Healing Ourselves by Serving Others

I’ve been involved in volunteer ministry work at The Crossing for several years now, in varying capacities – and with decidedly mixed results. For the first few years, my efforts were, shall we say, scattershot and inconsistent. Since 2001, I’ve worked at various times in Children’s Ministries, done Web development work for the church, worked the downstairs registration desk, and moved furniture as part of setup and tear-down for Kid’s Club in the summer.

These past few years, however, it feels like I finally may have hit my stride by becoming involved with men’s addiction recovery and, more recently, separation and divorce ministry. It seems to me that God has been well-pleased to use the physical and emotional wreckage of my early adulthood years to help others as they make difficult choices for how they want to live out the rest of their lives, especially when faced with intense, stomach-churning emotional brokenness. But I, too, have been richly blessed along the way.

If you have already decided that this blog is going to conclude with a call for you to selflessly devote a few hours of your week to the ongoing ministries in your local church, you are mostly mistaken. There are plenty of calls – regularly going out – for congregation members to get involved with the local church, and I see no need to add my voice to that summons. The Crossing, in particular, has an abundance of ways in which you can get involved and help out other people with real, pressing needs. So you already know that the opportunity is real enough.

No, the whole point of this blog is your personal healing, the exceedingly-simple answer that I have found for the perennial question implied by its title, and can be summed up in two words: “Show up.”

There is much that could be said about God’s desire to bless us, of course, but the question that I hear from others again and again boils down to something like, “How can I receive God’s blessing on my life when I’m so jacked up? I believe that He has already blessed me in eternity, but what must I do to receive God’s blessing on my life right now, while I am still in the flesh?” So, once again: “Show up.”

Show up on Sunday mornings to corporate worship, even when you “don’t feel like it,” or your weekend has provided you with something “better” and/or more entertaining to do. Be faithful to just show up. If you commit to a Bible study or a small group, give that commitment a higher priority than “whenever I have the mental wit and energy to go.” Show up.

And please don’t volunteer to do anything, small or large, unless you really do plan to show up. If you do raise your hand or otherwise indicate your desire to help out with parking, or moving tables, or making coffee, or doing any one of a thousand simple things that the church requires to function smoothly on Sunday mornings and throughout the week…you guessed it, “Show up.”

Too often, I think, we can get so totally caught up in our own problems and difficulties that we think of our commitment to help out with parking cars on Sunday mornings as a “distraction” to our ability to solve our pressing spiritual, relational, financial and/or career problems. We are so consumed by – for instance – thoughts of losing our job, our family coming apart, dealing with the addiction that we can’t seem to shake, or the co-worker who “has it in for us” that we decide we “really need to deal with these pressing issues first,” and then (and only then) will we think ourselves suitable for helping out.

And I’m suggesting that this kind of thinking is exactly upside-down.

“What good does it do for me to help out with a men’s study group when all I can do is think about the fact that my wife has left me?” Thoughts like this, I dare say, are some of Satan’s finest handiwork (John 8:43-44). The intent – all too often successful – is to separate us from God’s people, eliminate opportunities for the Holy Spirit to work through others in our lives, and then slowly pick us off one by one.

You will recall that I started off with a list of the various and sundry efforts that I have been involved in since I began attending The Crossing in the summer of 2001. The part I have not mentioned, until now, is that the past 10 years have been some of the most difficult and trying years of my entire life, with challenges that I never would have believed possible had you revealed them to me over a friendly cup of coffee back in, say, 1996. Time and time again, through my own sinfulness, refusal to listen, and just plain old “eating-corn-through-a-fence” level of pig ignorance, I have been challenged, rebuked, and undeservedly comforted by the people of God, and – here’s the kicker – that comfort very often came to me when I was not entirely focused on myself.

In January of 2009, my wife and I facilitated our very first session of DivorceCare at The Crossing. We had no clue what we were doing, or why the pastors and elders had so “foolishly and recklessly” put us in charge of anything, much less a ministry to the hurt and the broken. Because we lacked so much in the area of confidence, we decided ahead of time what the ground rules were going to be for our involvement in this (and every other) ministry effort:

  1. We are going to show up. Every time, no excuses. And we’ll show up early, whenever possible. And we are going to keep showing up until the pastors and/or elders ask us to stop.
  2. If just one person shows up for class, we run the entire program, from start to finish.
  3. We will pray before and after every session, privately and corporately.
  4. Our lives and our efforts belong to God to do with as He pleases.

Yesterday morning, my wife and I agreed to help out in the Prayer Room between services, praying for anyone who happened to walk in the room and ask for it. Whatever else may be true about our desire to serve, I can tell you that right up to the present day I feel wholly inadequate for just about any task I am asked to do. So yes, I was somewhat nervous about volunteering to pray for other people’s needs, even though I have done it hundreds of times over the course of the past five years. Because I had a very poor night’s sleep on Saturday, and was deeply worried and troubled in my own soul over a broken relationship, the temptation was huge yesterday to call our Prayer Team leader and ask him to let me off the hook, “just this once.”

Wracked with emotions, assaulted by relational problems that seem to me to be “unsolvable” absent a transfiguration-like appearance by Jesus Himself, I nevertheless decided to set aside my own doubts and misgivings, and follow the one simple rule that has borne fruit over and over again in the course of some of my darkest days: I showed up.

On hand to serve others, and willing to be used by the Lord in whatever way He thought suitable, I was instead blessed by “a casual conversation” that brought penetrating biblical insight to the precise situation that had kept me tossing and turning in my bed the night before. The relational problem that I walked in with is still smoldering, and has not gotten any better. Nevertheless, God chose to bless my commitment to serve others by giving me something to hang onto in what will almost certainly be some dark days ahead.

Do you struggle? Do you cry out? Do you otherwise feel cut off from the land of the living? Are your problems so bad that nothing short of miraculous intervention will solve them? I urge you, in all sincerity, instead of focusing solely on what are undoubtedly deep, painful issues in your life, to instead set your problems down long enough to serve others. My own life bears witness to the truth that God loves to rain down blessings on those who seek to serve Him with all their heart, despite their own pains, problems and hang-ups when the commit themselves to (you guessed it) showing up.

When we are faithful to simply show up, you can be sure that God will show up, too.

Matthew 6:31-33 (ESV)
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

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