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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Christian Ministry: When You Want to Know That There Is a Point to What You Do

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Several weeks ago, I did a video chat on fear. All of the other members of my blog were busy, so I decided to do it alone because I felt the message was one that was important and needed to be put out there.

I typed up an outline of notes, went to the library to print them out (because our printer hasn’t been working for some time), and went through them a few times to rehearse for the event.

I fed my kids, put them to bed and then hurriedly touched up my makeup and changed into a nice shirt and finished off the outfit with a necklace (which, by the way, I hardly ever wear because jewelry is a thing of the past now that I have a brood of messy kids).

I went downstairs, laid out my notes, and logged into the computer to start the chat. I began it right at 9, but as I began talking, it was like a giant pin burst my bubble.

The one person in the chat who had shown up decided to leave and swing back around. Approximately no one was in the chat area after that. I couldn’t hear my voice in my headphones like I normally do, and slowly, I began to melt down like an ice cream cone in August heat.

The one thought in my head: Why am I doing this?

And I considered just stopping right then and there. Closing up shop. The careful notes I had written, the frantic run to the library to print out notes, the effort I had taken to put my kids to bed (with promises of “sugar cereal” in the morning if they stayed quiet and in their beds), the rallying of my tired, then very pregnant body to get in front of the computer at night for less than three people to show up (and a few more that didn’t identify themselves in the chat).

I paused the recording to get in touch with help because I wasn’t even sure if my voice could be heard. The technical person got me back on track within minutes, and I finished the chat as best I could — feeling silly, alone, and pointless.

What is this all for, Lord? My heart cried before I went to bed that night. But I suppose the better question should have been: Who is this all for?

Because that is what I really wanted to know. The planning. The preparation. The work. The sacrifice.

And what I mentioned was just some surface stuff. I had some real and troubling conflicts in my life at the moment because of the blog and the choices I constantly made to make time for it.

I woke up the next morning, and the Holy Spirit immediately got my attention during my morning devotion. I read these words by Matt Chandler: “[You’re] not the point.”

It was almost like the Holy Spirit had inserted my name right in those words: “Carol, you’re not the point.”

I was a little ticked off in reading that because I wanted to be comforted, not assaulted by my own self-absorption.

However, wanting the applause of people was a constant struggle for me. Even in a ministry aimed at pointing women to Jesus and finding healing, I wanted to be the point. I wanted to be liked and have millions of Twitter followers and be esteemed for my message. I didn’t think I was successful if only a handful of people showed up for my video chat.

But maybe that handful were important enough to Jesus that He send me that message for them. After all, Jesus was willing to leave the 99 for the one. He didn’t worry when He was talking to the woman at the well or the young rich man or the crippled man on a mat that He was spending so much time on one. He wasn’t urging His disciples to catch the moment on Instagram or send out a Tweet about His good deed that day.

No, He did it because He was always about His Father’s work, and His Father’s work often included the one.

The Point of Our Ministry Efforts

I heard a story once of a man who felt he needed to go to a particular logging town and give a sermon. When he got there, he found the town completely deserted. No one was there. Confused, he walked into the chapel they had there and felt very strongly to give his message to an empty room. So he did. And after the message, he felt like his mission was accomplished, so he left and had no idea why he had done what he had.

Years later, he was approached by a man and thanked. The chapel hadn’t been empty after all — there had been a man hiding in the back. He chose not to reveal himself, but he had heard the entire message — and when the rest of the camp returned, he told everyone the message, and the entire camp was saved.

When we make Him the point, there is always a point to what we do.

You see, we do what we do not for others or to be seen by others, but for Him. And it just so happens that others get blessed in the process of our obedience — even when we give chats to invisible audiences and sermons to “empty” rooms.

John the Baptist said about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV). When he said these words, John had no idea how these words would come to play out in his own life. Some time after he made this statement, John was thrown in prison.

And while in prison, John had a very human moment when he sent a messenger to Jesus and said, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). Clearly, John was concerned because things weren’t exactly going the way he thought they would.

And Jesus sent him back this response, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” (Luke 7:22, 23).

Seems kind of terse, doesn’t it? Clearly, John was looking for some kind of reassurance and comfort in his situation, but Jesus didn’t exactly provide that. Instead, He stated that His ministry was advancing in the way it should and people who did not “stumble” because of Jesus were “blessed.” If we look at the word “stumble” there, in other translations, this word is actually “offend.” In other words, Jesus said that anyone that wasn’t offended by the unusual methods of His ministry was “blessed.”

John the Baptist, considered by Jesus to be one of the greatest in the kingdom, didn’t get an explanation as to why things were going the way they were. Only that people were getting healed and set free, even as John himself was in the background, in the shadows — about to be executed.

Why Taking Risks and Doing Ministry Jesus’ Way is Worth It

Have you ever felt like your work is in vain? The risks you have taken? The hard conversations you have had at Jesus’ prompting? The relationships that have been strained or lost when you did what God asked of you? And it seems like what God asks of you just requires you to decrease more and more, and you wonder what He is up to?

Yep, me too. But John the Baptist’s words and life remind us that success in the kingdom of God often looks upside down or backwards to us. Some of the ways God will ask us to minister won’t make any sense to our human reason. He won’t always answer our whys or respond to our questions in the way we expect. We might wonder if what we’re doing matters. If what we’re doing for Him is worth everything we’ve lost.

In a devotional, blogger and author Bonnie Gray encourages us with these words: “If we are being faithful to express who God is calling us to become, then it’s worth it. Faith in Jesus is always worth whatever comes.”

And so, I’ll continue. To dress up. To show up. To do things that feel pointless and confusing because He has told me to.

Because it’s not about me. When I make myself the focus, I look for the huge audience and recognition. I look for things to go the way I want. But when I make Him the point, I let Him orchestrate events the way He wants to. And I leave the results to Him.

Because after all, isn’t that the point?

Related Bible Verses:

Ephesians 6:7: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.”

1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is never in vain.”

Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

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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How to Finish Well

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I often think about my own funeral. As morbid as that may be, I have the whole thing planned out. I want people to bawl their eyes out and dive in the casket. (A former student, LB, has already called that role.) I want the saddest songs played, and I want it to be standing room only, even if the people in the room had to be compelled to come.

I’m totally teasing about this funeral of course. My main desire is really that people give their hearts to Jesus there. Why? I want to leave a legacy that people will miss when I’m gone. I want to finish well. To accomplish this is to start in one direction that is God-ordained and to end up there, despite obstacles, with fruit to show for it.

That’s why it was so hard for me to leave my teaching job after eleven years. I left feeling like a failure. Two of my favorite movies are Mr. Holland’s Opus and Sister Act II, probably because the teachers in both persevere against seemingly-impossible odds. They affect their students beyond the sphere of the classroom and help them rise to meet school challenges as well.

In my class, on the other hand, I usually had the highest failure rate. Though I loved my students and prayed for them daily, I was told that I was “leading the league on parent complaints.” And though I always looked forward to the last day of school when I would sing “I Hope You Dance” (yes, it’s cheesy!) for each of my classes with tears, the behavior in one class last year was so bad that I couldn’t muster up the good will necessary to sing them my best wishes.

My whole teaching journey started, like that of so many others, with a desire to change the world, and it ended with what felt like escaping to another job instead. In my mind, I did not finish well.

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In the book of I Samuel, Saul was a perfect example of someone who started very well and finished, um, not so well at all. When God’s people didn’t trust Him enough to be their king, they asked for another. And what they got, from the outside, looked like the perfect fit. He was tall and handsome, the obvious choice. In spite of his attractive physical traits, he still was humble, a beneficial combination to start a rulership. That humility was what caused him to hide among the baggage when it was time for him to be anointed, because he was scared to death and certainly not seeking any kind of attention (1 Samuel 10:22-23).

Saul not only started humble, but he started holy. After he was anointed king in private, he was given the power to prophesy with some prophets on the road. Once he became king, he warred for God’s name, adding bravery to his strong start. His men followed him, and they won the victory time after time.

Saul seemed to have such a strong start, but a start means nothing if the finish is weak. Three examples from his life might show us how NOT to fall into the same trap.

Three Ways to Finish Well

1. We must stay focused on whom we’re following.

Samuel was the one who poured out his heart and his oil to anoint Saul king. Thus, Saul should have been following this spiritual father. But one day when Saul grew impatient waiting for Samuel to offer the priestly fire in battle, he kindled it himself and lost the Lord’s anointing hand in the self-same moment. In this New Testament life, we are following Jesus as our great high priest (Hebrews 7:15-17). Should we then try to take the reins from Him? If we are to finish well, I think that following the one who knows the way is a much wiser decision.

2. We must let God be our defense in trouble.

As the bitterness of Saul’s lost anointing grew in his heart, the forsaken king even turned his back on his son’s best friend David, his rival to the throne. There was probably no way that Saul could have reversed God’s decision on choosing another, but did he have to focus on revenge and hatred? Couldn’t he have run to his Father for help in living the rest of his days well?

We read this story and judge Saul, but we also try to defend ourselves and get revenge, even if in our thoughts. Instead, we have to do what the old song says and begin “learning to lean on Jesus.” Psalm 46 calls him our “very present help in trouble” and a “fortress of strength.” He knows how crazy and full of sin this world is, and He’s the only one who, in us, can help us finish well despite the trouble around us.

3. We must remember that someone else’s abundance is not our lack.

Jealousy robs us all of peace, and such jealousy had the same effect on Saul. When torments came on him, a young harp player named David was able to soothe them with his playing. If Saul could have accepted the peace of a gentle musician, his life wouldn’t have been in torment. However, once David was called to strip Saul’s kingdom from him, envy blinded Saul to any possible peace. God had enough to give both Saul and David blessed lives, but Saul couldn’t see that.

If we are to finish well, we can’t run someone else’s race. That’s why I want to follow Paul’s example and run hard, getting back up when I fall, and crossing the finish line to hear my Jesus say the most precious words I’ll ever hear: His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’ “(Matthew 25:23 — NKJV).

Remember that I said I did not finish my teaching journey well? I think that’s only partially true. When I moved from one high school to another, I received emails from a handful of students to tell me that they missed me, that they remembered my birthday, or that I had secretly been their favorite teacher. Another student that I taught in eighth grade ran into me in the Dollar Tree and called his friend over to tell her that I had changed his life. Yet another introduced me to his wife and daughter (I’m old!) and apologized for his behavior in my class.

However, there were many days that I walked the halls of a public school and was just like Saul. I lost my focus on the largest mission field I could have possibly had at a job. I cried and called my husband to tell him I was quitting on the spot instead of running to the strong tower of my Savior. And I looked at other teachers, who seemed to have the love of the students and the good grades, with doubt that God could ever use me the same way. I was a Saul, and that convoluted my race and made my finish line seem impossible.

Will God resurrect my teaching career? Will hundreds of students attend my funeral? I don’t know, but I do know that whatever I do from here on out, it has to be led by God if I am to accomplish His purpose. And He will accomplish it, because this verse is true: “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12 — NKJV).

My teaching journey is not over because my legacy has been planted in the more than one thousand students that I taught, and those seeds just might germinate after all.

He will keep us, Friend, and everything we commit to Him. Let’s run the race so that we will win the crown of life He has stored up for us (James 1:12). Would you be bold enough to leave a comment here and ask us to pray for you if you’re struggling to finish well? We are here to help each other up, so don’t stay down a moment longer.

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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