I once tended a flock where people were afraid of anyone who looked different from them. I was scolded, “church should be a safe place for churched people” because I invited the least of these, the homeless, the downtrodden, the poor, the widows, the unwed mothers, the mentally ill to sit in the pews on Sunday mornings.
I learned so much in that season of my life. Holding the hands of the elderly, the poor, people standing in line for hours for a couple of bags of food from the food truck. I learned about compassion, vulnerability, the brokenness of poverty, rejection, addiction and insecurity. The more I gave of myself, the more God poured into my heart and my work (His work), time after time– meeting my needs and meeting the needs of my flock in miraculous and unexpected ways.
One particular Christmas, I had exhausted my ministry budget to meet the needs of the community. Around five hundred hungry, unchurched families were fed, their children given Christmas gifts, and heat/electric bills paid. Three days before Christmas, the names of twelve more families were scratched onto a note and laid upon my desk. Some were going to get electricity turned off, others were asking for just one gift to put under the tree for their children, and even more had no food. I stayed late at work that night, crying out to God in prayer. “How can I turn them away? I have no resources left, Lord.” I had given it all and then some.
Several minutes later, someone knocked on my office door. When I answered, it was a woman from the church who had been opposed to my work, opposed to having a female pastor in the church, opposed to people who looked different sitting next to her in the pew on Sunday. God’s grace stood in the doorway and held out an envelope, which contained a large donation. “I thought you could use this. Do what you can“, she said.
She left and I closed my office door, got on my knees, and cried some more. When we are doing God’s work He always supplies. When we step away from ourselves to extend love and grace toward others, He heals us in the broken places and we find joy overflowing. (Colossians 3:23)
God’s answer to our own grief, self-loathing, sadness and scars from the human experience is to serve. Through service we are healed. In the midst of your heartache, serve. Serve with your hands. Serve with your heart. Extending grace to others, the universe opens up and we are able to glimpse moments of heavenly joy—not knowing that the impact of our service can possibly last for generations; a ripple in the water effect, or like a handful of feathers tossed into the wind.
The greatness in ministry is seen in our everyday living. When my children were small and God put it on my heart to go into the ministry, I spoke with him one day. “But Lord, I can’t be a missionary now. I have a family. I have a husband and small children. I don’t understand what you are asking of me.” His response was, “You don’t have to travel to far away lands to be a missionary. Be a missionary right where you are.” That was many years ago, and it was ingrained in my memory. As my ministry grew larger and larger, I always remembered that God asked me to be a missionary right where I was. I understood that the greatness I aspired to in ministry was and is SERVICE.
What greater goal can we have in life than to listen to those who do not have a voice? To touch those who are alone? To extend kindness to others, wherever we go? To be thoughtful in word and action? To do something unexpected for someone who needs a boost, or to praise others who need a kind word and encouragement?
We give out of the depths of our own life experience. If you are grieving, help someone else who is grieving. If you are an unwed mother, work with other unwed mothers. If you know what it is like to have small children and not enough food, help another mother struggling with the same issue. By seeing the brokenness of others, learning understanding, extending grace and kindness, you will soon be able to do the same for yourself….accepting and learning to love yourself as an act of service to God, allowing yourself gentleness. Serving others works on our deep- rooted heart issues. Showing compassion and accepting vulnerability in others, God cracks us wide open to share our own hurts. In this vulnerable place, although the heart may temporarily bleed, it is also healed.
Be a missionary right where you are.