by Stephen Venable
A vision for ceaseless works of justice may at first sound like an odd counterpart to night-and-day prayer. This is because we see justice through a haze of conflicting ideas and only dimly perceive its true meaning. Once we deﬁne justice in biblical terms, we can see why, instead of awkward companions, this pair is actually the best of friends.
In an age when innumerable injustices ﬁll the earth, we naturally grope for an anchor of righteousness. Our hope is not in an abstract idea of right and wrong, but rather in a man who is justice. It is Jesus Himself whom our ﬂailing hands must reach out and clasp. He is both the Judge and the Just One—the sole standard of justice, the full embodiment of justice, and the only One who can ultimately establish justice in the world. Thus, the word justice can only be spoken in truth when set against the backdrop of the surpassing worth of Christ and His sovereign claims upon the earth. Consequently, injustice is rooted in the failure to rightly esteem who Jesus is and the failure to obey His commands. It is an offense against God Himself—yes, sin—which lies at the heart of injustice.
This stands in stark contrast to seeing justice as simply an effort to fix trends on the societal or personal level that seem bad to us. The error of defining justice only from the perspective of human need is the reason for the common dissociation between deeds and devotion. When we see that they are both promoting the glory and honor of Christ, then their relationship is natural. Incessant worship and prayer effortlessly spills out into night-and-day deeds of justice because the latter is simply extending the reach of the former. When Jesus is at the center of outreach, whether it is evangelism campaigns or shelters for the homeless, it brings others into adoration for who He is and conformity to His will, which is the quintessence of justice.
With this definition in mind, we can more readily see why there are two very specific reasons that perpetual worship with prayer is such a conducive atmosphere for seeking to remedy injustice. The first is the way night-and-day devotion guards the pursuit of justice, and the second is the way it releases and empowers works of justice. On either side of the narrow way of biblical justice lie major pitfalls to be guarded against. To the left is activism, to the right is humanism, and we are in peril of both if our gaze is not ardently fixed upon the Just One. Activism seeks to bring about change for a specific cause through civic or political means. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it falls short of biblical justice. Sin lies at the root of injustice, and politicians cannot ﬁx sin. Any cause that does not march forward primarily for the sake of His name, unashamedly proclaiming the glory of Christ and the need to repent, is mere activism and nothing more. The liberal Democrat and the socially conservative Republican are on the same plane if Jesus is not the first thing on their agenda, because He is the definition of justice.
The goals of humanism may appear similar to biblical virtues on the surface: feeding the poor, caring for the sick, striving for peace. Beyond the façade, however, the two are completely different. Humanism appeals to the supreme worth of man and his rights, and makes God irrelevant. Biblical justice appeals to the supreme worth of Christ, emphasizing that man is utterly depraved and in desperate need of mercy. Something is not unjust because it violates a person’s “rights”, but because it deﬁes the way God has commanded us to treat one another. All sinful humanity truly deserves is wrath for our treasonous disregard for the glory of God (Lk. 13:1–5).
How does constant worship with prayer guard us from these errors while we pursue justice? By keeping us preoccupied with the majesty of Jesus. The passion to see Him exalted, which is necessary to sustain night-and-day prayer, keeps us from veering to the right or to the left. It postures our hearts to uphold His supremacy as we labor for justice. So, the first way night-and-day prayer makes justice effective is by guarding us from the errors of activism and humanism; justice is not distorted. The second reason can be seen in Scripture and throughout history: there is a dynamic connection between intercession and mission. Unceasing devotion releases works of justice both corporately and individually.
More happens when together we ask God to release His power. And when outreach of any kind is bathed in 24/7 prayers for justice, the result is far greater fruitfulness. Instead of directing our energy only to works of justice, this community is consecrated first to prayer, in order that we might exchange our strength for His, and then go forth clothed in His might.
Understanding the way in which God uses intercession to carry out His purposes is a cornerstone of night-and-day prayer. Jesus personally promised the success of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (Acts 26:17–18), yet in his epistles Paul still asked the churches to pray for a greater door to be opened for him to proclaim the gospel (Eph. 6:18–19; Col. 4:2–3; 1 Thes. 3:1). Intercession was not something that Paul merely commanded, but the very heartbeat of his own ministry. Strewn throughout his epistles we find statements like: praying always for you; we do not cease to pray for you; we also thank God without ceasing; and night and day praying exceedingly (Col. 1:3, 9; 1 Thes. 2:13, 3:10).Paul was not the first to highlight the importance of prayer in missions, the Great Intercessor spoke of the connection (Heb. 7:25). It was Jesus who said that the sending forth of laborers must be preceded by prayer to the Lord of the harvest (Lk. 10:2). Perhaps His most powerful statement linking prayer and justice is found in Luke 18: “Will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry out to Him day and night?” Night-and-day prayer is one of the means God has ordained to release justice in a dynamic way.
The final connection between perpetual devotion and a vision for night-and-day works of justice is a fitting conclusion. We have lost much if love has drifted out of sight in the course of pursuing either justice or prayer. God is gracious and gives lavishly to the undeserving. Jesus deeply loves weak, broken, hurting people. Our dilemma on the individual level as we seek to be vessels of justice and mercy to others is that we ourselves are still profoundly fractured. Our selfishness is great and our capacity for sacriﬁce is small. The answer is to have His heart formed in us so that we might be changed and might truly love those whom the world has cast aside.
Unceasing worship is not an arbitrary activity; it is an ongoing encounter with a person. As we gaze upon His beauty and agree with His desires in prayer, we will be swept up into the movements of His heart. Those movements will lead us out into the highways and byways, under bridges, and into dark corners where light has been a stranger, to seek and save the lost. That is what He came to do, and we are created to bring Him glory.