January is often a time for new beginnings. If deepening your awareness of the need for justice in your community or around the globe is on your list of New Year’s resolutions, I recommend Bethany Hoang’s powerful booklet called Deepening the Soul for Justice (IVP, 2012). It’s published in a print edition and an e-book edition, the latter being particularly desirable if you want to ponder the message of this devotional text throughout the day.

The book starts with a gentle admonition to seek the God of justice first before taking on major tasks and projects to act against injustice. Bethany points her readers to Psalm 1. The psalm is a description of how to be rooted in God and drink deeply of God’s living water. The psalm shows how rooted lives are anchored in God’s purposes, and Bethany explains how spiritually grounded people are better able to discern their preparedness for difficult work. “For followers of Jesus, the difference between a pursuit of justice that brings transformation for real people suffering real violence and a pursuit of justice that amounts to little more than good intentions is simple—perhaps even simpler than we want it to be. The difference is found at our starting point, every single day.” (p. 7)

The purpose of Bethany’s devotional is to provide her readers with a prayer-bathed pathway that prepares the soul for fighting injustice or other kinds of difficult work. The pathway she proposes is a personal journey with God in prayer. The journey strikes me as being a loop, so that each point is revisited again and again as a rhythm of life. There are six points on the loop are:  Stop, See, Choose, Ask, Proclaim, and Remember.

Each point is a kind of Sabbath rest where seekers are invited to meet with God, to listen to God’s Word and listen for God’s Spirit, to be honest about the self before God, and to be reoriented to the truth. “As we open ourselves to understand justice as it originates in the character of God, and open ourselves to understand how God would call us to respond in faith each day of our lives, we will likely come across stories that will create an ideal in our minds as to what our justice action ‘should’ look like … But the Scripture teaches us that there is not one sole way to do justice or one unique role that is more important than the others.” (p. 24)

Bethany reminds her readers that the difficult work of fighting injustice is a daily choice toward hope, that it is asking God to act, and that it is praising God in all things.  It is also about telling the stories of what God has done. Combined, the six points provide the strength to continue around the loop again and again as justice is pursued. “Both the work of justice itself and the daily work of discerning our roles in God’s movement of justice require thoughtful rhythms that will serve to sustain us and form each of us individually and as a body into the very likeness of Christ.” (p. 9)

The booklet includes thoughtful study questions for individuals or groups. Bethany compelling demonstrates that Christians can find the strength of heart and depth of soul to do difficult work. Deepening the Soul for Justice is available from IVP.

Susan Disston was assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary.

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