A short reflection on BBC’s Radio 2 about how small actions can make a big difference used the example of how significant it was for a young Desmond Tutu to see a white priest remove 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.
Among 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 that helped set him on the incredible path he took of helping bring hope and change to millions of people.
The story of how Huddleston’s small act made such a big difference got me thinking about the areas of life that should be affected by our faith.
In what ways should faith make a difference to how we live? Here are six areas:
1. 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 and to allow divine love to repair, restore and re-orientate us. Real faith makes a difference when no one is watching.
2. Personally. Authentic faith influences our small, daily decisions about how we behave, such as how we act on a crowded bus or our attitude when driving.
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.
3. 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 emphasizes the inseparability of loving God and loving our neighbors. We are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others.
4. 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.
5. 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 it should not be today.
6. Politically. Authentic faith cares about how the structures and powers in the world can be shaped to create greater fairness, justice and peace.
We cannot care about what is happening in Iraq, Syria and Gaza and 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 in 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.”
Jon Kuhrt is the executive director of social work at West London Mission and is a member of Streatham Baptist Church in South London. He grew up in the Church of England. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Resistance and Renewal, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter: @jonkuhrt.
Jon Kuhrt is chief executive of West London Mission and a member of Streatham Baptist Church in South London.