As Christians we are called to show love, wisdom and integrity in all aspects of life. But how should this extend to the good creation that God gave us? And is it as important as other parts of Christian ministry?
Going ‘zero–waste’, being ‘environmentally/eco–friendly’, adopting a ‘sustainable lifestyle’ are popular phrases today. These labels may carry slightly different meanings, but they all point to the same theme – being conscious of how your living affects the world around you.
I like to encapsulate these terms as ‘conscious living’ – living in an awareness that your small everyday decisions have an impact on more than just yourself. Conscious and sustainable living really comes down to thinking about how your daily choices & actions impact other people and the earth we live in.
I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of Romans 1:1–2:
“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going–to–work, and walking–around life—and place it before God as an offering… Don’t become so well–adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God.”
As followers of Jesus, we are not called to live for ourselves. We are called to live consciously and live for God. We are called to have God in the forefront of our minds when we are just doing life – in all its aspects. How can we live for God in our grocery shopping, in our coffee shops, in our clothes buying, in our work–commute and in our households?
I believe in order to fix a problem, we must first understand it. So let’s dive deeper into 3 ways the world is impacted by our daily living, for better or for worse.
The impact on other people
Two billion people in the world’s poorest countries are living and working amongst mountains of waste because they do not have their rubbish collected. They have no choice but to burn their waste or throw it into their water ways to dispose of it. As a result, it is estimated that a million people die every year because of pollution from rubbish – that’s 1 person every 30 seconds dying from rubbish.
Unfortunately, developed countries only make matters worse on these people. Last year 65,000 tonnes of plastic waste was exported by the UK to be dumped in other countries such as China and Malaysia – waste which you and I have contributed to.
We have a waste crisis on our hands. It is hitting those in poverty the hardest, and it is being constantly fuelled by us in developed countries. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbour – that includes our global neighbours. We must see this for the global crisis that it is, recognise our part to play, and then take responsibility to urgently change the way we live to stop fuelling the fire (literally).
The impact on God’s world
God created the world and all that is in it. He created it to be ‘good’. God created us in His image and gave us the responsibility to look after His world:
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Gen 1:26
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” Gen 2:15
These passages show that as Christians, we are called to ‘stewardship’, which essentially means to look after and manage responsibly all the earthly resources he has given to us. While he gives us ‘dominion’ over the rest of the earth, God is still the creator and we are still part of creation. It is our God–given calling to look after and care for the earth, not to destroy or neglect it.
Practically speaking for most of us, the biggest impact we can have likely lies in how we use our money or the companies we choose to buy products from. Are we going to consciously support companies that promote good stewardship? Ones that do not contribute to mass deforestation, exploitative farming, destruction of earth’s habitats or filling the ocean & land with plastic and waste?
Are we looking after God’s world in faithful stewardship? Indirectly, are we supporting and fuelling these actions by buying from companies and businesses who exploit the earth, or from those who restore it? There are many great companies, brands and organisations that do a lot of good for the world on a global scale, while providing their products – I urge you to seek these companies out.
The impact on self
As Christians we are called to die to ourselves and live sacrificially for the good of others and of God. Sometimes I think a voice inside us tells us it’s easier to not think into things too much, that we should just buy or do what is convenient to us and ignore the consequences to others. Admittedly, change can be difficult, but it is so necessary. In how we eat, shop and buy daily – are we consciously addressing the subtle sins inside us? Are we choosing compassion to the world over convenience to ourselves?
We must understand that we are choosing between life and death here for many people in poverty and many plants, animals and fish… and these very lives depend on our £3 plastic meals deals, makeup wipes, disposable coffee cups and shopping habits. Small choices for you, huge consequences for others. That’s the whole point of sustainable, eco–friendly, conscious living.
On that note, I’ll finish by suggesting a few ways that you can make a positive impact as an individual in your simple, everyday life. This list is by no means exhaustive, but has some ideas to get you thinking, and hopefully living, in a conscious way that points to something bigger than yourself.
1) Educate yourself
Becoming more aware of the problem enables you to tackle it better. Watch ‘The War on Plastic’ BBC documentary series, download “Bin–novation” NI council’s app for recycling information, check out Tearfund for some great resources on rubbish to educate yourself and your church groups. Also find Instagram or social media accounts to keep you updated on new ideas or swaps to make to help.
2) Equip better
The three most basic and useful reusable items to go for are a reusable coffee cup, water bottle and shopping bags. Once you’ve conquered using these, branch out to other ‘zero waste’ items – lunch boxes, BYO cutlery/straws, shampoo bars, reusable fruit & veg bags, washable cotton wool facial pads – and the list of eco possibilities is growing every year.
3) Buy better
Buy locally sourced food to reduce air miles, buy from “refill” grocery shops, try to buy food in tins or jars over plastic packaging (as it can be reused or recycled easier), aim to buy Fairtrade products, buy less stuff in general, buy second hand where you can, avoid fast–fashion.
4) Travel better
Take public transport or carpool to reduce carbon traffic, consider holidaying closer to home to reduce airmiles, interrail instead of flying.
5) Support better
Look out for and buy from companies that are doing good for the planet – these may be ethically–sourced goods, sustainably sourced ingredients, palm–oil free goods, carbon–neutral or carbon–negative companies, B–corporations, ocean–friendly or forest–friendly produce, organic produce that don’t contribute to chemical pollution.
6) Demand better
There are always petitions to sign or letters to write to companies and governments. These things really do make a difference and every voice really does matter! Check out Tearfund or Greenpeace for some campaigns to back.