The past few months have been a struggle to keep my head above water. I wake up each morning and give thanks that my people are safe and our household is still functioning as normal. We live in a lovely house, have food to eat, electricity, water and lots of love.
I won’t lie…every now and then I can’t fight the waves of fear that overcome me. I put on a brave face and leave the house before my tears give way and those people, those lovely gifts of life who need me to be strong, catch me in the middle of my fear. Some days I don’t know how our household has made it these past few months, and I tell myself that giving in to this wave of fear is somehow a lack of gratitude, irrational or, even worse, a lapse of faith.
This isn’t easy. This giving up of all my plans, embracing failure, expecting less, letting go. I am not the same person I was five, or even fifteen years ago. Not even five months ago. I’ve lost control of my circumstances, I’m powerless, weak, tired, and hoping for things I cannot see. And I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
So I feel helpless. And lonely. And empty. And forgotten. And unworthy of all the gifts He has given to sustain us through this difficult time. All that I’ve created to “fall back on” has disappeared and there’s simply nothing left…but faith.
When I drive home each night, I prepare myself for the “needs” that await me. For the people who count on me to guide them through life and reflect Jesus. And God is faithful. As I walk in the back door to the house, I will be overwhelmed by the love that surfaces for these women, that sweet, happy baby. And when my head finally hits the pillow, I will give thanks for the day that finally made it to shore as a gentle, soft wave. And there in the dark, I will still believe He loves me and cares for me. And I will continue to ask Him to deliver me, and my people, from this strange and difficult chapter in our lives.
Each day is another day to put on my armor, to love, to sacrifice, to hope, to give thanks, and to believe He will never, no never, no never, abandon us.
I read a blog post entitled, The Failure of Mercy Ministry, and I was filled with grief and reminded of Matthew 25 about sheep and goats. If you want the source link, please ask me offline.
The blogger says this:
Everyone that Jesus fed, healed, or raised from the dead still died. And from now until the second coming, so will everyone who benefits from our mercy ministries. The point of Christians ministering to bodies, which will still succumb to death, is to give a picture, some small picture, of the healing to the soul that the Gospel offers. Jesus fed hungry people so that he could explain that he was the bread of life. He healed the blind so that he could explain what it meant to truly see. He raised the dead, so that he could explain how it was that he was the resurrection and the life. And we do the same with our mercy ministries. We minister to the body, so that we can create an opportunity to minister to the soul.
But that’s not what Jesus said:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’(Matthew 25:41-45)
He said…because you didn’t take care of the people I love, you didn’t care for ME. The point of Christians doing mercy is to love and honor God. So how do we show our love for God? Jesus fed, healed, and raised people from the dead because He loved them and they were hungry, husbandless, thirsty, cold, shoeless, fatherless, and not because He needed an opportunity to get their attention. Is there a more tangible way to show your love for God than to feed and clothe Him? If Jesus asked me for a sandwich, I’d move mountains to make Him one and leave out the bit about His body eventually dying.
The blogger goes on to say this:
But the temptation is always there to begin to think that ministering to the body is more important and we forget about the soul. This happens when Christians begin to compromise their teaching of the Gospel in order to create or maintain opportunities to participate in mercy ministry. This happens when the preaching of the Gospel starts to disappear because of the threat that it poses to the efficiency of the mercy ministry.
Christ knows that if we say we believe, true faith will manifest itself in our actions. Mercy ministry is not a substitute for the Gospel, it’s simply the living proof that a living faith is present – it is the Gospel in action. Mercy ministry is true faith manifesting itself in the lives of believers, who understand the Grace of God and can’t keep themselves from loving the lost, widows, orphans, prisoners, and the weak. Justice isn’t a distraction.
What pleases the Lord? He’s shown us what is good and what He requires of us. Do justice—don’t just talk about it. Love kindness—and not just to people who look like you and who can afford to buy you dinner. Walk humbly—spend as much on other people as you spend on yourself, be willing to sacrifice until it hurts, and give every aspect of your being over to God.
The blogger finishes by saying:
If we put the Gospel in the back seat while we do mercy work, we have shifted to a health and wealth Gospel. We have decided that it is more important to fix peoples’ bodies than their souls. As my kindergarten teacher once wisely told me, “don’t do that.”
The guy misses the point of mercy work and, I fear, he will lead a multitude of people, if he hasn’t already, to live more like goats then sheep. Every piece of bread, every new well, every pair of pants, every visit to a prisoner and every rescued orphan, is centered on the person of the King. If you do mercy in connection with the King—you live out the Gospel to a world in need of Jesus. If you put the Gospel behind the wheel, then be prepared to stop frequently to feed homeless people.
If you’re giving people a meal so you can check a box and say your church does Mercy Ministry—and there’s no real love, passion, or understanding for why He asked you to do it—Christ would say, “Get away from me. I never knew you.”
The disciples had just returned from a trip to the city to buy food when they saw Jesus sitting and talking to a woman. We are told that the disciples were surprised to find Jesus talking to her, but they didn’t say, “What do you want? or ask Jesus, “Why are you talking with her?” Good choice.
When their conversation is over, the woman goes back to the town and tells everyone about her meeting with Jesus. If you’ve been a Christian for more than a minute, you know it wasn’t an accident that He spoke with the woman. He knew her heart. He knew that her enthusiasm would change the lives of the people in her town. He knew she would draw people to Him.
Many of the people from her town came to hear Jesus because of her testimony. They said to her, “We no longer believe just because of what you said. Now we believe because we’ve heard for ourselves, and we know that Jesus is really the Savior of the world.” (Jn. 4:5-30)
It isn’t a stretch to say that women in their culture were virtually insignificant. They were poor, obviously the wrong gender, ethnically incorrect, their bodies were unclean on a monthly basis, and some women sold their bodies to provide for their families. And yet, Christ consistently challenged the culture of the day—the devaluation of women by the men in society—and He did it boldly and without hesitation. Jesus knew what was happening to women in the culture and He wasn’t having any of it. For Him, a woman would be a joint heir, a full member of the body of Christ.
The value of women to God, and to the Church, has not diminished since Christ walked on the earth. Women represent the heart of God in equal measure to men. When the Church devalues women, sets them aside as incapable of doing kingdom work or limits their ministry to token tasks, the Church misrepresents Christ’s teachings and practices. Jesus taught women and prepared them for service as disciples. He wanted women to be baptized and recognized as part of the covenant.
To suggest that the Church is best represented by qualities attributed to men is simply a failure to understand Christ’s vision and message. If you want to know what it’s like to be a bride, you need to ask one. If you want your church to represent the heart of God, you’ll need to add a few chairs at the table and invite some women to share their faith…their wisdom. Open your eyes. The harvest is ready. Everyone needs to role up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.
As we sat at the table gluing toothpicks on to folded crepe paper, I looked at the people around me and realized they weren’t too happy about helping me. Well, maybe just a little bit. This task, this repeated, seemingly unending task was not bringing them joy. They couldn’t see the end or the glory it would become…the light at the end of the tunnel.
The colorful mountains of crepe paper strips filled the living room and dining room. Lavender, violet, gray, and yellow. I was quite pleased with the extra hands and the heaps of strips waiting for attention. Gluing the toothpicks to the strips was the third step in the process and there were two more steps needed in order to finish it. As weddings go, it was one of many projects. Many, many projects. I stopped counting the number of times someone said, or signed, “We will never finish this.”
Weddings require a lot of little projects to make the day special. One of something for every guest: Chocolate and vanilla cupcakes topped with purple frosting nestled away in white boxes, little bags to hold the little sprinkles for throwing at the bride and groom, colorful bags with stickers to hold buttery popcorn, fluffy white tulle to line the aisle, pretty gray ribbons to tie around the numerous mason jars that go on all the tables covered in white tablecloths, matching napkins, little bits of punched paper scattered over the tables, and on and on.
Despite the plethora of lists and seemingly unending tasks, I love preparing for weddings. I know that every time I cut a piece of crepe paper, fold it, glue a toothpick to it, and twist it in to a delightful rose, I’m one step closer to finishing the project. That mountain of lavender colored crepe paper is a challenge I gladly accept because I know the result is a beautiful ball of roses that will look amazing nestled amongst the tulle lining the aisle.
This is how I approach the ministry God has called me to. Each woman who comes in to my home – each little child – is a beautiful project, a heap of giant potential, a life worthy of my time and sacrifice, one day added to many more days until she’s ready to shake off the past and take on a new life with Christ.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult work, even tedious at times and often thankless. There seems to be an unending list of things that need attention – all important and necessary, all soul-related issues that are revealed over time, over dinner, over birthing classes, over laundry, over doctor visits, over tears, over laughter.
Eventually, you get to the bottom of the pile and you look back and marvel at God’s amazing grace, at how perfectly things fit together, and that He knew your love was just what she needed at this time in her life. Mostly, how His promises are real and if we do what Christ asked us to do, we will have the good fortune to walk along side some pretty amazing women and watch as the Holy Spirit molds and shapes them into something more beautiful than they ever thought possible.
It’s a blessing too few people will ever receive. Not because God’s promises aren’t true, but because you first have to see her value, recognize the image of God in her, and know – deep down inside where faith and hope take root – that showing kindness and mercy and giving everything to God: your heart, soul, strength, love, obedience, and service, is one of the most difficult and rewarding challenges you’ll ever face. Giving everything to God may mean letting go of dreams, walking away from relationships, closing the door on goals, and living in a way that sets you apart from the crowd.
This I know for sure…God is faithful. If you don’t have a willing heart, ask and He’ll give you one. The mountain won’t appear as big, the burden will be lighter, the calling will be a perfect fit. And, you will finish.
But the truth is, the most forcible objections against the due exercise of charity, and abounding in the fruits of it, are those which arise from that influence which unbelief and corrupt affections have upon the minds of men. And amongst those the chiefest, and that which men judge to have the evidence of demonstration in it, is this: that which they part with for the relief of others, doth in proportion decrease their own enjoyments.
- John Owen