What does it mean to you to serve God?
For most Christians, serving God is a joyful expression of our translation from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. We exchange bad habits for good ones, spend time in Bible studies instead of bars, and invest our talents into churches, ministries, and good causes throughout the world. We hope that our investments will yield eternal rewards. Some time later, though, we may wonder, is this all there is to Christianity? Just meeting the needs of my church?
Most Christians realize early on that it takes a mixture of both prayer and action to fulfill the Great Commission. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Good works alone won’t fulfill God’s purposes any more than they’ll get you into heaven. (They aren’t rooted in the leading of the Holy Spirit.) And isolated prayers won’t accomplish everything, since someone must still put food on the table for the hungry!
It takes a partnership between the two: a “syncing” of Mary’s God-infused stillness with Martha’s active sense of mission. Only when we begin to balance the two do we really start fulfilling the Great Commission. One look at Isaiah 58:6-9 seals this truth. (Hover your cursor over scriptures in every post to read them.)
What are you building?
How are you using your talents to further the Kingdom of God?
Have you started something for God, only to not finish it for some reason? What got in the way?
If you’re like me, you’ve had lots of wonderful ideas of things you’d like to do for God, maybe even done a number of them. But for many people, your spiritual to-do list looks more like a hoped-for “bucket list” than a resume of accomplishments. Even when God tells us what should be on our lists, we sometimes fail to persevere and finish the tasks. Why is that?
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
Isaiah 1:17, NIV
Roughly 6 months ago, I had lunch with a dear friend, a writer, who is also a member of the His Inscriptions community. As we talked, she asked if I knew of any local ministries that rescued women from human trafficking. She wanted to invest personally in freeing women from this type of captivity.
I didn't at the time, and I promised to pray that God would connect her to a ministry in the near future.
“The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter in law. “He has not stopped showing His goodness to the living and the dead.”
~Ruth 2:20, NIV
What is the best thing God has ever done for you? Apart from your salvation, when in your life have you been most aware of the goodness of God?
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At 24 years old, I embarked – alone - on a journey to Africa. Feeling frustrated with corporate America, I longed to dedicate myself to a more altruistic cause, especially one that benefited the Kingdom of God. Because I spoke fluent French, I chose to go to Niamey, the capital of Niger, to serve with a team of teachers and evangelists through Sudan Interior Missions. It was a life-changing decision, one that would launch me into full-time ministry when I returned.
I have been a missionary both at home and abroad. I have traveled to dangerous inner-city ghettos and dusty, dirty African compounds. I have sung songs with poor children in the streets of Mexico and built houses for the homeless in the streets of New Haven. In all my travels, I found that there was only one thing I needed.
In the eyes of God, a leader is a servant. We know that Jesus places a high value on servanthood and teaches His disciples to do the same: "Whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:26-28, NKJV).
A servant, by definition, is one who waits on his master. Attentiveness to the master's commands produces an effective, treasured servant who is entrusted with more responsibility and becomes a leader in his own right. It is primarily our listening, not our busyness, that makes us good servants. When we have first understood what our master needs, we will do a better job meeting that need.
Society honors leaders who "step up" to the proverbial plate and take authority. We admire, respect, and follow such people. Our busyness becomes a badge of identity and self-importance.
Yet God demands that His leaders "step down," often into a place of obscurity, where the tasks are menial and the recognition is scarce. I know several mature leaders who began their "ministry" cleaning toilets! They graduated to helping people get "cleaned up" later. God's model of servanthood is designed to help us avoid the idolatry of leadership: the allure of titles as well as the worship of leaders themselves. It is servanthood cradled in humility.
Why does God do this? Doesn't He need good, strong leaders today, who will take charge of things and champion the Kingdom cause in a world filled with corruption?
Yes, He does. He longs for mature leaders - servants - to go and impact the world for Christ, just as your pastor probably longs for someone to lead a small group or set up the chairs on Sundays. God longs for those He can trust with greater things: those who have been faithful over little things and graduated to weightier matters. The catch is that He also longs for us to recognize one simple truth that many of us miss: HE is the leader!
Are You a Slave to Man or a Servant to God?
After years of "service" in the Christian church, God had to adjust my understanding of whom I was actually serving. It's easy to be caught up in the needs and demands of a growing church body: lead a small group, serve coffee and donuts on a Sunday, join the parking team, or minister to people at the altar. The needs never end; they only increase as a church grows. And this is a good thing, because it provides opportunity for believers to exercise their faith and grow in the grace of servanthood.
But somewhere along the line, God calls us to examine our hearts. Have we become a slave to man or a servant to God?
Here's what the Lord spoke to me concerning leadership:
"A leader, in My eyes, is a servant. Yet the focus of servanthood is different (from the world's). Would you rather be a slave to man or a servant to Me? If you serve Me, I will lead you to help others. But if you serve man, you will only burn out - and quickly! I will offend your sense of what should be done in order to show you that what you do is to be done for Me alone. All other types of "servanthood" are nothing more than idolatry - the idolatry of self or others."
In other words, a good leader leads by listening.
Leadership that magnifies itself or its own mission overmuch causes people to stumble. If we are truly serving Christ in the way He intended, we will place His requests above those of man - even those that may come from our leaders. We will recognize Jesus as our Lord, and see that leaders, too, should be working in subjection to Christ's authority, direction, and mission. Christ is the head, not man. Every man - even the pastor - is part of a Body, receiving orders from the Head.
Lest it sound like I am against Christian service, I am not. Yet there is a distinction between doing something because it "needs" to be done and doing something because the Lord has asked you to do it. Many of us blindly accept requests to serve without checking first to see if that is what the Lord wants us to do, and as a result, we have a growing body of Christian workers, missionaries, and pastors who are burnt out and exhausted. They have focused their eyes on something or someone other than Christ.
We must be willing to trust that the Head knows what the Body needs to do, in what order, and by whom. We must also be willing to let things go undone when He does not call us to do them. Either He will raise up someone else to do the task, or the task is not a priority to Him at this point.
The only way to know what we should be doing is to listen to our Master, and sadly, many leaders are not listening. Studies of Christian leaders in the US have found that 80% of pastors spend fewer than 15 minutes a day in prayer.* A true servant is one who waits on his Master first, not as an afterthought.
The God Who Sees
Besides the idolatry of leadership and the constant needs presented by the church, there is another reason why we are so quick to jump onto the "service" bandwagon: pride. Jesus cautions us in Matthew 6: "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven." (Matthew 6:1, NKJV).
Joining the prayer group seems like a good thing until it becomes evident that someone is hoping to be "heard for their many words." (Matthew 6:7; notice Christ's emphasis on "being heard" as opposed to "seeking" or "listening"). Serving with the goal of being recognized by man is never a good idea.
In fact, the entire chapter of Matthew 6 addresses the issue of being seen by men, a form of pride. If men are the ones we are pleasing, we have missed the essence of Jesus' lesson on service. Service should flow out of our quiet times with God, with a clear sense of purpose and mission, and a balance to how much we are taking on - balance that can be provided only by God Himself.
If I had my way, I would serve relentlessly. I thrive on service, and I love to accomplish things - especially when I know those things benefit God's Kingdom. Many of us are wired this way. We get excited about "doing" things for God instead of finding out what God needs to be done! It is all the more important, then, for us to be sure that we stay in contact with the Head of our Body, who will keep us from doing too much and burning out.
In God's eyes, tasks are never as important as people. He sees whether we are responding to our pride, to man's expectations, or to Him alone. When our priorities are not in order, He will hold us back from the task in order to preserve His people. No matter how pressing the need, our reward only comes from serving His way. A secure leader can serve without need of recognition because he knows that God sees what is done for Him, even in secret.
Leading by listening is the most effective way we can become a servant. Serving man will cause us to burn out quickly. We need to stay in the flow of the Holy Spirit. When we listen first, we allow God to place us exactly where He wants us, doing what He wants done. This is not an easy lesson, since it requires that ministers and laymen alike make listening to God a priority. But leaders who listen will have the greatest impact on their generation.
c. Deborah Perkins/HisInscriptions.com. *Source: US National Prayer Council.
Deborah Perkins is passionate about connecting people with God. She writes about knowing God and hearing His voice at HisInscriptions.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, or contact her directly here.
One of the benefits of walking with Jesus through this life is that we gain the advantage of perspective. My husband likes to picture it this way: imagine that you are walking along the “timeline” of life: a horizontal line with both a starting and ending point. The starting point would be Genesis and the ending point, of course, is the end of time, as pictured in Revelation.
God, however, lives outside of time. He is the Creator of it, yet is not bound by it. Picture God as residing somewhere above our imaginary timeline, seated on His throne, and able to see both beginning and end at once because of His “omniscient” position.
When we connect with God as believers, our spirits are no longer bound by time or distance because of the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit within us. God steps into our world through the Spirit who now dwells within us. The distance between us and God has been eradicated, and God now walks with us. He enters time.
Yet we also have the ability to ascend, in the Spirit, to a place that is outside of time. The Bible says that in Christ, we, too, are “seated in heavenly places,” and from this new position, we gain God’s perspective. (See Ephesians 2:6). It might be likened to the view the astronauts have when they soar into space and see the earth from afar.
Suddenly, we can see the “big picture.” The puzzle of life now has shape, definition, and form. We see how it all fits together, how it really looks.
A Prophetic Example
Seeing the big picture, however, has both blessings and pitfalls. In this highly connected digital age, it is easier than ever to see the big picture. And on a personal level, our newly-acquired perspective sometimes confuses us.
Suddenly, we are overwhelmed by the needs we see – the gaps in the “ministry” puzzle which so obviously need to be filled. There is no way that one believer can meet all the demands of the worthy ministries we come into contact with. Where are the laborers, we ask? Should I be stepping in to fill this gap? Many pieces of the puzzle seem to be lost or missing. Leaders, especially, can be tempted to yield frantically to the search for missing pieces in a valiant attempt to complete the puzzle.
Just as God expands our vision prophetically to release strategies for Kingdom growth, so the enemy tries to stretch us to capacity as we seek to fill ministry needs we are not called to fill. Whether at a local or a national level, we are forced to see that there are gaps (still!), and also that we cannot possibly fill them ourselves.
Fortunately, this is a good place for us to land. Our new perspective shows us both the greatness of the mission task and our utter inability to fulfill it alone. The solution, as always, is to do things God’s way: to ask Him for His strategies, so that others might be enabled to find their places in the big picture, too.
A jigsaw puzzle must be completed piece by piece, in a certain order, before the placement of certain sections will be revealed. Without connecting preliminary pieces, it will not be known how others are to fit in. Only God can show us what’s next and where we belong.
Many of us have prayed, “Lord, show me where I fit in. Show me which piece of the puzzle I am. Should I be in this section, or that one? Am I at the top or the bottom? Where are the pieces I should be connecting to?”
I prayed a similar prayer not too long ago. Faced with mounting pressure from ministry needs and gaps I could see in the divine puzzle, I felt confused. There were simply too many needs for me to fill - needs I could fill and had even been prepared for – in other words, too many viable options. Like a puzzle piece suspended over a work in progress, I couldn’t see where I should fit at the time. God’s answer surprised me.
“Despite how you may feel,” He said, “you have already been placed within my Kingdom puzzle. I have divinely ordained the place where you live and the Body you are a part of. Based upon your true colors and your personal design, you have been set into a section of My puzzle where you can snugly connect with others around you. You have only to reach out and explore those connections. Like interlocking tabs and slots, you are made to work with those around you, holding larger sections of the puzzle together. Start where you are locally and your reach will extend globally.”
It can be tempting to try to “fit in” somewhere that we don’t belong – somewhere He has not created us to be. Even more so when the gaps seem overwhelming and the needs pressing. By all means, meet the needs you can meet. Reach those within your reach. But don’t allow the enemy to use the perspective you gain to pull you out of your God-given position in His overall plan.
What, then, of all the gaps in ministry? Jesus recognized them, too. Even as a man like us, walking our timeline, He saw the big picture. The fields are white for harvest, He said. Pray for laborers to be sent out. (See John 4:35; Luke 10:2).
Perspective should be met with prayer. When we pray, the hand of God moves ever more swiftly to scoop up the next pieces of the puzzle, setting them carefully into place. The gaps will close, and the image will be clear. The picture we are completing is the image of His glory. And the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. (See Habakkuk 2:14).
c.DeborahPerkins / His Inscriptions
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.