How Do I Serve

“The opportunities to be involved and an active part of your church family are endless! There’s something here for everyone.”

That was great. It really was.

Except, there I was, born and raised in a small everybody-pitch-in-to-get-it-done church of about 75 people, feeling my heart rate slowly rising as the pastor listed off the seemingly infinite list of service opportunities within this church of over 2,000. I became overwhelmed along the way with the nagging thought, “How do I pick where to serve? Can’t I just do it all?”

We all have unrealistic hopes like that, don’t we? Those moments of intense, my-faith’s-on-fire, passion where we want to serve our Lord BIG.

Or, sometimes, those moments are painfully apprehensive. How can I possibly be a Sunday morning greeter, new-mom food deliverer, Vacation Bible School teacher, carpet vacuuming cleaner, and flower watering gardener without only doing a halfway decent job or burning out?

Yes, pastor was right - the opportunities to serve our Lord are limitless. But, how do we pick the opportunities within our own limits?

This led me to ponder how to avoid overcommitting and underperforming when serving my Savior. I came up with a total of five questions, which I think will help both you and me as we deliberate how to best use our talents. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Is it manageable?

Oh boy, do I stink at answering this question honestly. However, it’s important that we do. While God has gifted us with many talents to serve Him, He has also gifted us with time, and, frankly, we can be tight on it. We need to take a moment when an opportunity arises to really ask ourselves if we have enough time to be involved, and not only to be involved, but to be committed and to do it well.

God didn’t design us to work nonstop. When life gets busy, it’s okay to acknowledge that we need moments of leisure and rest. Despite what Instagram may show you, we can’t do it all. And, I promise you, that is okay.

2. Does it make use of my talents effectively?

Here’s a quick refresher on the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus tells a story of a master’s three servants who were entrusted with different amounts of gold (a type of currency called talents). Two of the servants put their money to use and doubled their gold while their master was away. However, the third servant was scared to disappoint his master, so he buried the talents in the ground, earning his master nothing.

Which servants pleased the master? The ones who used what they had to make more, of course! Similarly, and ironically given the name of the currency in this story, we can use our talents to please God or we can discount our gifts and abilities as worthless.

This parable doesn’t simply teach us to use our talents; we can grow and strengthen them, as well, just as the first two servants did. Part of being human means that we are privileged to constantly learn, grow, and improve. So, if you’ve always been interested in helping with a summer sports camp but have never picked up a bat or kicked a soccer ball, maybe start as an assistant or provide snacks. In time, your skills and knowledge will grow, making you better prepared to serve in other ways.

3. Is it something I am passionate about?

This plays a bit into my last point. If you don't yet have the skills or knowledge to help with a task, that doesn’t mean you aren’t interested in it and capable of learning how to do it. Passion produces productivity. It’s as simple as that. If the idea of being involved with an activity gives you butterflies of joy in your gut, go for it!

Disclaimer, there’s a flip side - sometimes the things we are crazy passionate about can become work. Let’s not fall into the trap of wanting to quit when things get hard or when we lose our motivation. Just because our desire dwindles doesn’t mean it won’t be reignited. Emotions, like motivation, can be fickle.

Case in point, I love writing. It’s one of the easiest ways to declutter my brain and clarify my perspective. Plus, through this site of Christian women, I’m able to share my faith in my own words and prayerfully help others as they walk with Christ. Like, come on, that’s so cool! But, Amanda and Becky can serve as my witnesses, I ask for an extension on my deadlines pretty much every single time I have a post due. Passion does not equal no work. However, just like Marie Kondo taught us through her cleaning mantra, it’s good to stick with the things that “spark joy.” There will always be work when we serve, but the bits of work are ultimately a joy when we are passionate about the big picture before us.

4. Does it benefit God’s kingdom?

This one’s hard, because God’s kingdom thrives in so many ways. My small church roots make me think about this a lot, simply because my home congregation has tried numerous acts of service... and ditched many of them when they’ve failed. We have to consider what is going to truly advance the Gospel message as we work. We want our efforts to be effective in creating fellowship while uplifting Biblical truths. Let me illustrate this.

Growing up, my home congregation always had Christmas for Kids about two weeks before Christmas. Children ages five to twelve would come to church on a Saturday to hear about Jesus’ birth, put together a Christmas craft, sing carols, and decorate cookies to take home. As a kid, it was awesome! Sadly, as years went by, less and less children attended. Eventually, no children from the local neighborhood came. We were left with a handful of already churched kids approaching the age where they no longer appreciated such activities. The Biblical truths were there, but our fellowship and outreach were practically nonexistent. So, we cancelled Christmas for Kids and switched our focus to better benefit our community and congregation.

God gave us brains and logic for a reason. There are many factors to consider as we choose acts of service - community, culture, practicality, affordability, etc. Of the utmost importance, “Does this serve God and his people?”. If you can answer that with a clear-conscience, “Yes!”, dive in. However, God’s always the one in control. Even the best laid plans and well-thought-out approaches may fail. Look for the doors He opens. He’ll lead, so pay attention to where He is guiding you.

5. How am I already serving?

Here’s the truth at the end of it all: living for Christ means that we serve Him in all that we do. When I scanned and bagged groceries at work, I glorified Him. When you packed your daughter’s lunch, you praised Him. When your husband mowed the lawn, he acted as a steward of God’s creation. When we invite our friends to service, we acknowledge our Savior and share His grace.

Yes, the opportunities to serve are endless. Don’t discount your daily acts of service as meaningless. They exalt Him, too.

I pray this list of questions helps you if you also struggle with choosing in which ways to serve our Father. Maybe you have your own questions you already ask yourself when approached with deciding how to serve, in which case, I’d love to hear them to add to my own.

It’s a big blessing to have limitless options to serve, honor, and proclaim a limitless God.

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” 1 Corinthians 12:5-6

How will you serve today?

Power in Limitations

A student stays up all night writing a paper, because she stayed up the last few nights researching and writing other papers; attending rehearsals, practices, and clubs; and being there for a friend in need.

 A mom cooks, cleans, feeds, yells, entertains, teaches, loves, feels too much, and is exhausted from just another day.

 An employee looks at her list of things to do, doesn’t know where to begin or how it will get done, and goes to get another coffee.

 A patient is sick of being sick, lonely, and in a state of waiting. She’s angry at her body for not being strong enough and her mind for spiraling down to bad places.

 A reader is so aware of her own limitations.

 I can’t do it.

 I’m not enough.

 I’ve failed.

 I can’t fix this.

 This world is broken, and some days we are so aware of it.

 Without God, people only have their own expectations of what the human limit or standard is. They look around and determine the line laid by society and their own attitudes. Some thrive off of pushing the limits of what the human body and mind can do. Some crumble from the pressure of not nearing the self-imposed limit.

 But at some point, you will fall short of whatever expectation you have for yourself, or what someone has for you.

 Then what?

 Without God, all you could do is try again and hope for the best. Learn coping methods. Ask for help with your workload. But you would never have to face the root of the problem.

We will never be enough on our own. But for a Christian, that is not a downer because God had a plan to fix that from the beginning.

 Adam and Eve sinned, but God promised to redeem everything by sending his Son to take the punishment once for all. He knew we could not save ourselves, but did not hold that against us. He didn’t watch us struggle and only step in once he thought we gave it a good enough shot.

 After Jesus lived a perfect life, was unjustly murdered, and rose from death, he said to his friends, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

 Jesus took care of our biggest problem- sin. Simple enough to say, but sometimes hard to live like we believe it and that it matters here and now. It’s not just so we can go to heaven one day. We can live as redeemed children of God right now! This should change our attitudes on the daily.

 When we feel oh so limited by our current situations, know that God sees you. Jesus didn’t just die, rise, and then leave us alone since he won against the devil. He fixed the eternal consequences for our sin, and now lives in us to help us.

 Why would a loving God let me struggle?

 In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 2 Corinthians 12:7-8

 If everything was perfect all the time, we wouldn’t see our need for God, and that’s so dangerous. We start to think we’re in charge of our lives and become proud of what we’ve built all on our own.

 I once heard that while Americans pray for impoverished people around the world, those poorer nations are praying for us- that our wealth does not blind us to God. This floored me when I first heard it. Those people are happier with the very little they have, hardly enough to get by, because they get to see God come through more often. And they pity us because we live like God doesn’t really matter or have any real power in our daily lives.

 Imagine being so dependent on God that if he doesn’t show up, you have nothing you did to fall back on. There is no plan B. God is the only plan. But yet they can be so trusting that he will provide. Can we trust God here?

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:7-8

 I sure don’t feel happy when I’m weak, overworked, or limited. But what if we thought about the fact that God’s power is currently working in us? He’s giving us his superpowers! God is not limited!

 What if you used your weaknesses to praise God and pull you closer to him?

 Lord, I am limited and struggling. Thank you for taking care of my salvation that makes my earthly trials look small in comparison. But today they feel big and impossible to overcome. I’m putting my faith in you. I trust you to get me through the next minute, hour, day, week. I want to feel your power in me. I praise you for your undeserved love for me. Let me see your good, gracious hand in this.

 What if an unbeliever friend saw how you handled a tough situation with grace and trust in God?

 Lord give me holy strength to keep going with a good attitude. Let your love shine through me that others would see only you. Let those around me discover your power at work in our lives.

 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Romans 5:1-6 (Read more of Romans 5 to really let that redemption story sink in).

 Lord, lead me to boast in you. Let my trust and confidence in what you have done and will do for me just bubble up out of me. Let my faith be apparent to others, especially as we walk through trials together. Show them that I can handle anything, differently than the world tries to, because it’s really not me handling it.

 May my limitations cause me to rest in the one who is limitless.

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Not Just My Mom

The day sticks so clearly in my memory and I pray that I always remember it. For I mark it as one of those days when I truly saw my mom as a real person.

Don't get me wrong: I always knew my mom was a person. That is to say, a person who was my mom. But it took me the better part of my life to fully grasp that she was also a person outside of being my mom.

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There's many parts of motherhood for which no one can truly prepare you. (Now, if you're not a mom yourself, I beg you to not roll your eyes at this point and stop reading. Because this isn't a post about being a mom; it's a post about appreciating a mom.) One of those parts for which I was not prepared – perhaps someone tried to tell me at some point but I had simply failed to listen – was just how much stepping into the parenting world myself would cast a different light on my own mom. I realize that it's not this way for everyone. It is quite possible that becoming a mom made you realize just how much your own mom lacked or just how greatly she let you down. I pray that's not that case, but if it is, I am truly sorry. Unfortunately, sin touches motherhood as it does everything in this earthly life when things like selfishness, impatience and fear creep in and cloud judgement. Sometimes, this sin derails even the most important of jobs such as that of parenting, resulting in extreme disappointment and emotional (or physical) scars which can never be erased.

However, that is not my story. I am absolutely blessed to be able to say that God gave me a mother who lives to serve others and would give anything for those she loves, even at her own expense. In my case, motherhood has given me an appreciation for my own mom which I never would have had without the knowledge of “the other side” of the parent-child relationship. And while I never doubted she loved me, I don't know that I personally have ever understood just what that meant until my adult years.

But there's more. Just when I felt as though I had learned to fully appreciate my mom, she asked me if I would help her update her resume. Being a registered nurse, my mom had held various demanding positions in my childhood years, however, one thing had remained constant: her faith and her family were her priority. On this day several years ago, my mom found herself in a job which did not make full use of her skills and in a workplace which consistently took advantage of its best employees. Of course, I had said, not knowing if I was more thrilled at the thought of her moving on to better things or flattered that she would ask for my assistance.

We sat there at my table, I on my laptop and her recounting her past achievements and involvement in the medical community. I typed, she spoke. I smiled to myself as I thought about the “role reversal” playing out there in my dining room, remembering days gone by when I would plead for her to type my school reports since she was soooooo much faster than I was. As I formatted the information in a way that I thought made sense and she continued, I marveled at all she had done. How did I not know any of this? How had I missed the extra classes she had taken, the certifications she had received, all of the knowledge she had acquired, much of it having happened in the years I had spent at home growing up? I sat there astounded.

This woman, who I call mom, was a fully whole, accomplished and independent woman apart from her title as a mom. Did her role as a mother play a vital part in her human make-up? Definitely. Would she still always be first and foremost “mom” in my mind and possibly hers as well? Sure. But there were a full twenty-five years which occurred prior to her becoming a mother that still mattered and still very much affected who she is today.

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If you're a daughter with an incredible mother, I challenge you to truly see her. Even if it's buried deep inside somewhere, she's still a real person apart from being your mom. Ask her about her past, what she dreams about and who she still wants to become. You may be surprised at the answer.

If you're a daughter with a not-so-incredible mother, I challenge you to forgive her. For she is a sinful human being just like the rest of us and has her own personal demons she battles on a daily basis -- many or possibly all of them, may have nothing to do with you. And then pray that God helps you to accept this relationship for what it is and if He wills it, to guide you as to how you may begin to rectify it.

If you're a daughter who has lost her mom or is currently dealing with an ailing mom, I challenge you to reflect on the life she led and remember the good parts, the parts which taught you the most. And then thank God that He saw fit to bless you with such a relationship and that He has worked the best parts of her into you.

If you're a mom to littles, I challenge you to not forget who you were before becoming a mom. That person may seem lost right now but someday, you will see her again and you'll want to remember what she looks like ;) Find time for a hobby, even if it only happens for five minutes out of every week. Someday it will be really important for your children to learn who you are apart from them.

If you're an empty nester (or soon-to-be one), I challenge you to find yourself apart from your children again. Are they still an important part of your life? Most definitely. But there are also still things that make you you apart from them. You just have to have the courage to explore the parts of you which may have been asleep for the past 18+ years.

Wherever you are at in your mother-daughter relationship, I pray that you are able to reflect on that relationship and see how God has guided and molded you through it. For regardless of who your mom is or was, she, too, was created by God with a unique purpose. And that’s worth learning about.

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Thanks, but No Thanks

I had been picturing that day for years, but in recent months the picture was becoming more and more of a reality. In my mental daydream, I was sitting on a metal folding chair on a humid May day in a packed gymnasium. To the right of me, was my mom who held my hand almost tighter than I held her hand. She fought back tears knowing that her baby was about to officially spread her wings and leave the nest for real. To my left was my dad with a calm face holding in the emotions that swirled in his mind. I was nestled between them in a spring dress with a fast beating heart and a face of anticipation.

Call Day. The day I had been waiting for. The day that would change my life. The day that I would find out where I would begin my teaching ministry.

I was terrified.

Getting a call was an honor and I had been looking forward to it for years. I should have been so excited, but on most days I was a worried mess about it all. Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I was excited imaging meeting my students, exploring a new city, and becoming part of a new church family, but there were also times when the uncertainty clouded my mind like a grey shadow. Besides the unknowns of where I was going, and what I would be teaching, the negative thoughts of, “You’re not good enough. There’s no way you can do it. You really think that you can handle that honor that God is about to give you?” really pushed me over the edge. Thoughts of it would antagonize me on a daily basis. The uncertainty ate me alive like an unwanted parasite and there wasn’t much I could do about it, besides turn to God and say, “Thanks for the honor, but no thanks.”

And just like that I wanted to go and hide in a hole again.

Maybe you can relate. Your calling might look very different from mine, but no matter what your calling is, I am sure there are days that leave you wanting to scream into your pillow. Maybe for you, that God given honor looks like staying home with your babies, sitting at a desk in a cubicle, taking care of your aging parents, or just going to classes and doing homework. How often does the stage of life that God has put you in seem to antagonize you to the point of becoming a blanket burrito and hiding from the world?

Maybe you’re like me and you become fretful and worrisome about the honor God has given you or maybe you grumble about it or maybe you run away from it. How often can that honor feel like a burden to us? Timidly, we could all raise our hands admitting to having that feeling in any stage of life. If you’re starting to feel the guilt that makes you want to shrink to the size of an ant, don’t worry.

You aren’t alone.

Remember Moses. He got the honor of leading the Israelites out of Egypt! Was he excited for that special honor? No, not at all. Moses was busy living his quiet life as a shepherd, when he casually stumbled upon a bush that was on fire, yet it didn’t burn up. When God called him through the burning bush, he had every excuse under the earth to not follow his calling. Did God have an answer to every excuse? You bet he did. In the end, Moses left his quiet life of herding sheep to be the rebel leader and spokesperson for God.

Sarah laughed at God when he gave her the news of her calling. She didn’t believe that at her ripe old age of 90, God could give her the honor or title of mother. Thoughts of disbelief couldn’t stop God and nine months later she would hold that promised son. I’m sure she laughed a whole different sort of laugh as her son smiled at her for the first time.

Jonah literally ran away from the job that God had given him to do. He refused that honor and made it very clear that he wanted nothing to do with it. What happened to him? Well, he did what God wanted him to do anyway… after spending three days in the belly of large fish.  

Are you a Moses? Do excuses roll off your tongue with the slight hope that maybe God will pass the honor to someone else? When God places the job he wants you to do, does he hear excuses and complaints instead of praises?

Are you a Sarah? In disbelief, do you rely on logic and reason rather than lean on the promises of God? Do you fall apart when things are not going according to your plan or maybe you try taking things into your own hands instead of just waiting for God?

Are you a Jonah? Do you hear what God is sending you to do and then say, “Thanks… but no thanks”? Do you run from God and the duty that he gave you? Do you do your calling with a content heart or are you more often than not grumpy and unwilling?

I’ve got some news for you, we all have streaks of Moses, Sarah, and Jonah in us. That unwilling, worried, rebellious, part of our heart that looks at God and says, “Thanks, but no thanks.'' When we stare at the work that God has placed in front of us, our faces twist into looks of worry, discontent, and maybe in avoidance as our eyes dart for a way out.

There is hope, my friends. The stories of Moses, Sarah, and Jonah don’t end with them turning away from their honor. Moses still led the Isrealites out of Egypt. Sarah still bore a son that was part of the line of the Savior. Jonah still went to Ninivah to preach to the people who needed to hear law and gospel. God’s plans always prevail, no matter our attitudes.

Even as I write this, I don’t know where God is going to send me. In these days of waiting, I see a little Moses, Jonah, and Sarah in me. This time in my life I am learning that in the uncertainty of life, God is my only certainty. As hard as the waiting is right now, and as heavy as my worries are in my life, I find comfort that God’s plan prevails.

So if you are staring at the end of semester homework mountain that is piling up, changing a blowout diaper for the third time today, driving the kids to soccer practice, staring at the walls of a cubicle, emptying the dishwasher, watching your children graduate, or anything else that God has given you the honor of doing, don’t forget that this stage in life serves of heavenly purpose. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, every moment, no matter how unappealing, is an honor and blessing given by God. Soak up those moments and watch for those mundane, stressful, and unappealing tasks to turn into kingdom work.

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