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The Messy of Ministry

The Messy of Ministry

“Lord, please break my heart for the things that break yours.”

It’s a prayer I have sometimes regretted praying. Because, more and more, He has answered it. And that has made life…


Increasingly, as my life moves forward, I find myself burdened for people. There are just so many needs. So many people who are hurting.  So many imprisoned by the consequences of their choices, or battered by the difficulties of this life. And, of course, Jesus said:

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” Matthew 25:40

It should be the hallmark of every Christian’s life – service.  If there was anything about which Christ was clear, it was this: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). The day we accept Christ’s unbelievable offer of life forever with Him and the cleaning of our sin slate, we take on a new mantle of responsibility – no longer living for ourselves, but for Him. God saved us so that we can be part of the process of Him saving other people – and our primary role in doing so is through loving service to those He loves.

Christian faith is not simply personal – it is interpersonal.

We show our gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice through obedience to Him. And obedience to Christ looks like living our lives in service to others.

So if this is the center of Christian faith, why do we spend so much of our time living for ourselves?

The older I get, the more I ask myself this question, and the more I am chagrined at just how much of my life has been spent on myself.

Thankfully (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I’ve found, when we begin to have the desire to change – when we begin feeling a burden for serving others – He provides plenty of opportunities. And when He does, we begin to see life differently.

Ministry to Women

My work at the Blue Ridge Women’s Center has changed me. It has softened some of the edges that naturally arise both from my innate personality and years of being mostly around “people like me”. It has awakened me, anew, to the challenges of poverty – related to resources, opportunities, education, and even attitude. It has brought to the forefront of my mind the importance of helping people become self-sufficient rather than dependent on others, and the incredible power of empathy and compassion. It has honed my skills at focusing on a person rather than on a cause, and has provided my tend-to-be-glass-half-empty self a slap of reality regarding just how blessed I truly am.

My work at the BRWC has also underscored, so clearly, just how open people are to Christ when their world is falling apart, and how effectively God can use all of the sorrows in our lives to encourage others.

I love counseling women in need at the Women’s Center, but one of the down sides is that our ministry is generally acute – we generally have one hour or so in which to touch women’s lives, provide encouragement, and connect them with resources before they leave the center and go on with their lives. The ministry is profound, effective, and necessary – but it doesn’t require the level of personal involvement, investment, and sacrifice on my part that long-term personal ministry necessitates.

The Lord has recently seen it fit to challenge me with the latter.

Becoming Personally Involved

Never one to let me hang out in my place of comfort (wait – have the past few months been a place of comfort??), Jesus has provided an opportunity to walk with someone in tremendous need over a longer period of time. This isn’t an hour-long deal. It’s not a come-in-and-get-some-encouragement-and-counseling proposition. This time, His call is to take the long road of support  – one that requires significant time, energy, and resources. This time, His call is to do conference calls, manage gifted money, connect to resources, provide advocacy, fill a gas tank, edit job applications, provide parenting tips, speak with lawyers, type up a resume…

This time I am invested, personally, in a new way.

It’s amazing how the more invested you are personally in something, the more you get out of it spiritually.

God is showing me so much. He has revealed to me the inherent selfishness of my heart, particularly around my personal time. He has helped me discover a new passion, a new level, of caring that I didn’t realize I had. He has reminded me how dependence upon others leads to a form of slavery, whereas self-sufficiency leads to self worth. He has brought to my attention the layers of dysfunction that we human beings bring to the table – and how that dysfunction, without His intervention, becomes simply a suffocating way of life after enough time. He has reminded me of His unending, interminable love and patience with me (and all the result of us fallible beings), and, as a result, my own responsibility to show the same to those around me.

He has shown me just how messy ministering to people can be.

Where is the line between helping and enabling? How does one determine, in understanding pathology, the role of one’s ability versus one’s choice? At what point does personal investment and concern become inappropriate boundaries? When does a hand up start shifting into a handout? Why do we as humans return to the same dysfunctional patterns over and over again, even when they hurt us? How does one maintain concern, compassion, and investment without unhealthily taking on another’s problems as our own? What happens if “being poured out, as a drink offering” (Philippians 2:17, 2 Timothy 4:6) turns into simply being empty and dry, with nothing left? When should limitless love start manifesting itself as love with limits?

Yeah, messy.

It’s a tangled, unkempt, murky experience – walking with people in their need. I’ve being challenged. And exhausted. And pushed. And annoyed. And excited. And fulfilled. And angry. And sad. And joyful. And overwhelmed.

Yet, I know that He tells me:

“Speak up for those who have no voice,
for the justice of all who are dispossessed.
Speak up, judge righteously,
and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9

And I know that He tells me:

“My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19.

Called to Get Dirty

I believe this is where He wants us, as Christians. In the realm where we don’t know what we’re doing, where we don’t know how we’re going to do it, and where we simply do not have the time, energy, or resources to rely on ourselves. Being here reveals the pockets of “self” that we do not have surrendered. It forces us to watch for Him, listen to Him, need Him.

Sure, we can give to mission funds, and we can donate to worthy Christian causes. But for all the good those do, they cannot substitute for the gritty, live-it-real transformation of entering another human being’s world and walking with them in their need. Giving from afar is, unfortunately, spiritually easy. Even as helpful as it may be, it requires little of us, and it allows us to check off the “service” box without too much investment. Our bank accounts dip a bit with no impact to our souls. We can sleep soundly, feeling content in our own works.

Not so, with ministering to people directly.

We stress. We worry. We ask for guidance. We wonder. We lose sleep. We ponder and pray and plead. We question ourselves, those we’re serving, and God. We get our elbows dirty and our hearts muddied and we quit philosophizing and begin understanding. We stop being judgmental and start judging righteously and feel angry for the violations against someone other than ourselves. We see the ways that love and righteousness interplay and we experience the consequences of humanity going its own way rather than God’s way, and we figure out how emptying out is the only true way to be filled up. We live out getting by giving, we become part of building something new out of what has been torn down, and we come to the end of ourselves only to find that it’s ok because He is the beginning and the end, not us.

Even more, we minister to people directly because it’s what Jesus did.

He met people in the middle of their messes, gave of Himself, and touched their lives personally. He didn’t carve out a little cash on the side to throw at the beggars on the street, or lay out the plans for a government-funded welfare system. He invested in a band of 12 men for three years, giving every part of Himself, as He met the needs of individuals physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

If He did it, and He commands it, I can do it too.

“The one who believes in Me will do the works that I do.” John 14:12

I don’t know where this most recent ministry endeavor will end up. I pray about it hourly, and am burdened for the persons involved. I fear not having enough, not being enough, and I fear that all of my efforts will not results in an outcome that will be lastingly beneficial.

But I am not commanded to be in charge of the outcome. I am simply charged to serve.

“Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6

“And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised.” 2 Corinthians 5:15

“But seek first the kingdom of Godand His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Matthew 6:33

“The one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” Galatians 6:8

Maybe, from all of this messy, He will make something beautiful.



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