Something needs to change.
If you’re human, that sentence isn’t altogether foreign to you, and yet we have to admit that change is hard. We hear stories all the time of people making life-altering decisions to love God and love others, but we think, I could never do that. We’re left wondering, What makes someone uproot their entire life to serve others?
In David Platt’s new book, aptly titled Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need, he writes about a trip to the remote mountain trails of the Himalayas when he came face to face with this question. This startlingly honest book is part narrative, part confession. It’s apparent from the outset that Platt—a TGC Council member and pastor of McLean Bible Church—isn’t writing from the perspective of an “expert” who has it all together. Rather, he’s a sojourner, like you and me, seeking to learn from those he encounters on the Himalayan trail, as well as figure out what God’s calling him to do with his life once he returns home.
Difficult questions arise along the way. Where is God when people suffer? Why are so many people born into what seems like an earthy hell, only to move to an eternal one? These and other challenges drive Platt back to the Scriptures. At the start and end of each chapter he provides excerpts from his journal, bringing Scripture to bear on what he’s experiencing in real time.
Actually Doing Ministry
As you flip through the pages, you’re invited to join Platt on his eight-day journey—a journey that will bring you face to face with the suffering of others. One story in particular captures the heart of the book. The trip has concluded and David is sitting with Aaron, a fellow traveler. He asks his new friend, “So what made you leave pastoring a church in order to move your family here?” Aaron pauses before answering. “I felt like I was talking about ministry in the midst of urgent spiritual and physical need more than I was doing ministry in the midst of such needs. And I decided that needed to change” (186).
The point is that we don’t need to go overseas to find urgent need; we simply need to walk across the street.
Aaron’s words resonated with me. It’s deceptively easy to talk about ministry without actually doing it, which is why this book is so timely. Platt argues that we have “forgotten to feel what we believe.” He explains: “God didn’t design the gospel of Jesus to be confined to our minds and mouths in the church, yet disconnected from our emotions and actions in the world” (3).
Such focus on experience and action is a strength of the book. Rather than problems explained solely through stagnant statistics, here you find a living story. You learn about actual people who have experienced unimaginable pain. You also get to glimpse how God is using ordinary people to address this overwhelming brokenness.
Fighting Inward Paralysis
Platt isn’t simply writing to informing us of what to stop and start doing. More to the point, he captures the inward paralysis that keeps us from acting in the first place—and he addresses the fear head-on. As a leader of a not-for-profit working with churches, I was especially moved by how Platt processed the exploitation he witnessed firsthand. “We’ve all heard that solutions to sex trafficking are complicated and there are wise and unwise ways to go about fighting it. Regardless of what it looks like I just want to do something” (45). Later he admits: “I don’t want to make excuses and I want to do something but I don’t know what to do” (178).
Vulnerability is key to this book, and it challenges the reader to be transparent, too. Let’s be honest: how many of us have been there? We see a global issue, but we have no idea what we can do to stop it. Platt confesses he finds it “dangerously easy to walk past urgent need and do nothing about it. And I need God to change that in me” (89). Only Christ’s vulnerability for us, as reflected in the gospel, will ever empower and open our eyes to those most vulnerable around us.
The vulnerability of the people Platt interacts with reminds us of the vulnerabilities we see on a daily basis in our own communities. The point is that we don’t need to go overseas to find urgent need; we simply need to walk across the street. As Platt reminds us, “I don’t know the most urgent spiritual and physical needs around you, but God does. So ask him, ‘Where are the poor, the oppressed, the orphaned, the enslaved and ultimately the lost around me’” (196)?
Just like his trip didn’t happen from a “safe” distance, neither is loving the neighbors around you. Loving other people is often messy. It can be difficult, even painful, but in that difficulty you’ll find life and community. Something Needs to Change closes with principles that will aid you in discovering your own balanced, holistic approach to caring for image-bearers in need in your own community. Once you realize God has you where you are at this very moment for a reason, what will you do about it?