God who fervently desires justice for those very people.

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