Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Hiding Behind Ladles

"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" Mark 8:36 (ESV)

I stood behind one more servers' table, peering into the eyes of a woman I'd never met. But I knew our experience would forever change my effectiveness in ministry. It's not a proud moment when you discover, after many years of Christian service, you really weren't serving in the name of Jesus.

Up until a few days before that fateful night, I thought I was ministering the Gospel by merely serving people's physical needs. Then God began asking me if I was just hiding behind the soup ladle, or was I truly giving those I served the full measure of what I had been given?

For six years prior to that I ran a ministry "serving" retired folks in a mobile home community. We did hundreds of jobs, provided food and transportation, and had many opportunities to form relationships. From all outward appearances, I was the definition of a man all about Christian service. But now God was leading me to examine just how many I shared something important and eternal with.

Helping people with physical needs has always come naturally to me, but seeing to the far more important needs of their souls? Watching this woman approach that night, I came to the unsettling conclusion that as much as I wanted to think I was doing God's work, by attending only to those needs I was comfortable with, I was not. I was hiding behind the ladle, and cowering behind the paint brush. I had been giving people what their flesh required, but in fear I had been neglecting what their souls required. "What does it profit a man…?" I could have given them not only my service, but my wallet and indeed "the whole world", and I would not have been offering what they truly needed.

So there I stood, wondering if I would hide behind my former idea of Christian service or step out of my comfort zone. The question was redundant, for I knew the choice was already made. Before this woman could make her selection of cookies, I asked her if I could pray for her. Though we had never met, she held out her hands to me and the flood gates opened. She told me a story like the ones you too often hear on the streets, and I prayed. Then she led me across the parking lot to pray for her husband as well. As my fears passed that night I got to share, really share, what truly mattered with several people.

By its very definition, faith means moving into the discomfort of the unknown. Can we imagine being one of the disciples following Jesus as He moved from prostitutes to the demon possessed? Would we want to be seen with this man who alienated those we had grown up believing were our shepherds? Would "comfortable" describe life with Jesus?

Following requires faith. Faith means putting a comfortable present in the recycle bin to make space to download an uncomfortable future. Following Jesus we suffer the heartbreak of ministering to those who will disappoint us, the mocking of those who oppose us, and the relentless attacks of the one who wants to untrack us. It's all part of a pruning process that leads us to bear fruit in the kingdom of heaven on earth. If Christian ministry is comfortable, as so many try to keep it today — as I used to try to keep it — then it's not the kind of ministry we read about anywhere in the Bible.

Many people who profess no belief at all do good deeds for the needy. That's not hard. What sets us apart, and what is uncomfortable, is including the message that compels us to service. Words without deeds fail, as do deeds without a message. As Swanson and Rusaw say in The Externally Focused Church, "Good deeds pave the road over which good news travels."

Jesus came to us in word and deed. That's how He showed us the fullness of God's love and justified his claim of being our Good Shepherd. In the end, He will likewise judge us according to both our words and our deeds.

From now on, I go all in or I stay home. No more hiding behind ladles thinking I am ministering when I am withholding what truly "profits a man". We need to both speak and be His good soldiers if we want to truly benefit those He grants us. Together, our service and our message provide that which the world simply cannot offer.

Copyright © 2014 by Michael Wolff. Used by permission.

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