Many Christians, especially in church settings, focus — obsess — about finding their ministry, and they pore through 1 Corinthians 12 searching for suggestions:
“Do I have faith? or a message of wisdom? I’m pretty sure I don’t have the ability to manifest miraculous powers. What, God, do you want me to DO?”
It’s a profound question, and one that we ourselves can answer without buying yet another how-to book from a Celebrity Christian. Rather, let’s look at Scripture, pray, and listen to God’s still small voice, a voice that is challenging to hear unless we’re being still ourselves. Consider this thought:
Our “ministry” consists not so much in what we do for God, but in who we are.
In other words, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, if we speak in tongues of men and angels, prophesy, have faith that moves mountains, and give all we have to the poor — but have not love, we — and those we “minister” to — gain nothing.
So, it’s worth repeating: It’s not what we do, it’s who we are. For those of you who like lists, here are five verses that give us practical behavior changes that we can ask God to implement in our lives:
1) Listen more than we speak.
James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
As Christians, we operate under the misconception that we need to 1) solve people’s problems and 2) convince them to follow God, so we have a tendency to talk AT others as opposed to shutting up and allowing them to speak. Frequently, we get defensive, and thereafter offensive, if a hurting person lashes out with,
“God’s a crock! Who would believe in Him anyway?”
“You’re just a pagan infidel!” we shoot back. “No wonder God wants nothing to do with you.”
Wouldn’t we be more effective if we just listened — something so many people long for, but so few people do — and didn’t try to fix things, change things, or push humans into a box?
2) Humble ourselves.
Romans 12:3 advises, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
In all of our lives, God places people who are really, really different: they’re loud and embarrassing in public places, they say discomfitingly awkward things and make others squirm, they have exasperatingly peculiar — and completely uncool — clothing and personal hygiene choices.
In being friends with them, it is tempting to think, “I am so gracious and merciful in dealing with this unlikable person,” and it doesn’t help that others — who don’t want to be associated with such social pariahs — feed our egos by saying, “Oh, you’re showing the love of God!”
Any time we harbor a secret sense of superiority over another because we’re 1) clean, 2) functionally sophisticated, 3) able to speak without spitting — the list goes on — we offend the very person we are trying to help.
Ironically, when we have this attitude, we ourselves lose out on the relationship, because we don’t think the other person has anything of worth to offer us back.
3) Recognize that lowly isn’t loser.
In Mark 10:13-16, the disciples turn away people bringing children to Jesus, but Jesus Himself is indignant at this attitude:
“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such of these.”
In too many societies, children are nobodies because they don’t make money (unless they’re trafficked) and they require more work than they provide benefit, so we’re tempted to consider them not 100 percent human beings (and when they’re still in the womb, where they’re supposed to be safe, we pass them off as “fetuses.”)
Recognize that, not only are needy human beings everywhere, but you yourself are one of them. Treat others gently as if they can be broken, because they can.
4) You’re important, and you’re not.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 20: 26-27, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom to many.”
At a speaking engagement I was invited to, I found myself, prior to the ceremony, unattended, with no contact person, in a crowded room, sitting on a bench while numerous strangers milled about, chatting in tight little groups it was impossible to join. (It’s a good thing to cultivate a skill in being comfortable, alone, in group situations.)
As I was admiring the proximate artwork, another unattached attendee joined me and we began talking. Eventually, she exclaimed, “Oh, you’re the speaker! I thought that you’d be in with all the important people!”
“I am,” I replied. “I’m with you.”
When you are elevated to a high position, recognize the tendency to feel as if you deserve certain perks for being there, and remember Jesus’s attitude.
5) Cultivate empathy.
After loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, the second most important commandment is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 31.
Regardless of how much psychologists — including “Christian” ones — insist that we suffer from self-esteem issues, most of us know how to take care of Number One, and we do. Without falling into focusing on ourselves, we can use our awareness of how certain situations or people make us feel, to avoid inflicting this same pain on others.
If someone makes you feel dumb, then be aware of that and don’t act that way toward others. If you feel alone and awkward in social situations, then the next time you’re in one, seek out someone who looks more alone and awkward than you are.
Use the negative aspects of your life to understand those elements in the lives of others.
The Bible is full of wisdom, and to this most important question we all have: “How do I live my life in such a way to make it worthwhile?” there are far more than five verses, with five ideas.
Don’t worry about finding your ministry. Seek God’s wisdom, and your entire life will be a ministry.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I offer you this thought: if you’re breathing, you’re ministering. Breathe deep, and seek humility.
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