One of the sure signs of our continued growth as followers of Christ is that we feel our hearts being broken by the things that break the heart of God. Growing into the likeness of Christ means being drawn more deeply into the compassion of God so that we hear the cries of injustice in our world, see the broken people along the way, and seek with a divine urgency a way to make a difference in places of suffering, injustice, and pain.
As you follow your passion and search for your place to serve, you will also discover that awakening to God‘s call is not a one-time experience but an ongoing process by which the Spirit of God continues to open our eyes in new ways of serving as we grow in our discipleship, as we face major transitions in our lives, and as we become more fully awake to the constantly changing needs of the world around us.
This process is a step along the spiritual journey that John Wesley called “Christian perfection“. It’s the lifelong process by which the Spirit of God shapes our lives into the likeness of Christ. It leads us more deeply into the love of God and guides us to new opportunities to love others the way we have been loved by God.
Service Inspired Joy
Shame our wanton selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Harry Emerson Fosdick
There are frustrated people who, by world standards, have more than they could ever need but live with a nagging dissatisfaction in their souls. The things they’ve acquired and the success they’ve achieved have not made the difference they were hoping for. They are haunted by a desire for something more valuable and more lasting than anything money can buy. They still feel gnawing desire for their life to make a more significant difference in the world.
I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. Albert Schweitzer
The people Schweitzer speaks of have found an unambiguous joy by discovering that their lives can make a difference. They are faithful disciples who have followed their passion, found their way to serve, and are making a real, tangible, transformative difference in the lives of others. They’ve seen small signs of the impact their witness is having on unjust systems and institutions. Seeing their lives, hearing their laughter, sharing their hopes, and listening to their stories confirms the truth in Schweitzer’s words and the difference it makes for a person to find his or her custom designed place to serve.
If you haven’t found yours, watch the faithful servants of Christ who are like mustard seeds, which, Jesus said, are the smallest of all seeds but which can grow into a flourishing bush. You will often find these “seeds’ in unexpected places where they have found their way to make a kingdom-shaped difference. Ask yourself if, perhaps, your spiritual gifts and desire to serve align with theirs.
God’s Servants are Everywhere
You will find God’s people in likely places doing the kinds of things you might expect: teaching children in Sunday school, serving in leadership to their congregation, singing in their church choirs and playing instruments in the worship band, facilitating small groups for spiritual growth, leading mission teams, visiting in hospitals and nursing homes, arranging flowers on the altar or counting the Sunday offering.
You will also find these difference-making people in unlikely places doing things that you might not expect. You will meet them in homeless shelters and in migrant farm worker camps. You will find them delivering meals on wheels in economically underprivileged neighborhoods; registering voters in neglected communities; tutoring children in low achieving public schools; organizing groups for economic justice and creating bridges for communication between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. You can stand with them in prayer vigils for non-violence and see them risk imprisonment because they refuse to participate in war. You can walk with them between the crowded tin shacks in the sprawling townships of South Africa. Their courageous witness for racial reconciliation is humbling. Wherever they are there is a persistent passion and an incorrigible joy.
Desmond Tutu once said, “we are only the lightbulbs and our job is just to remain screwed in”. It could have been the archbishops paraphrase of Jesus’s words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life”. (John 8:12)
But It’s frighteningly easy to fall asleep and miss out on the way God wants to use our lives to make a difference in the world. It happens when we are not fully awake to the voice of God‘s Spirit within us or the needs of the world around us.
God’s call usually comes to people who practice the spiritual discipline that enables them to hear and respond to God’s Spirit. They are consistent in their practice of worship. They soak themselves in the words of scripture. They develop patterns of prayer that keep them awake and responsive to the new things God is doing and through which they discern the guidance of the Spirit. They live in community with other faithful disciples.
The spiritual discipline of prayer that is grounded in scripture and nurtured in worship is the starting point for our discovery of a life that really makes a difference. It is the sustaining center of a relationship with God that continues to fuel our passion and leads us to our place to serve. It is the renewing source of our vision for the future.
The World Needs You
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet. Frederick Buechner
The practical implication of a Biblical understanding of discipleship is that the Christian life is not primarily defined by sitting in the pew on Sunday morning but by the way we live and serve outside the church walls during the week. We live out of our discipleship in the world rather than inside the church. Our experience and worship are like the team gathering in the locker room before going onto the field where the real game will be played. What we do inside the church is intended to equip us to be the servants of God‘s love, grace, justice, and peace on the outside. Paul said that we are reconciled to God in Christ so that we can become the agents of God’s reconciliation of the world. (II Corinthians 5:19)
God can take the activity you love to do and use it to make a Christlike difference in somebody else’s life.
There are people who provide guitars and teach music to underprivileged kids: who like to bake for the homeless street ministry: who extended their love of scripture to prison mates: who like to shop and do so for homebound elderly.
We are sent from worship to become the people through whom God answers our prayer for God‘s kingdom to come and God‘s will to be done in our world. When we see the injustice and suffering of the world and ask, “God, why don’t you do something about this? “ we will probably hear God asking us the same question. God is already out there, and we are challenged to join him in the kingdom work of healing, peace, and redemption.
Listening for the Still Small Voice
Most of us need to stop what we are doing in order to hear God’s voice. The pressure of time and over-commitment is often a barrier to service. We, the church can begin by providing opportunities for faithful disciples to stop, take a deep breath, and be still in the presence of God. It’s the only way to be ready to hear the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The first work of the spirit in helping us find our calling is to open our eyes so that we begin to see the world around us through the eyes of Jesus. Searching for and finding our places to serve involves looking with spirit awakened eyes at the needs of the world and at the gifts, talents, and opportunities we’ve been given. If you have not discovered your spiritual gift, this link will help you to find it and provides a Spiritual Gifts Survey.
Determine your Spiritual Gifts here.
What Does Hinder You?
One of the unique challenges of our day is that it is frighteningly easy to live in a media defined bubble. Many of us get all our information about the world through the lens of a particular social, economic, and political perspective. We spend most of our time in racial and socioeconomic enclaves in which most of the people around us look, think, and act the way we do. We gravitate towards news sources that constantly reconfirm our preconceived assumptions. It’s not that we are insensitive, mean, or bad people but that we are blinded by our own reflection in the mirror-like glass bowl in which we live.
But disciples who hear God’s call to make a difference in this world intentionally look at the world in a new and different way. They see the world through the lens of the infinite compassion and love of God. They look at people who are struggling and in pain as their “own people”. With Christ like eyes open to the world around us, we look then for the place where our strengths, talents, and availability connect with that need.
Strength in Numbers
The good news is that we are not called to do this alone. Being “born again “means that we are born into the family of God with brothers and sisters in Christ, who share the same vision, burn with the same passion, and live by the same hope. Paul said that our unique talents, passions, and personalities are gifts of God’s grace that are drawn together in the body of Christ to accomplish Gods purpose in this world (I Cor 12:1- 12).
Moses father-in-law, Jethro, said to him “Moses, why are you doing all this by yourself? You will end up totally wearing yourself out. You can’t do it alone.“
The apostles needed to learn the same lesson. The early Christian movement was growing so quickly that the apostles couldn’t handle it. The result was that widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. So, the disciples appointed a team composed of Steven and six others to be responsible for the feeding ministry. As a result, “God‘s word continues to grow and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly“. (Acts 6:7)
When we set out to make a difference, we will soon discover that we cannot do it alone. We need to do it with a team of people who share the same passion and are finding their way to serve together. You can join a team or organize a team.
Focus on the Goal
When a group is centered on a clear, compelling, and commonly held mission, faithful disciples can handle diversity of conviction about practices that are on the circumference of their life together. The mission that unites them is stronger than the differences that would divide them.
John Wesley describe this pattern of life when he said, “though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. Here all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding the small differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works“.
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
Being a servant means that we are not in charge here. We enter the lives of others as servants who know that our lives are under the undisputed authority and control of our Lord.
Making a difference in the lives of people who experience oppression, suffering, or injustice begins when we choose to enter their experience, listen to their story, and join them in their pain. In the same way God’s son became one of us to share our human life, we are drawn closer to Jesus by drawing closer to people in pain.
Get In On The Action
Stephen Kobe taught us to “begin with the end in mind“. He sounded like an old testament prophet when he defined imagination as “the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes“. He challenges us to “begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of the desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.“
God is inviting us to get in on the action. Eugene Peterson declares, “we are not spectators to a grand cosmic show. We are in the show. But we are not running it. “The coming of God‘s kingdom is only and always God’s work, but we can live now in ways that are consistent with the way thing will be then. By the power of the Holy Spirit, even small, apparently insignificant things can make an eternal difference.
We don’t necessarily need to be looking off in some distant horizon to find our calling. God only calls a few heroic souls to go to distant places. Most of God’s work in this world gets done in ordinary places by ordinary people like us who see our world through the extraordinary perspective of God‘s Kingdom revealed in Jesus Christ. The task to which God calls us is often the task most closely at hand. At the same time, we remain open to the possibility that God may enlarge our vision and call us to make a difference in ways and means that stretch beyond our immediate boundaries. God has a surprising way of expanding our small efforts to touch the world in ways that go beyond anything we expect.
It’s what Jesus meant when he described the Kingdom of God saying that it is “like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough“ Matthew 13:33 This is us. We are the yeast. We are the mustard seed.
Your Service is the Beginning of the Kingdom on Earth
Disciples who serve the most passionately in the present are people who have a firm grasp of God’s future. The way they serve “now” is defined by the way they envision the world will be “then“.
We care about the environment NOW because THEN the renewed creation will be the place where God will be at home with God’s people. (Rev 21:3)
We work for peace NOW because we know that THEN swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks and people will not learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)
We work to overcome racism and ethnic conflict NOW because we know that THEN heaven will be filled with people from every race, tongue and nation. (Rev 7:9)
We invite others to become disciples of Jesus Christ NOW because we know that THEN every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Phil 2:10-11)
We care for one another in Christian community NOW because we know that THEN God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. (Rev 21:4)
We feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and seek economic justice for the poor NOW because Jesus said that’s the way every nation will be judged THEN. (Mat 25:31-46)
To find your joy in God’s service, ask yourself these questions and explore your response.
What is my vision of the end towards which my discipleship is leading me?
Where have I seen tangible signs of God’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven?
Considering the list above, where can I make a difference NOW that is in anticipation of the way things will be THEN?
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Make a Difference: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Place to Serve by James A. Harnish