Embracing Small Moments of Ministry

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As an English teacher, one of the core concepts I learned to teach was theme. It’s the author’s underlying message. It’s what he wants us to take away from a piece of literature. And one of those most common themes is that things are not always as they appear. They’re not as insignificant or even as accidental as they might first seem to be.

One such non-coincidental encounter started as many weekend days of my life do, at the thrift store. I am always drawn to a beautiful book cover (English teacher, remember?), and on this particular day, it was the cover of an anthology on Southernness from the editors of Garden and Gun Magazine. As I opened the book to a “random” page, I landed on an article that purported that Knoxville’s Chintzy Rose tea room and junk shop served tea that surpassed any other in the South. That’s saying something.

Well, how “concidental” then that I just happened to be planning a trip to my hometown in Virginia, and that Knoxville is the halfway point. How “strange,” too, that anyone I had asked to take the trip with me was unavailable. I was a little depressed about going by myself, but when I saw that article about the tea room, I determined to make an adventure out of my trip after all. When the day arrived, I put on an extended episode of my favorite podcast and set my sights on the halfway mark, where my personal roadside attraction was waiting.

When you’re alone, which for many of us happens in small doses and for others too often, you have time to reflect. As I prayed, worshipped, and listened to God on the way, I specifically prayed that I would not miss any plans God had for me that day. Four hours went by, and a little after lunchtime, I arrived at the Chintzy Rose, which was actually out of my way. I missed the little place the first time and even had to turn around to go back to it. When I walked in, antiques were everywhere, and I mean that literally. The shop was more than a little disheveled, but I felt so much at home already.

You see, my artist grandma, who taught me that a teacup should always have a thin lip and what it was to read Victoria magazine, always kept our house a little disheveled with her projects as well. I made my way to the back, beyond the shop, to the smallest tea room you’ve ever seen. There was one empty table, out of three, so I seated myself there. However, Knoxville is in the South, so I when I mentioned that I had driven all the way from Atlanta for the best sweet tea in the region, three ladies from an adjoining table insisted that I sit with them, the embodiment of Southern hospitality.

We sat and laughed together like we had been friends for years. These Christian ladies talked about their kids and grandkids, their work, and their ministries. We bantered back and forth with the owner and with the lady at the third table, and we even met Mrs. Tennessee America. We passed what was surely more time than they had allotted for their lunches, and by the time I said my goodbyes, I had an invitation to go on a thrift-store run with them.

One of the ladies in particular, Caroline, seemed more drawn to me than the others. I don’t recall what it was about her story at this point that connected us, but I do know that I ended my time there with her phone number and an invitation to come stay at her house the next time I was passing through. She came from a broken marriage and seemed to want genuine connection with other women, and I was happy to fulfill my same desire for connection too.

I left that little restaurant with more than just the vintage embroidery hoops I’d purchased and the refill of great sweet tea (it was, after all) in my hand. I left with an overwhelming peace and joy in my heart. I left knowing that, despite the fact that no major miracle had transpired, I had just had a divine appointment. I call that appointment, the one any outsider would have missed, even if they had been looking for it, small ministry. I went out of my way and by doing so encountered someone who needed me in a situation where I needed respite as well.

If you look at every area of my life, there appears to be chaos. From my physical house to my body to ministry transitions, it appears like I’m waiting for my big moment, the time when God will deliver me and finally bring me into the purpose He has for me. But does that mean He wants me to waste all those sweet-tea-and-small-ministry days? Not at all. So let’s examine three ways we can integrate small ministry so that it becomes perhaps the most impactful ministry of all.

3 Ways We Can Integrate Ministry Into Our Everyday

1. The more we take time to look for small opportunities, the more we naturally notice them.

If you’ll recall in my story, before I went to the teahouse, I was already praying and worshiping and asking God to do something with me. I’ve been much more conscious in recent years that the days in between my big moments must be used for some purpose. I’ve put myself in the mindset to look for opportunities to give people a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. You will find what you look for. As my husband always says about spotting a million silver Hyundais on the road now that I have one, it’s true. In Jeremiah 29:13, Jesus says that very thing. We will find Him if we seek Him with all our hearts. He wants to be found by us. So if you’re waiting for your big moment, don’t miss all those other little moments in between.

2. We change ourselves when we help others.

I went to that teahouse lonely and stressed and concerned with my life’s current state. But I came out full of peace and hope. And even having had an encounter with a new friend. When I sat down at the table, I made it my purpose to return kindness for what had been shown to me when the ladies invited me to sit with them. But I ended up being the one to gain. Isn’t God like that? When we give to others, He says it comes back to us pressed down, shaken together, and running over. If you take time for small ministry, you will be the one ministered to.

3. Your ship may not have come in today, but I bet a kayak did.

In the last few years, my husband and I have joined what’s playfully called the “kayak clique.” There are six of us and hopefully more soon who have kayaks and like to get together to go out on the water. But kayaks aren’t easy. You are physically paddling and when a storm comes, you’re not in one of those boats with a big engine that can escape quickly.

You’re doing all the work and having all the pain. And it can make you feel like it would be so much better to have that big boat that everybody else is in. So many times, we are looking for a big ship to come in. That big opportunity or change, but we have to make sure not to neglect the days that come before. Next time you’re waiting for your big yacht-sized encounter with God or with others, don’t neglect that little kayak of opportunity that might be tied nearby.

You see, God is not interested in us just getting to our big destination. We might be goals-focused. We might want the next job or a bigger house or a better situation. But God is more interested in transforming us on the journey, burning up the dross, and transforming us to pure gold along the way. The kind of people who will actually be strong enough to bear up under the big opportunities when they come. That’s what small ministry is all about — taking time not to miss the opportunities in the everyday, the ones that will build us and transform us … and maybe not be so insignificant after all.

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley taught both middle school and high English for many years, and is currently an Instructional Technology Specialist for the public school system, a wife, and a workaholic. She loves nothing more than a clean, organized house, but her house is rarely that way. She enjoys being healthy but just can’t resist those mashed potatoes (with gravy) sometimes. When she cooks, she uses every dish in the house, and she adores a good tea party. She loves Jesus and is spending the next year documenting her journey to a less independent, more Jesus-dependent life on her blog.

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Is Jesus Worth the Cost?

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“I like the design on your shirt.”

I snapped out of my daydream at the teenage bagger’s words. “Oh, thank you!” I replied. Standing at the checkout line at the grocery store waiting for my groceries to be bagged, I hadn’t expected a comment to come in my direction. In fact, I hadn’t even given much thought as to the outfit I had on that day, but had thrown on an Old Navy tank top with a printed floral pattern and a zip-up sweatshirt. In an effort to engage him in conversation, I noticed the pattern on his necklace he was wearing and complimented him.

“Yeah, I like designs,” he admitted, as he bagged the last of my groceries. He then asked me if I had ever been to a particular medieval festival. I told him I had but I wasn’t really a fan of that festival. I debated whether or not I should tell him I was a bit wary of the festival because of the prevalence of art and trinkets that were relics of Wicca and other pagan religions. However, I decided against continuing the conversation as I was sure my comments would lead to controversial and uncomfortable spiritual territory. Instead, I thanked him and walked out. But all the while that I traversed the distance to my car, I thought about how I had left the conversation hanging and walked out on a perfectly good opportunity to witness.

After loading my groceries in the car, I pushed my car back into the store with a resolve to finish our conversation. I found him near the carts, putting a few away. He seemed a little surprised when I approached him and said, “Hey, I wanted to explain to you why I don’t like the festival you mentioned. I wasn’t trying to be rude.” I then explained that I was a Christian — and much of the focus of the artwork at the festival went against what I believed. Though I didn’t think it was wrong for people to go there, I wasn’t able to embrace much of the art being sold because the trinkets spoke of worship to other gods other than my own.

To my surprise, he opened up after that and told me that he had grown up in a Christian home (was still living at home as a college student), but that he had developed questions about Christianity and was looking into other religions. I asked him what some of his questions were and he explained them. They were easy ones to address — so I told him what the Bible said about those and encouraged him to investigate further. He said he would, and I walked back to my car.

Since then, I have seen him on occasion at the store. He has bagged my groceries a few more times, and we haven’t talked about religion since then, but he has been on friendly terms with me. Though he hasn’t abandoned his search for other religions, I am glad that we talked as I had no idea that he was searching when it came to what he believed.

Choosing Jesus or Choosing Comfort and Our Own Self-Interests

Our encounter reminded me that we will have moments throughout our day when we are presented with a choice: to choose Jesus or choose our comfort or what will appear to benefit us the most. Though my conversation with the bagger wasn’t as costly as other conversations I have had (where I have been sweating out more profusely what I will have to say), it did cost me in that I wasn’t sure how my comments would be received, and I had to linger around a little longer than I originally intended when I just wanted to go home.

Perhaps no other story highlights this idea of sacrificial giving as poignantly as John 12:3-8. This account is also given in Mark and Matthew but tells the story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with a costly nard. However, in John’s account, the story takes on an angle that veers slightly from the other Gospel accounts.

Where the Mark and Matthew accounts highlight the beauty of Mary’s generous act, the account in John contrasts her action with that of another person — Judas. Let’s take a look at the passage:

Then Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’

While Mary gave all she had out of sheer devotion to her Lord and gratitude for what He had done for her (in his most recent act of raising Lazarus, her brother, from the dead), Judas was concerned only with how such a large sum would be “wasted” in her service an ministry to Jesus.

However, as John explains, Judas’ “concern” was merely a pretense, saying: “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief” (v. 6 ). Judas was the treasurer of the group and frequently helped himself to the money. As scholars say, Judas was most likely eyeing Mary’s costly gift and wishing he could get his hands on it.

Jesus quickly set him straight, however, and said to all in hearing that Mary’s gift would prepare his body for burial. In the Matthew account, he called Mary’s act “beautiful” (26:10). The word in the Greek is one that refers to that which is honorable — an outward expression of an inner good. Both Judas and Mary’s actions revealed to us what was in their hearts. Mary was willing to give away her most precious possession, as well as humiliate herself and endure ridicule for the sake of His name, whereas Judas was clearly only interested in that which would require no sacrifice and would serve his own interests.

Sadly, just a few passages later, we see Judas’ greed reach new levels. After the last supper with Jesus, he went to the chief priests to negotiate the terms to hand over Jesus. As some commentaries note, Judas leave of Jesus wasn’t a split-second decision he made during the last supper. Most likely, Judas had been planning to desert Jesus for some time — as hinted at earlier in his rebuke of Mary. As commentator Warren Wiersbe notes, perhaps Judas made plans to leave Jesus because he was disappointed Jesus wasn’t going to conquer Rome. Or perhaps he didn’t expect the road with Jesus to look like it had. Whatever the reasons, they were ones he had been cherishing for some time.

Repentance Helps Us Turn When We Don’t Choose Jesus

Unfortunately, don’t all of us have a little Judas in us? At different junctures, when our walk with Jesus leads us to moments like I had in the grocery store where we will have to engage in an uncomfortable conversation, give up some of our time, or look different, we might say, Should I really give away this much for Jesus? Is He really worth the cost? We may be tempted to forego talking with others or standing up for what we know to be right because such actions in the moment may require an extreme sacrifice of time and effort. But that’s the upside down aspect about Christianity. We give up what we want to gain everything and lose everything we think we want when we try to keep it (Matthew 16:25).

What we see with Mary and Judas is that Mary’s gift, while initially very expensive both in terms of financial and social cost, was absolutely worth the cost — and a gift that she actually received a return from. Her act brought honor to her Lord and has been a story told for generations to highlight her goodness. Judas’ story, on the other hand, has also been one told for generations for the worst kind of reasons — to show us what we shouldn’t do.

Judas, filled with guilt over betraying a close friend and an innocent man, returned and pleaded with the chief priests to take back the money and release Jesus. But they had what they wanted, so they had no use for the money. When they didn’t accept it back, Judas threw the coins on the temple floor and then went and hung himself.

Judas’ life didn’t have to end this way — in ruin and misery. So, what could he have done differently? He could have responded to Jesus’ call to restoration. When Jesus instructed him firmly, saying, “Leave her alone … You will always have the poor among me, but you will not always have me” (vv. 7, 8), Judas could have agreed with the Lord’s words and repented — allowing Jesus to do needed heart surgery. But instead he simply kept going where his own heart desired.

When we realize that we’ve made poor decisions or haven’t lived the way we should as Christians, we can heed Jesus’ call and return. We don’t have to keep going down a path that leads to ruin. Jesus knew all along what Judas was doing — in pilfering from the money bag, in criticizing the service of others — and yet, he kept Judas close, even sitting right next to Judas at the last supper, to give Judas every opportunity to make a change and go the right way. And yet, Judas persisted in his own way — and each action led him further and further away until he left Jesus completely.

The world’s temptations call for us to get off track, to go the easy road that has no resistance, persecutions, or pain, but we can follow a higher call. The road is hard and twisted with thorns, but it leads to life. We won’t be perfect in our Christian walk. We’ll make mistakes and act more like Judas than Mary sometimes. But when Jesus confronts us with our own wrongdoing, we can accept His correction and choose to change .

If we don’t, our wrongdoing will simply lead to more wrongdoing until we find ourselves in a place, like Judas, where we never meant to be. The Bible tells us that it is the Lord’s “kindness” that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4), so let’s not harden our hearts today but accept whatever discipline God sends our way (Hebrews 12:6).

“The lesson of faith once learned, is an everlasting application and an eternal fortune made; and without faith even riches will leave us poor.” — Days of Heaven upon Earth, Streams in the Desert

Related Bible Verses:

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Related Resources:

The chronology of events described in Jesus’ last days leading up to his death differs slightly in John from the other Gospels. For instance, John places the date of the Passover meal of the Jews after the last supper, whereas the other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) identify the last supper as the Passover meal. Read more about this here.

Would you like to hear the song mentioned in the podcast? Check out Crowder’s “Come as You Are” for more encouragement.

Like the podcast episode that accompanies this article? Check out past episodes in our brand new podcast archive.

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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What Christian Service Really Is

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My mom, an elementary school teacher, taught until she became pregnant with me. During her pregnancy, she had a few health concerns at the beginning. Thus, the doctor recommended that she quit teaching in order to take care of herself and better fulfill the demands on her at home.

After that conversation with the doctor, my mother stepped away from her teaching job and became a stay-at-home mom. She always talked about going back to teaching. She had bins of elementary school materials “just in case.” However, except for a few subbing jobs and brief temporary positions, my mom never went back to her former career.

Certainly, I am thankful for her sacrifice. I know that she missed teaching and put aside a job she was very good at to better serve us at home. Indeed, we admire those who give of themselves to make our lives better: police officers who put their own safety on the line to make our community safe; nurses who work overnight shifts to care for patients; military men and women who leave their families for months to go on deployment. These individuals have our admiration because we know the personal cost of their choices.

A Woman Who Gave up Much for Jesus

A woman in the Bible who sacrificed much for Jesus was Mary of Bethany, as told in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:2-8. After Jesus raises Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, from the dead, they hold a dinner where Jesus is in attendance. During the dinner, Mary goes quietly into the room where males are reclining with Jesus around a table and pours an expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’ head and feet. She then wipes his feet with her hair.

Many in the room are shocked or offended by her lavish display of affection. The disciples complain that the money from the sold bottle of oil could have been given to the poor. Others see her behavior as inappropriate, as Jewish women normally wore their hair bound. Jesus, however, defends Mary’s action. He is pleased by her costly gift to Him and remarks that she has done a “beautiful thing” and her action will be told “in memory of her” wherever the Gospel is preached (Matthew 26:13).

Surely, when others jeered at her, staring at her in scorn, she could have retreated in fear and chosen not to pour the nard on Jesus. But she persevered, and in doing so, she ministered to Jesus. As a result of her anointing of Him, the beautiful fragrance of her act filled the entire room. Despite their disapproval, others were unable to erase the lingering effects of her gift.

What Mary’s Act Teaches Us About Serving Others

When we read this story, it’s easy to skim through the details without getting the full effect of their meaning. Mary not only gave away a very expensive jar of oil that cost her a great deal in terms of finances (a year’s wages to be exact), she gave away that which was even more precious: herself. She used her own hair to wipe Jesus’ feet.

While God will ask for our money or resources in our service to Him, He will also ask us to sacrifice other things: our time, reputation, dreams, and personal goals. When we act kindly to others and act as the “hands and feet of Jesus,” those acts require us to give of ourselves. For instance, we may be in the grocery store just trying to get our shopping done when God nudges us to speak to someone. We may be enjoying some time with our kids at the playground when we encounter a woman who is lonely and wants to share her story.

We want to be compassionate, but our flesh screams against giving ourselves to the work of God because the gift will cost us something. In her New Day, New You devotional, Joyce Meyer explains that she felt called to give away a pair of earrings. She didn’t want to give the earrings. She wanted to keep them for herself, but she felt the Holy Spirit tell her that the free gift we give to others is never free for us; it will come at a price. Ultimately, though, we can give up whatever God asks of us because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross.

In America, we always want to know, “What’s in it for us?” Most of the marketing campaigns are designed to lure us with promises of “You need this. You deserve this. It’s all about you.” We can have that same approach in our spiritual life. Following God’s call is desirable if there is something in it for us. And unquestionably, we gain everything when we follow God. The Bible is clear about the blessings and benefits of following Christ, but it comes at a cost of losing worldly possessions and pursuits (Philippians 3:7-10).

To follow God requires us to allow God to strip away our own aspirations and ideas about how He will use us. While not all of us are called to a vocational ministry role, all of us are called to serve others and share the love of Christ right where we are. As Chrystal Evans Hurst said in a Proverbs 31 Ministries She Speaks conference, ministry isn’t about a stage or a book deal; ministry is about people: your neighbor, the person sitting next to you in the waiting room, your atheist family member. Personally, I can get so focused on “ministry” as far as the work I do in writing blog posts — and I do consider that ministry — I can neglect the people that God has put right in front of me.

A song that’s been running through my head this week is “Open Hands,” by Laura Story. The lyrics say this: “I’m not afraid of what I’ll lose / My greatest joy is finding You.”

Maybe we’re afraid to live with open hands because we’re afraid of what we’ll lose, but here’s the amazing thing about God: When we give it all, we aren’t left empty-handed. When we are kind, God repays us for our kindness and takes care of our needs (Proverbs 11:25).

I am not saying this as a prosperity message; we shouldn’t give to just get from others. But I am saying that when we give of ourselves, God fills us up in return.

Mary’s gift didn’t just minister to Jesus. Her gift has ministered to millions of people — through the Word of God. As Jesus predicted, the fragrance of Mary’s act affected not only those in the room that day but scores of others who have read of her story in Scripture.

However, to give her gift, she had to break the seal holding tight the jar of nard. She had to break past her societal inhibitions and say no to her flesh that would tell her that such a gift was insane and extravagant. She had to fully empty herself to best give herself to Jesus.

Similarly, it’s when we allow ourselves to be broken open for others, when we offer to use our own hair to wipe the feet of Jesus — God can use that which we are holding onto to minister to others. Because that which we release in the service of God for His glory, however costly, is that which comes back to us in full measure (Luke 6:38). In contrast, that which we hold onto that God asks of us, is that which we will eventually lose.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a person willing to give my life to Jesus in such a way that I am grateful and happy to give away whatever it takes without lamenting the cost.

Related Bible Verses:

1 Corinthians 15:58 (MSG): “My dear, dear friends … don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort.”

Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.”

Deuteronomy 15:10 (NLT): “Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.”

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Avoiding a Place of Spiritual Stagnancy by Allowing God to Work on Us (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (4)

In HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” married couple Chip and Joanna Gaines take run-down houses and fix them up into beautiful, livable spaces.

In each episode, the Gaines show a client three different properties (generally houses in need of repair) and then remodel the house to the client’s specifications within a specific budget.

The condition of the houses varies depending on the episode; however, I was surprised to see one particular segment where the clients selected a “shotgun house” from the 1920s. After the Gaines discovered that the property was already sold to an investor who was tearing the houses down (but willing to give the dilapidated house away to anyone willing to move it), the buyers still decided to opt for this house and have it moved to another piece of property.

I say “surprised” because the house was in such terrible condition I couldn’t imagine how it would survive a transfer to another location. I made the comment to my husband that the house just needed to be bulldozed down.

However, to the Gaines’ credit, they very carefully moved this old, forgotten house, set it on a new foundation, and went to work bringing new life to the ancient structure. Chip had to evaluate what could stay as far as structure and what had to be added. I was amazed at the care and effort that went into restoring this house that, in my opinion, should have been condemned.

It got me thinking about the fact that God comes in and does the same kind of restoration work in us.

Chapter 7 of Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness reveals just how much effort God is willing to go with each of us in the breaking and rebuilding process. While we may look just as unusable and worn out as the shotgun house in the “Fixer Upper’ episode, God looks at us and sees what we can be made into — not what is already there.

A few things we can keep in mind about the restoration process:

1. There is a plan to the breaking process.

Just as Chip had to survey the shotgun house in its current state and determine what needed to be ripped out and rebuilt, God does the same with us.

However, as Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, God’s breaking process is controlled (86). What looks to us like total chaos is in the total control of our Maker. He looks at us and knows what elements are rotten and broken — what needs to be stripped away — and what can remain.

Though it may not look initially to us like any progress is being made, as our Master Carpenter rips out old pieces of us, He has an end result in mind. It looks ugly before the renewal and new construction can begin — but the final result will be worth it.

2. Part of the plan is that God “targets the areas” that keep us from relying on Him.

As part of the breaking process, God identifies areas that are not contributing to your growth. As Stanley observes, you may already know the area of your life that God is “drawing a circle around” because it forms a barrier between you and God, and He will destroy and remove that area (90). Just like a house cannot be enhanced by old rotten boards or materials, there are places we have that God needs to rip out so that He can put in fresh, new materials.

We know when something hinders a free flow of the Spirit of God in us. We know when something stops us from witnessing or from having victory in our daily lives. We know when something consumes our attention, disrupts our peace, or magnetizes our thinking. God certainly knows when this happens, and he knows far sooner and more completely than we know it! (The Blessings of Brokenness, 90)

When we know God is targeting an area, what should we do? We should submit to the process and give up our “right” to have a final say as to the outcome. As Stanley suggests, we should ask God, “What would you have me do?” (103). Unfortunately, the rebuilding process for many of us is one that we want but also resist because it is so painful.

As much as we want to be used by God and be built into His perfect masterpiece, we are human. We don’t want the pain. We don’t like the methods God uses, and we want control.

But, as Stanley warns, if we resist, it will not go well for us. The pressure may intensify, and if we resist long enough, we will face a place of stagnancy in our Christian walk. God leaves us in the state we’re in. And there’s nothing worse than an unfinished masterpiece. I know because I lived in a house for years that was unfinished. My dad started the project of building my childhood home but left it undone for many years.

Living with particle board floors, knob-less doors, scaffolding outside the house, and constant construction chaos wore on me. I always longed for a completed house that we could be proud of. There was a sense of closure inside when I saw the house finished my senior year of high school.

Just like the satisfaction I felt when I saw my own house finished, the clients in the “shotgun house” episode of “Fixer Upper” also expressed that same satisfaction when they saw their house finished. The aging wood had been ripped out and replaced. New drywall, plumbing, and electrical had been installed.

The floors had been sanded down, stained and restored to their former glory. New cabinets, paint and fixtures sparkled in every room. It was astounding to see the transformation. Who would have thought such a reformation possible?

The question is, when we feel like God is circling an area of our life for transformation — fear, pride, self-sufficiency, whatever it may be — will we yield to the breaking or resist?

We can be assured that “God makes no mistakes in the breaking process … “ (104). Ultimately, His purpose is not to “destroy us, but to bring us to a position of maximum wholeness, maturity and usefulness in His kingdom” (102).

Questions to Consider: Is there an area of your life God may be drawing a circle around? What is He telling you in regards to this area?

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 7 & 8 this Tuesday, July 5, @ 9 PM. Please note the date change from our usual Monday night time to Tuesday to account for the July 4 holiday. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next our last week, read chapters 9, 10 & Epilogue by next Friday, July 8.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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The One Thing I Have Needed the Most in Ministry

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)Without even meaning to, I often let messages from our culture dictate my thought processes. And then I encounter a truth or story in God’s Word and discover I have been backward in my thinking about a certain idea or issue.

In particular, I have carried some very worldly ideas about ministry these past few years. God has continually shown me how His version of Christian service and calling is very different than mine. I have thought at certain points that ministry is about my efforts for God and that I have been responsible for creating some sort of stage for myself with which to declare His glory (and also look good myself!) — more of the latter if I am honest.

Recently, however, I encountered a story in the Bible of a woman who gives me a model to emulate concerning ministry. In Luke 2:36-38, we encounter Anna, a prophetess, who served as one of the first witnesses of Christ as the Messiah. One day in the temple, she saw Jesus as a child with his parents, spoke to them, and then went and shared with the community about what she had seen. This is her account:

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them [Jesus and his parents] at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

These few lines tell us so much about a woman who lived an effective life of Christian service. Though she didn’t seek out attention or applause, she still encountered Jesus and was used by Him in a big way.

A few lessons you and I can learn from Anna about ministry:

1. Jesus wants to use us.

One major worldly notion I held about ministry a few years ago was that it was about what I had to bring to the table. If the truth be told, although I left teaching four years ago to answer a call to go into music and women’s ministry, I was secretly afraid that I wasn’t qualified enough to serve God. My main concern had to do with poor choices I had made in my past.

Even though I knew God forgave people of their sins, I thought that maybe I had stepped too far over the line. After all, I rationalized, it was fine if you sinned in your life before Christianity and then got cleansed of those things upon salvation — but what if you were a big sinner even as a Christian? At the age of 18, I had been in a band and had begun writing music, but I left that to pursue a career in education. The longer that I served as a teacher, the more I began to think that I needed to forget about my dream to be used in music. I figured that I had messed things up too badly in my life for God to allow me to be used in worship again.

Therefore, when I felt Him telling me to go down a music path and create a ministry, my natural response was that I thought I needed to hide those ugly blots from my past and not bring them up. Surely, if people knew some of my deeds, they would never listen to anything I had to say. Therefore, it surprised me greatly when God began to prod into those very areas and encouraged me to begin sharing with others about my past and how He was healing me. It never occurred to me that He would be able to use such ugly things and use them as a platform on which to base my ministry.

And not only that, I worried that I wasn’t qualified enough in terms of abilities. Like Moses doubted he could be used because of a speech impediment (Exodus 4:10) and Jeremiah doubted he could be used because of his youth (Jeremiah 1:6), I worried that I wasn’t talented or capable enough to be a vocalist or spokesperson for God.

However, as we see with Anna in the story, service to God is more about making ourselves available than it is about our impressive skills or qualifications. Although Anna didn’t have a questionable past or insecurities about her ability to be used, she had little status or clout in her society. A woman in her time was not considered as reliable as a man to be a witness in a courtroom — and yet, God entrusted her with the task of serving as a witness to the Messiah to her community.

Clearly, we can see that God is not limited by what we think He is. Although He certainly works through our gifts, He is not limited by our individual or society-based perceptions of what we can or can’t offer. As the One who made us, He knows just what we were made for — and the person who can serve Him best is the person who totally relies on Him for His version of who He made him or her to be.

2. God gives us the message and the plan.

Another notion I had about ministry that strikes me as being a little funny now is not only did I think I had to be more amazing than I was to really be used, I also held the idea that I had to come up with what I would say and the vision. You see, I didn’t realize that ministry is more about God working through me than it is about what I do for Him.

When I first left teaching, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make something happen. I didn’t even know what God specifically wanted to me to do (in and through me) — and I tried to generate a plan before I really knew what His plans were. Yes, I had a vague sense that He wanted to use me in music and later got the memo that He wanted me to start a self-worth ministry, but I tried to get ahead of Him and create the logical steps to make this happen. However, I kept running into roadblocks, and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting anywhere.

When I prayed about what to do, God kept giving me odd answers. I felt nudges to contact people from my past. I felt I was to quit the worship team and serve in the nursery. All of the things He was telling me to do seemed to be leading me further and further away from the destiny I felt He had for me. However, it was in these small acts of obedience — these small areas of service that I began to get answers about what I was to do and where it began to dawn on me what God was even calling me to. And it was in these seemingly insignificant places where God revealed Himself to me in ways that astounded me and helped me to know what His purpose for me and the message He wanted me to share was.

Similarly, what we can see through Anna’s example is that just as she gave her life to God and didn’t argue with God about the ways He wanted to use her; she understood that God would come up with the plan. She did what she knew to do with quiet, faithful work — and it was in that seemingly insignificant place that she looked up and saw Jesus in bodily form with His parents one day in the temple! And she must have known in that moment what God wanted to accomplish through her.

We don’t have to generate the plan or the results. We just have to be faithful where God has placed us — in the thing that might feel so small and unimportant to us. If He has placed us there, and we do not have the green light to move on or see no other open door, we can be content that He has a purpose for us even if it feels to us like we are in the background or no one notices us. And we may look back at a later date and see how that place that felt pointless was the place God used us to bless others, to grow the traits in us that we needed, or to connect us with the individuals He desired us to learn from.

3. God has a specific audience in mind for our message.

Just as God has a specific objective He wants to accomplish through you and me in ministry, He also has a specific audience in mind that needs to hear our message. Yes, vast evangelization efforts in a more general sense are needed — the world is starving for what Christians can offer. However, there are specific people (possibly in our immediate realm) who can connect with our specific testimony — and God knows who those people are.

Beulah Girl Feb 2016

In our passage, after Anna encountered Jesus in the temple, she went around and told people that she had seen Jesus in the temple. It says that she shared with people “awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). The WORD® Translation puts it like this: “She spoke about Jesus to all who were waiting for Jerusalem to be set free.” Although not much explanation is given here, just as Anna was most likely awaiting Jesus’ arrival long before He showed up in the temple, there were others also hungry and searching for Him — needing the hope and freedom He would bring.

Not only did God orchestrate a miraculous moment for Anna in the temple when she saw Jesus in person with His parents, He had people within her community that needed to hear about the experience that impacted her so greatly — and had apparently worked in the hearts of her audience before she even knew what her message would be! Anna’s encounter with Christ intersected at the perfect moment when others needed to know how they, too, could intersect with Him.

Similarly, God has had a particular group in mind for me to speak to. Just as I didn’t know really what God wanted from me originally when He nudged me to leave my career and didn’t know what my message would be, I haven’t known whom I was supposed to deliver this message to. I thought originally that I would work with high school age girls — perhaps start a ministry at this level because I had been a high school teacher and had experience with this age group.

But over and over, when I asked Him whom He wanted me to speak to or serve, I kept recalling the morning I had woken up and gotten the revelation I was to start a self-worth ministry — and God had used the word “women” in His message to me. And this thought terrified me!

As an instructor, I felt very comfortable speaking in front of adolescents, but not adults. Whenever I had to speak at a faculty meeting or give a presentation for an adult learning class, I got very nervous. But I’ve aimed my entire blog ministry towards women because God told me to.

Therefore, just as God has an objective for us concerning our message and mission when we answer His call — whether that be into an actual pastoral or care ministry or ministry in a different setting — He also will most likely burden us with a desire to reach out to a particular group of people. And as we walk in obedience in what He asks us to do, we will naturally get a revelation about who those people are or encounter them in our daily doings.

Does this mean that we won’t ever be prompted to speak to someone outside of our “target” group? No, I don’t believe so at all. Quite frankly, I believe Jesus will orchestrate events in such a way that we naturally encounter all kinds of people in our ordinary happenings that need to hear our story or need us to show Jesus’ love to them.

However, I believe that we will be amazed at how when we allow Him to have access to all of us, He will show us how our personal story can impact others not in a broad, impersonal sense but with individuals in a more focused sense — with individuals who have had certain experiences that parallel ours and who can benefit from hearing how God has healed us or is working in our lives.

God’s Idea of Ministry

As I survey the list, I realize that God has had to change my ideas of ministry completely and continues to do so. I have been worried at every turn about which way to go, what I will say, whom I will speak to, and how I will accomplish what He has asked of me. And my anxiety has been in vain. He has directed me in all of these areas. He knew these things before I even knew I was to leave teaching!

While I have believed that I needed certain qualifications, certain contacts, certain skill sets (and I am not diminishing the importance of any of those things), the thing I have needed most in my ministry venture is God. And the thing He has required of me hasn’t been all the impressive talent(s) I can offer but my surrender to let Him use me as He will.

While it has felt these past few years that I have been going nowhere, and that there has been no plan, I can see that God had (and does have) a way He was leading me all along. As pastor and author Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness:

God says the same thing to us anytime he calls us to supernatural ministry. He says, ‘I am the one who will do it. I will accomplish the task. You do what I tell you to do, and I will cause it to come to pass.’

Therefore, to best know the way, we need to put ourselves in a position of surrender. Like Anna, when we give ourselves over to a life of diligent devotion to Him, doing what we know to do now, we can trust that God will reveal His purpose for us when we put ourselves in a place of total trust and reliance on Him.

As Stanley notes, it is when we do “our part” that God does “the part that only God can do!”

In closing, consider these lyrics from “Here I Am” by Downhere:

And these broken parts you redeem

Become the song, that I can sing …

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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When You Are Unsure of Your Purpose

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)

God made both you and me for a specific, unique purpose. He has a plan for every one of us, right? It’s something I have heard many times at church, youth retreats, and small group meetings. Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind, ” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.’ ”

Well, let me be honest for a second. Sometimes, I am very unsure as to whether or not I am living in His purpose and plan.

I am currently in my fourth year of teaching middle school. Like many teachers, I decided to go into education because I really want to make a lasting impact on students’ lives. I have dreamt of being Teacher of the Year, being my students’ favorite teacher, and leaving a legacy for students and other teachers alike to follow. That way, I would certainly know that I am where God wants me to be … or so it seems.

Here’s the problem. I look at teachers around me who have gotten these kind of awards and recognitions, and I wonder if my personality and abilities are even comparable. I can be shy. I am usually not the most charismatic personality or the life of the party. I am not the one leading meetings, organizing the next after-school club — and probably not thought of as the “coolest teacher.”

Because of these “flaws,” I begin to compare myself to other teachers and come up with reasons why it sometimes feels like everyone prefers them over me. Why can’t I be more funny, like that one teacher? Why is it so hard for me to be organized, like that other teacher is? Thoughts of inferiority swirl around in my head, and I start to wonder if who I am is enough for this job. I wonder if I am in the career I was MADE to be in. I start asking God these questions:

Are you sure you want me here, teaching? Is this really what I am suited for?

What about all those days when I feel like I am making no impact … anywhere?

Perhaps I should look more into something else that I am interested in? Psychology? Photography? Or maybe I should be a stay-at-home mom because my family really needs me there? Maybe I would shine more in one of those things? Yeah, any of that sounds better to me right now.

How have You gifted me? How can I use my gifts here in this environment?

This is not a cry for an award or recognition or any change other than the one that I know God wants to do in me. I believe that God wants you and me both to better understand who He made us to be — uniquely ourselves, in Christ.

Here are three simple things that God is teaching me to do when I am unsure of my purpose and begin to compare myself to others.

1. Acknowledge your gifts.

Make a list of the things that you are good at. Focus on them and how you can incorporate them into most days, if not every day. As my husband has told me MANY times, “God placed certain gifts inside of you for a reason.” Stop discounting your gifts, and start using them.

Romans 12:4-6 tells us, “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.”

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)

I may not be the most outgoing person, but I do care about people and enjoy encouraging others. I enjoy having real, honest conversations. So instead of wishing I were the life of the party, I will tune in to opportunities from God to encourage those around me. I will seek to speak into their lives the way that I know how, the way that I was made to. I will focus on my gifts.

What are your passions? They are usually things that you enjoy doing and that come naturally. Pray that God would bring those to the surface.

2. Be thankful for the gifts of others.

Instead of comparing yourself to others, appreciate them. God places certain people in your life for a reason. They may be able to do things that you can’t and help in areas where you fall short. Be humble. Be thankful for that. Maybe you can even learn from them! Don’t try to exalt yourself over anyone or prove that you are better. We are all on the same level in God’s eyes. He has made us each with a unique purpose, and no one is greater than another. Celebrate the gifts you see in others. Thank God for them and believe that He uses those things to benefit His kingdom.

When I see others around me doing something well, I want to tell them. I want people to know that I am thankful for and appreciate them. I am blessed with the opportunity to co-teach with someone who has been teaching for almost 20 years! He has a great sense of humor and knows how to relate to our middle school students. His passion for the kids and for music shines every day, and I am grateful to work alongside him. I hope to one day be half the teacher that he is, and God knows I wouldn’t be able to do this job without him!

3. Remember whom you belong to.

There will be days when your gifts and works go unnoticed. There will be times when you feel like all of your efforts fall short. And they do, when you are trying to do it in yourself. Without Christ, we are nothing and can do nothing that is of true worth. Jesus says in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” It is only when we are in Him that we can produce much fruit and live a life that will impact eternity. Let us remain in Him.

Ongoing prayer is probably the only thing that gets me through those hard days. Prayer helps me to keep my eyes on Jesus and remember who I am in Him. It helps me to “remain in the vine” and to focus on my biggest purpose — to glorify Him in everything I do.

Dear Jesus, I pray that you would help me to actively use the gifts you have given me and to not compare myself to others. Help me to understand where I fit in Your body. May I remember that, apart from you, I can do nothing. Amen.

Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard

With a degree in music education, Rachel Howard is a middle grades chorus instructor who has a passion for teaching students about her love for music. In addition to inspiring adolescents in the public school system, Rachel is currently taking piano lessons and also enjoys photography, scrapbooking and Francine Rivers novels. A small-group leader at her church, Rachel also leads worship on occasion. In addition to these roles, Rachel is a wife and mom to two kids, Isaac and Evelyn. Rachel currently resides in Georgia with her husband and kids.

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