March has always been a special month for me. For almost as long as I can remember, our traveling season started at the beginning of April. The weeks before have always been special days to connect with Jesus and let Him search my heart to prepare me for ministry.
I was reading old journals the other day and couldn’t help but be struck by how much the last year has altered my view of ministry… I go into this year with a very different perspective than in the past.
Ever since I gave Him my heart, I’ve burned with a passion to share what I’ve found with those who haven’t tasted it yet. Ministry became my focus and what I lived and breathed for. Deep down I had this restlessness that I had to do more and more and more. The fact that children die of starvation, youth are so empty that they end their own lives, and hundreds of adults die everyday without ever hearing the name Jesus always stirred me to the core. Part of me felt like I could never be satisfied without giving my life for those people. Even before I was a teen I remember swinging between feeling guilty that I didn’t do more, and feeling like there was nothing I could do and thus there was no point thinking about it.
I heard over and over again that we have to be content with the work that lies nearest before God can use us on a broader scale, and it never really made sense to me. How could I be content while children die? How could I enjoy my plenty while others had nothing?
I remember countless family discussions where I insisted that there must be more I could do. More I should do. At first I just wanted to travel and share more here in my homeland. Then came this burning to go overseas, to the darkest corner of the globe, and give my life for hearts who didn’t know Jesus.
I would look at my school books, my algebra, and wonder how I could spend so many hours learning this stuff when some kids never even got chance to learn because hunger had already taken their lives. And when I got to college, I couldn’t help feeling guilty that I was spending money to study something I loved so much when some kids never even had the opportunity to get to high school.
Walking down our little country road I often pondered the two lives I thought I could live. I could carry on taking my degree in counseling, marry and have my own happy family and settle down to a comfortable life of service here in the states. Or, I could leave it all behind and run to some remote part of Africa and cuddle dirty orphans. I could feed hungry mouths and touch hurting hearts who didn’t know Jesus. Sure, I might never graduate from college or get married and I might die early from disease, but it would be worth it.
I wanted to sacrifice and live the second life and I struggled with the fact that I couldn’t seem to make it happen.
The battle raged in my mind ever since I was about 11, until last spring. The more the years went by the more intense the struggle became until I knew I had to find answers.
Last March, one friend shared with me his own journey through the same waters and how he was learning contentment with God and His will… his thoughts hit me between the eyes and I remember sitting on the grass outside our house and begging God to help me understand... To help me see where my perspective was warped.
That day He did answer, and it was actually pretty simple... He gently helped me realize that I didn’t have to carry the whole world. I couldn’t. I couldn’t hold every hand or touch every heart or feed every mouth. But what I could do was follow the plan He had layed out for my life. Even when that felt desperately mundane. Even when I felt like I was accomplishing nothing. Maybe it wasn’t an option of living one life or the other… maybe the option was to live the life He had planned for me. Whatever that entailed. Whatever that didn’t entail.
But throughout the year He taught me something even deeper...
I started to realize that my whole mindset about ministry was warped. For years my heart was more consumed with ministry and my duty to people than it was with my Jesus and my duty to Him.
In many ways, ministry had more of my heart than He did.
I have to wonder if we live in a generation where it is more popular to be dedicated to ministry than dedicated to Jesus… where it is seen as more admirable to pour ourselves into people than to pour out our love at Jesus feet... where it is deemed more successful to live a life of constant ministry activity, than to quietly adore Jesus.
I wonder if we have come to think that being a Christian means working for God, more than it means loving God.
It reminds me of girl who gave everything she had to purchase an extravagant gift for her Jesus… a girl who spent an inordinate amount of money to buy perfume for the One she loved. A girl who knelt at His feet and washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair.
It reminds me of a disciple who scolded that the money should have been given to the poor… and a Jesus who quietly affirmed the love shown by the extravagant gift of His friend.
Maybe her story is a gentle reminder to this generation that before we pour ourselves out in ministry, we must pour out our love on Jesus.
Maybe our best energies, our deepest love, our most loyal affections, should be given to loving Jesus not running around trying to win the world.
Because what if God can only use us the most powerfully in ministry when we have first become consumed with Him?
Sitting on the grass that day last March, He finally got through to me. My responsibility is not to save the world. My job is not to carry guilt for not being able to prevent famine and death. My job is not to spend my days running around trying to do everything. My job is to love Jesus most. My job is to enter into His pain for a dying world and be willing to do whatever He asks of me. My job is to trust He knows what life is best for me and to live that out day by day.
His gentle words that day stilled the battle that had been raging in my heart for years. But it would take a year of learning and failing for the lesson to completely get through to me.
Because the thing is, this mindset that it is holier to run around for God than to sit still with Him is hard to break. It isn’t so popular to say no to some ministry opportunity so that we can sit in the quiet and open up our hearts to Jesus. But it is desperately necessary.
We will never change the world when changing it is our primary focus.
We must first learn what it means to love Jesus most. To be willing to live out our love in obscurity. To be content to be His friend in the mundane.
Because sometimes it is actually a greater sacrifice to be willing to stay right here in the middle of our ordinary life and throw all our love onto Jesus than to run off to some dark corner of Africa.
The truly brave person is not just the one who goes to the mission field and gives their life. The servant who is content to do the most mundane tasks here while their heart still aches in unison with His for the ones dying overseas is just as brave. There’s a certain beauty about feeling what the heart of God feels, just to understand Him, even when we know we can’t jump on a plane this minute.
Last year He starting bringing me to the place where I was just as content to stay at home and love Him best as I would be to travel the country or even the world doing ministry. For the first time in years I didn’t feel guilty that I couldn’t be everywhere and do everything. My heart was at peace because I knew I could finally trust my best Friend to use me where He needed me. And if that wasn’t at all, then I could be happy to live my life as flower in His garden that was purely for His pleasure.
None of this means that ministry is not important. It is one of the greatest gifts ever given to humanity.
But we can only change the world when we are more concerned about loving Jesus than we are running around for Him. We only reach our true potential in ministry when every single thing we do is for Jesus, with Jesus, and because we love Jesus.
We only change the world when we are content to just be His friend. And something tells me that the only people who have ever really changed the world for Him are the ones who truly were His friends.
He can’t use us to the full until we are willing to not be used at all. And often He waits till that very moment, and then He opens doors we never would have dreamed of.
It’s March again and I’m about to head into the most packed year of ministry I’ve ever experienced. Don’t even ask me how many more days I’ll be at home between now and the end of the year. It would have to be measured in weeks not months. Because you know what? The minute I abandoned myself to loving Him and being content to do nothing more if He so desired, He started to fill up my schedule with more ministry than I ever dreamed of. Funny how He works like that.
This year as I let Him prepare me, it’s with very different realizations…
My focus is not to do great things for Him, run around for Him, carry the world on my shoulders, or try and fight His battles.
My focus is to love Him. I want to be still before Him and open up my heart no matter where I am. I want to take the time to listen to His heart and catch His quiet whispers that I would miss if were trying to carry the world. I want to live for an audience of One. I want to always be willing to be used. But more than that, I want to be willing to just be a flower in His garden. To say no when He asks it of me.
If He decides to send me to the ends of the earth, I am willing to go. But for right now, I want to do the work He has given me with all my heart and pour out all my love at His feet.
I don’t want to be a hero. I just want to be His friend.