Tag Archives: service

I Used to Think God Wanted My Service #OutofSortsBook

17 Nov

Based on a recommendation from my friend Cathy, I started reading Sarah Bessey’s blog a little less than a year ago. She was pregnant with her fourth baby and I was pregnant with my second. Our due dates were a few months apart, but just being pregnant at the same time made me feel a bond with her. That’s what started me reading her blog, but I kept reading because Sarah’s blog is inspiring, well-written and thought-provoking.

I’m horrible at commenting – partly because I’m lazy, partly because I read while I’m nursing and let’s be honest, typing on a phone is a PITA. But I’m breaking the silence for a synchroblog in honor of Sarah’s second book (just out a few weeks ago) called Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith. (I haven’t read it yet, but it’s definitely on my to-read-soon list because it sounds right up my alley.) She has asked her blog readers to tell “our stories of transformation, of the ways we’ve changed and evolved and grown, the ways we’ve changed our minds or our hearts in response to the unchanging Christ.”

Here’s my story.

I used to think God wanted my service and now I know He just wants me.

I became a Christian the summer after my sophomore year of college. I went from living the typical party lifestyle to spending all my free time with other Christians involved with a campus ministry. I soaked up Truth like a sponge, learning things like the five points of Calvinism (TULIP), segues for cold evangelism and how God’s steadfast love was better than life.

Then I got married and moved to Colorado from Minnesota, and everything I had taken at face value about following Christ no longer made sense. I still believed that I needed a Savior, that Christ had died for me, and that I was going to heaven to spend eternity with Him. But I didn’t understand what practical impact those truths had on my current life.

Marriage was incredibly hard. Instead of the love I wanted to have for my husband, I felt anger and bitterness. I acted toward him in a way that made me hate myself and wonder what had happened to me. Instead of marriage being a sanctification tool, it just kept bringing out more and more sin. I knew that the Holy Spirit could help me change, but how did I tap into that power? How did I stop reacting out of my own power and instead react out of His?

Meanwhile, I was convicted through a handful of books and sermons that I needed to be living radically for Christ, that my life needed to be noticeably different. The only problem was, I didn’t know what that looked like specifically. I tried volunteering, serving at church, hosting get-togethers and dinners, sharing the gospel with neighbors and friends, fasting from shopping. No matter what or how much I did, I was consumed with guilt. Because I thought I should be doing more.

I was driving from Wheat Ridge to Boulder along the foothills covered in sagebrush when I finally realized that I had been so focused on my own contribution to God’s kingdom that I had taken my eyes off of Him. Instead of defining my life by what Christ had done for me, I had been defining it by what I was doing for Him and undertaken the responsibility of making my life eternally worthwhile, something only God and His glory could do.

I had been running after duties and activities to prove my heart was right, to show that I was living out my faith. But I had left out the idea of God wanting me to know Him and enjoy Him, to find joy and pleasure in life, and to become more like Christ on the inside through spending time with Him. He wanted my heart, my surrender, my devotion, my yielding, my rest. Living a selfless life would grow out of a deep, intimate relationship with the Father, not from some divine ability to be the Incredible Christian Superwoman.

At first sight it seems heroic to fling our lives away in the service of God and of our fellows. We feel it is bound to mean more to Him than our experience of Him. Service seems so unselfish, whereas concentrating on our walk with God seems selfish and self-centered. But it is the very reverse. The things that God is most concerned about are our coldness of heart towards Himself and our proud, unbroken natures. (from We Would See Jesus by Roy and Revel Hession, emphasis added)

It has been over five years since that day. In that time, I have birthed two babies, gone from working full-time to being a stay-at-home mom, and moved back to my home state. This truth has been re-proven hundreds of times, in every circumstance. When I focus on my relationship with God as an end in itself, instead of simply a means to growth in the Christian life, I not only get the joy of focusing on God, but the very things I desire to be done within me are accomplished by the Spirit. I get the joy; He gets the glory.

And now when I hear sermons on evangelism, missions, prayer, or service, instead of feeling like a failure for not doing more or being better, I take whatever emotions I have to God in prayer, saying, “God, I agree that this thing is good and I’m thankful for those who do it well. I admit that I’m not where I’d like to be in regards to this. I want to grow but I am incapable of changing on my own without a burden of legalistic guilt. So I ask You to do it for me and in me. Help me see what this looks like in my life. Give me eyes to see You at work and a heart of obedience that follows where You’re leading. I trust that You will accomplish Your purpose for me. Thank You for the relationship that I have with You through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Amen.”

I used to think God wanted my service…

But now I know He just wants me.

By grace this love springs forth.

24 Feb

The other night in our church small group (what we call care group), our discussion leader asked us 2 questions:

What area in your life is encouraging right now?

What area is discouraging?

As I thought about that, so many encouraging areas came to mind:

I’m encouraged that I’m still running and my legs and lungs feel great.

I’m encouraged that I pray every day, and often more than once a day, because I want to.

I’m encouraged that I’ve finally found a daily routine that works well, and allows me to read the Bible, write my book and train for a marathon.

I’m encouraged that I feel more at home in Colorado than I ever have before – having great friends helps a lot.

But the area I’m most encouraged in?

My marriage. 

And that my friends, is something that makes me want to run around, yelling and screaming and skipping!!

In my last post about marriage, I talked about how Travis and I had taken up going our own ways on weekends. We asked each other, “What are your plans for this weekend?” and both did our own things. After that post, though, things changed. We still ran the same errands on the weekends. But we ran them together.

Yes, it meant things took longer. And that we spent time doing things that weren’t our first pick (grocery shopping for him, Home Depot browsing for me). But we were together. And we were having FUN!

We’ve also been going out on one impromptu date each weekend – which has given us time to talk, laugh and enjoy one another.

And those things have made something else happen.

When Travis comes home from work, instead of giving him a slight head nod and a “Hey beads” while I continue making dinner or changing out of my running clothes, I intentionally stop what I’m doing and go hug and kiss him hello. He’s happier because I’m talking his love language. I’m happier because I actually want to hug and kiss him (which sadly, hasn’t always been the case).

When I talk to him on the phone, I enjoy hearing his voice.

When he smiles and his eyes crinkle, I feel so in love with him.

We laugh over well-timed movie lines and inside jokes.

We watch the dogs frolic from our kitchen window, silently daring them to jump the fence (but stopping them before they do – most of the time).

Travis muses aloud about Roth IRAs and whether or not he should take the new job (he did BTW and today was his last day!). Instead of rolling my eyes, ignoring him, or lamenting that we’ve already talked about this, I listen and offer him my advice…again.

Travis asks me to come look at, or help him with something, and I don’t get frustrated.

Travis wants to buy a ridiculously expensive antelope hunting tag and I don’t demand the same amount of money to spend on myself.

I win a pool table competition and instead of running out to buy a new shirt with my $30, I offer to take Travis out to lunch.

The best part about all of this? 

I did none of it. It all happened organically, by the grace of God. I honestly look at all this and think, How did this happen? I surely did not cause this! This is not MY handiwork!

God did this. He inspired my obedience in one little thing: painting our front door. I hated that door. Oh, how I hated it. I painted it once, 3 coats of painstaking strokes. Only to have it peel off in my hands as I removed the painter’s tape. The door remained white for at least another a month. It took me that long to get over being angry.

Finally, at Travis’ request, I tackled it once again, this time armed with pink primer (closer to the red paint than white). I still remember standing in the hallway next to our kitchen, glaring at the door. I did. not. want. to paint the door again. I was done with it. But out of a desire to serve my husband by helping with a house project, I did it. And I swear, that was a turning point in the way I thought about our marriage.

Things have only gotten better from there. Yes, we still have disagreements and tension from time to time. But it is no longer the door-slamming, fruit-throwing, cuss-word-yelling that our marriage my responses once were (Travis has not resorted to my form of temper tantrums).

Which proves that I, unfortunately, do not have any marriage advice. Because I could not have written this story. God’s ideas are always infinitely better than mine, though often harder to understand. Why did it take me almost 5 years of marriage to get to this place? Why did God bless me with my husband, though I abused him for so long? I don’t know.

But I do know that the best advice for anything is: Get to know God. The real God of the Bible. Jesus, who died for your sins. He is amazing. And He is the only answer you ever need.

That is not just a trite saying. I don’t say that flippantly. I say it with the full force of my being and my heart behind it. I say it as I look back on 5 years of hating the wife I was and wanting to throw in the towel. I believe that God has the power to redeem and glorify any marriage, even ones that have been torn apart by infidelity, loss or deceit. Because this God – He ransomed us from our sins. He has granted us eternal life. Surely He can do ALL things!

Put Him to the test. Ask Him to do amazing things in your marriage. Stay alert to the ways He works in your life. He will stun you.

Though I am dry and barren

By grace this love springs forth

Love for You and Your kingdom

Joy in Your glory Lord 

Operation Christmas Child

30 Nov

Last Saturday, I got a call from Operation Christmas Child wondering if I’d be interested in volunteering at their Denver processing center.

Heck yes!

I had actually called back in October to sign our care group up for volunteering but for the second year in a row, I thought about it too late and all of the volunteer spots were already taken. (For some reason, I’m just not thinking about Christmas in August when volunteer signup starts!) But I put our group on the waiting list, hoping that something would open up.

And it did. We’re heading down there tonight from 7 – 10 pm. This will be the third time Travis and I have volunteered with Operation Christmas Child and every year, it is so enjoyable and rewarding. So I’m very exciting for this opportunity.

A little about Operation Christmas Child:

It’s a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse – their mission statement reads: “Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. They expect to collect 700,000 shoeboxes this year with the help of 7,000 volunteers to distribute to children all over the world. The map below shows all of the countries they have delivered shoeboxes to.

What goes in each shoebox?

The guidelines for the shoeboxes are pretty general. There are things that aren’t allowed – anything related to war or snakes, anything that will melt like chocolate or chapstick, and anything that is dangerous. But otherwise, the giver gets to choose what to give. Common gifts are hygiene items (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, nail polish); small toys (marbles, stuffed animals, dolls, playing cards); books and Bibles; and markers, crayons and pencils. Givers are also encouraged to write a personal note to the child and even include a picture of themselves.

For many of the children receiving these shoeboxes, this is the only Christmas present they have ever received.

What do we do in the processing center?

When we arrive, we sign in and go through a short orientation that lasts 10-15 minutes. Then, our group is assigned to a station where there are 4-5 different jobs.

The first job is to open the shoebox, take out the $7 donation that covers the expenses of shipping the box, and make sure that the appropriate gender and age is marked on the shoebox label.

The second job is to respectfully go through the contents of the box to make sure that it contains none of the restricted items above.

The third job is to fill or refill the box with toys at the station, so that each shoebox is full of goodies for the child who receives it.

The fourth job is to tape the shoebox closed.

The fifth job is to pack the boxes as well as possible into bigger cardboard boxes, and seal those once they’re full.

In the past, I’ve done one of the first 3 jobs. Travis is usually a taper or packer.

We didn’t donate a shoebox this year, because our church has teamed up with Denver Social Services to give gifts to underprivileged kids in our local community. But we have in the past, and I think this organization is absolutely wonderful. If you’re looking for a place to give a gift or serve next Christmas, check out Operation Christmas Child.

Are you volunteering anywhere in honor of Christmas?

Rescued

10 Sep

I drove up to Boulder today, a nice little 30-minute jaunt from my house. I usually use that kind of prolonged time in the car to think out loud about issues I’m dealing with (which also helps me to not fall asleep).

Today, I was thinking about something the pastor said in the sermon on Ecclesiastes I was listening to this morning during my run. He said that God wants us to have pleasure – He wired us that way. Since I attended John Piper’s church for over 2 years, I had heard this before. But I heard it with fresh ears today because I realized – I don’t believe that.

For a while now, I’ve been questioning the point of doing stuff that I would consider “fluff” – things that are done purely because they are fun and enjoyable. Work, hygiene, chores, bills – these are not fluff because they must be done. Going to the movies, painting your nails, shopping, cooking new dishes, making crafts – these are fluff. They are done purely for enjoyment. I have not been able to enjoy these things like I used to because I have felt like Solomon – all is vanity, a chasing after the wind. At the end of the day, what do I have to show for these things? Nothing of significance.

And that’s just my problem. I had been questioning the value and merit of anything that didn’t contribute directly to the bottom line of Christianity (knowing God and making Him known). Praying, worship, reading the Bible, evangelizing, volunteering, serving the needy, working, maintaining a household – these are things that have either a tangible outcome or a direct impact on our eternity with God. But gardening? Running? Decorating? Shopping? Haircoloring? Trips to the zoo? Things like these are done for pleasure. What is the point of them?

Then I asked myself, why do I feel like I can’t engage in things that don’t contribute to the “bottom line”? I didn’t use to feel this way about everyday things so what changed? Guilt. I feel guilty when I do those things because I feel like I’m wasting time. And I feel like I’m wasting time with tedious, trivial little crap because I should be out there doing better, more productive things with my life. I should be doing more.

And there it is. The elephant in the corner. “I should be doing more.” I’m reading the book Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World right now and I tell you, the book couldn’t be more relevant to where I am in life right now. I just read this section:

“…While there are many things that need to be done, things I’m capable of doing and want to do, I am not always the one to do them. Even if I have a burden for a certain need or project, my interest or concern is not a surefire sign that I need to be in charge… Service was never supposed to be our first priority. Work is not our first order of business – even working for the Lord. In fact, our own efforts are so far down the line when it comes to what God wants that they didn’t even register in Jesus’ conversation with Martha… Only one thing is needed – intimacy with God.”

I have been so focused on doing more for God that I have taken my eyes off Him. I have focused more on my own contribution to His kingdom than on the price He paid on my behalf. And the ironic part is that the more I focus on being externally selfless by donating my time and money, the less I see how I selfish I really am on the inside. I was just confronted yesterday with a list of all the self-centered things I have done in the past 4-5 days. It was a reality check. I have been living in Kathy’s World. Everything is about me. And dwelling on my problems and cares just magnifies my already natural, sinful tendency of making everything all about me. I have been so busy thinking about me that I didn’t even realize I was only thinking about me. Imagine.

So to bring this full circle, I see that my cynicism about life has come from an incorrect belief that the only thing that matters and is worthy of my time is service to God and things that contribute to the bottom line of my Christian walk, like prayer and time in the Word. That incorrect belief stems from a feeling of guilt caused by the notion that I should be doing more with my life because surely (I thought) that is what God expects and desires.

But I have left out the idea of God wanting me to experience pleasure, to have fellowship with Himself and to become more like Christ on the inside. God wants me to know Him, to enjoy Him, to enjoy life. Living a selfless life grows out of a deep, intimate relationship with the Father – it doesn’t come from some divine ability to be the Incredible Christian Superwoman. Instead of trying to live an externally selfless life filled with service, I should focus on becoming less selfish on the inside through spending time with Jesus.

As for those things that I consider “fluff,” God created me and everyone else to have certain interests and hobbies – which are good things! He does not expect to sacrifice all things we enjoy for the sake of serving His kingdom. God is not all work and no play! He created these things for us to enjoy them (1 Timothy 4:4-5). It is good that God gave me a passion for endurance sports and reading and an interest in cooking, health and nutrition, and wine. I can enjoy these things by thanking God for them, by seeking to know God more through them, and by using them in a way that glorifies and magnifies who God is.

God has also given us all unique personalities and dispositions. He created me with a need for downtime and relaxation in order to maintain my sanity. I cannot go, go, go. And because of that, I know that I cannot take on any more than I already have on my plate because the only result would be me having a nervous breakdown. And that doesn’t serve anyone.

So instead of focusing on everything I’m not doing (and feeling incredibly guilty), I see that I need to focus on being faithful and the best I personally can be with the roles that God has called me to fill at this stage in my life (in order of importance): 1) a follower of Christ, 2) a wife, 3) an employee, 4) a church member, 5) a friend, 6) a volunteer. I don’t want to overlook how I interact with and serve the most important people in my life just because I’m too concerned with how I’m not serving the poor and needy, not throwing perfect dinner parties, not wearing the latest fashions (or even always changing out of my pajamas), not the thinnest or the prettiest, not a fast runner, not successful, or any of the other things I obsess about in the course of a day.

This has gotten to be a long blog post but I can’t say how much this revelation has literally changed my life. I have been stuck in a rut of joylessness for SO LONG, not knowing how to get out of it, nor having the strength even to try. I feel like the psalmist when he said:

“He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters…He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:16,19).

“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:2-3).

God has rescued me.

What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?

23 Jan

I have started to re-read We Would See Jesus by Roy Hession and while the whole book is utterly fantastic, this part put into words what I have been muttering in my soul for… a long time.

“To concentrate on service and activity for God may often actively thwart our attaining of the true goal, God Himself. At first sight it seems heroic to fling our lives away in the service of God and of our fellows. We feel it is bound to mean more to Him than our experience of Him. Service seems so unselfish, whereas concentrating on our walk with God seems selfish and self-centered. But it is the very reverse. The things that God is most concerned about are our coldness of heart towards Himself and our proud, unbroken natures. Christian service of itself can, and so often does, leave our self-centred nature untouched. That is why there is scarcely a church, a mission station, or a committee undertaking a special piece of service, that is without an unresolved problem of personal relationships eating out its heart and thwarting its progress. This is because Christian service often gives us opportunities of leadership and position that we could not attain in the secular world, and we quickly fall into pride, self-seeking and ambition. With those things hidden in our hearts, we have only to work alongside others, and we find resentment, hardness, criticism, jealousy, and frustration issuing from our hearts. We think we are working for God, but the test of how little of our service is for Him is revealed by our resentment or self-pity, when the actions of others, or circumstances, or ill-health take it from us!

“In this condition we are trying to give to others an answer which we have not truly and deeply found for ourselves. The tragedy is that much of the vast network of Christian activity and service is bent on propagating an answer for people’s needs and problems which few of those propagating it are finding adequate in their own lives. We need to leave our lusting for ever-larger spheres of Christian service and concentrate on seeing God for ourselves and finding the deep answer for life in Him. Then, even if we are located in the most obscure corner of the globe, the world will make a road to our door to get that answer. Our service of help to our fellows then becomes incidental to our vision of God, and the direct consequence of it.” (emphasis mine)

Wow. This is exactly what I needed to hear. This is exactly what I have been feeling, though I couldn’t voice it – that concentrating on my relationship with God was selfish and that I needed to be about other people. My fear is that if I let go of my felt need to serve and instead concentrate on God, then I won’t ever serve. That is the devil trying to keep me from growing closer to God!

I recommend this book to everyone but especially those who don’t feel close to God, or don’t completely understand the purpose of life.

Just another little snippet that is also wonderful:

“Grace permits us to come (nay, demands that we come) as empty sinners to be blessed, empty of right feelings, good character, and satisfactory record, with nothing to commend ourselves but our deep need, fully and frankly acknowledged. Then grace, being what it is, is drawn by that need to satisfy it, just as water is drawn to depth that it might fill it. This means that when at last we are content to find no merit nor procuring cause in ourselves, and are willing to admit the full extent of our sinfulness, then there is no limit to what God will do for the poor who look to Him in their nothingness.”

It is mind-boggling to me that God accepts, and actually requires, that I acknowledge my complete lack and His complete abundance. I don’t have to bring anything to the table. I don’t have to have any redeeming qualities in myself. I can come as a empty, weak, wretched sinner and God’s grace reaches out generously to bless me.

“Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”

“What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.” (Psalm 116:12-13).

Instead of praying to be a vessel that God uses as He wills, I have been taking it upon myself to be of service to God. I have felt the responsibility and guilt of making my life worthwhile and meaningful. That is God’s job! I am the clay; He is the potter. He knows I want to be used. He wants to use me. He may not use me in the way I want to be or think I should be used but He will use me in His own way. It is insofaras I am walking closely with God that I will see the path and purpose for my life.