Ministering in the Gifts

When I was a young girl, I remember wanting so badly to know what God wanted my life to be like and to know what I was good at.  I would see the hustle and bustle going on each Sunday before, during & after church, as people participated in what looked like such meaningful and fulfilling work.

With smiles on their faces, people would greet me at the door and shake my hand, then as we walked into the auditorium someone would hand me the program for the day with a hearty, “Goooood moooorning, young lady.”  As the service started the worship team led everyone in the music selected for that week, and the pastor preached his message with the usual gusto, as handsome men in suits passed the offering plates and communion, all with a sincerity and a genuine happiness I rarely witnessed anywhere else.

Yet each week, I inevitably left feeling discouraged as I wondered, “God, where do I fit in?”  That question continued to lay dormant in me even after I graduated from college and came home, only to find myself once again sitting in the church service week after week, wondering if this very regular life I had hand-crafted, could be anything more than the week-in, week-out drudgery I had come to know.

But the spring before my 26th birthday would be different as I determined to make some changes in my life that year.  I had decided during winter break that I was going to resign from my first teaching job to attend graduate school.  However, next fall seemed like a lifetime away to a young person, who was more than ready to jump head first into a brand new life.  Inevitably, the question I had closed up in a quiet box within my heart years ago, began to stir inside me once again.  I asked myself, “Surely there’s something you could do here at the church that would be meaningful, isn’t there?”  Then another voice would ask, “But, what could you do?  What are you good at?”

Yet the answers continued to elude me.  Without thinking it through much further, I went to church as I did every Sunday, smiled at the door greeters, accepted my bulletin with a slight grin and solemnly took my place in the seat in the auditorium, which I had for years (at least mentally) marked as “mine”.

As the pastor barreled through his sermon with his customary vigor & authority, the words about finding purpose and meaning in one’s life by following God and serving in the church, penetrated my heart, until the end of the sermon when the associate pastor concluded the service with a “call to action”.

He said, “Maybe you’re sitting in your seat today, wondering if you could help.”

Immediately, I knew he was talking to me.  “Help? Is that it?” I thought.  “Could doing something meaningful for God be as simple as helping?” I pondered. “Even I can help…can’t I?” And before I even finished the thought, my legs had promptly escorted me straight to the front of the entire crowd of onlookers.

“So, how would you like to help?” the pastor asked.

I stood there speechless.  How? What did he mean, how?  I had no idea how I was going to do anything to measure up to what I saw everyone else doing on a Sunday morning.  At that point in time I couldn’t even have told him how I got out of my seat and in to the front row.

Then all of a sudden, it dawned on me.  I was leaving my job in May and it would be the first summer in which I literally had nothing to do.  No classes to attend.  No trips to take.  Nothing.

“I could help this summer,” I muttered more in the form of a question than a statement.  By the look on the pastor’s face, I could tell my answer did not satisfy him.

“What ministry would you like to help in?” he prodded further.

Ministry…ministry…by this time my palms were beginning to sweat.  If I didn’t come up with an answer quickly, I might be the first person in the history of the church to ruin an alter call by not being able to answer a simple question that even a first grade Sunday school child could answer.

“School! That’s it!” I thought.  I was a high school teacher.  Wrangling…no, teaching teenagers is what I did every day.

“I could help with youth!” I said elatedly.

“That would be great.  We actually need some youth sponsors for this summer’s activities.  I’ll have the youth pastor get in touch with you.”

And so was the beginning of my journey in discovering what I was called to do.

Now, as many of you know, youth ministry wasn’t really my end all, be all at the church.  But, I tell that story to illustrate a few points. First, I understand how difficult and frustrating it can be not knowing how you “fit” in the church body.  If you’re unfamiliar with church culture, as I was, it’s pretty daunting to try to understand the inner workings of the Church, let alone a church, in such a way that you could feel confident stepping forward to discover perhaps a deeper meaning to your life.  Second, what I realize now in retrospect about serving God, is that it really does just start with a desire to help.

You see, for many years, I had focused so much on what I should be doing, in an effort to convince myself that my life had meaning, that I missed cultivating a heart that was willing to listen and follow God for his sake alone, knowing that I was already acceptable in his eyes.  Focusing on finding my value in doing something that I hoped everyone around me would also view as valuable, paralyzed me from hearing the voice of God tell me that to get started, all I really needed to know was that just being me, is what really added value to the church.  In the end, I discovered that you really don’t need to know what to do, because ultimately, serving God is more about the ability to listen and follow, than the ability to “do” the one right thing.

So what does all of this have to do with ministering in the gifts, you ask?  Everything.  Most Christians get so caught up in what gift, or gifts, are theirs, or in what gift one person has over the other, that they miss out on the simplicity that comes from following a heart that wants to help alleviate poverty, sorrow, or illness in other people’s lives.  When you start with the desire to help, stemming from a heart that knows it’s already acceptable no matter what it does, the gifts that God has already deposited in you will naturally flow out of you when you begin to answer the call.

The question you really need to ask yourself is this;  “Lord, I know you love me, and I really would like to use the gifts you’ve given me, whatever they may be, to help other people.  Will you help me do that?”

I urge to you reach out to God today with a prayer such as that one, and then sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.  It’s a ride that will take you far beyond anything you ever could have dreamed up on your own, and one which will weave a tapestry of what your life was intended to be as you entrust it into the hands of your Savior.

Cindy SmithComment