By Nikki Hunt
“I wish I could help you in outreach efforts, Nikki, but right now I can’t,” my widowed friend told me one afternoon. She apologized about how health, age, and schedule prevented her from volunteering with the outreach ministry of our church. She said visiting with neighbors, taking loved ones to the doctors, and making sure a special friend made it to church each week were all she could manage. I smiled and exclaimed, “Sounds to me like you are already doing tons of outreach!”
My friend was aware of what she wasn’t doing—but not what she was doing. By caring for those around her, she shared Christ’s love. Her acts of service weren’t documented on a church database, but they were sincere forms of outreach. She saw what her life phase prevented her from doing but not what her life phase opened the door for her to do. While she didn’t reply to a church sign-up, she responded to the needs around her.
A Service-Oriented Life
We each can serve. If you think you can’t because you’re too old, too young, female, male, or whatever, you’re wrong! We go places or meet people in everyday life to whom we can reach out with Christ’s love and light. If you think you don’t know the right people, go the right places, or have the time, you’re wrong.
It’s easy to tell ourselves what we can’t do. We compare ourselves to others. We criticize our abilities. We think age or marital status prevents us from serving the way we want. We say we don’t possess the resources or skills to help others as we feel we should. Doubt, feelings of inadequacy, fear, self-talk, and physical and emotional health become obstacles that prevent us from serving and prevent us from being aware of the ways we already do.
A service-oriented life is possible and a part of the way God wires us. He made us each to do good stuff. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
As followers of Christ, we are called to love God and others. When asked about the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus told the Pharisees, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
We are also called to share Christ’s message. After his resurrection, Jesus shared the Great Commission with his disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20).
No limits exist concerning who can love God, love others, and share Christ’s message. As followers of Christ we have good stuff to do, and God provides opportunities for us to do so. No one is going to serve in the same way. Personality, learning style, the way we interact, and perspective of the world affect how we do what we do.
If you want to develop a service-oriented life, evaluate your current situation. What traits do you possess because of the way God has wired you that you can use for God’s kingdom? Do you have a heart for a particular part of the world or a passion for a certain cause? What skills or resources do you have that you could use to benefits others? What roadblocks are preventing you from sharing Christ’s love and message? How do you leverage what you already do as an act of service to shine Christ’s light? If you don’t think you have what it takes to serve, find someone you trust and ask that person to give you thoughts. Maybe they can see what you can’t.
If you are homebound take advantage of your days to encourage, lift others in prayer, and offer wisdom. If you are single don’t spend your time bemoaning singleness but let God use your life to worship and serve him. If you are scared to serve, find an entry point to serve or show kindness; make preparations and bring someone to support you.
Planned or Spontaneous?
Acts of service can be strategic and planned. Assume your sphere of influence includes people who are hurting. Don’t create needs but meet them. Find some friends and deliver cards of encouragement to area service providers such as the gas station attendant, the ER receptionist, and the folks who run the city dump. Invite your neighbors to a potluck dinner. Volunteer with your local elementary school.
Acts of service can also be spontaneous. Assume your day is full of opportunities to serve. Open the door for a parent struggling with a stroller and groceries. Let a time-pressed person in a checkout line skip ahead of you. Listen to the person who wants to share her story with someone. Invite a college student to join your family when weather unexpectedly cancels his holiday travel plans.
The key is simply being mindful of what is going on around you. My friend was an underfunded seminary student in a new town with a new job, and she needed a bookshelf. While shopping she bumped into one of our church’s leaders. When he realized what she was doing, he offered to build her the bookshelf. A teen walking by her neighbor’s house saw the aging neighbor struggling down the steps. The teen hurried up to the woman and offered to help her at that moment and whenever she might need assistance. You too can seize the moment. When you are in the store, the gym, walking to the mailbox, or scurrying through an airport, you are surrounded by opportunities to shine Christ’s light and love. You don’t have to be gifted with any particular talent and knowledge in these moments. You simply have to be willing.
Go and Do
Acts of service may come organically and close to home. Or acts of service may stretch across the ocean. No matter your wiring or hang-ups, with a little time, a little creativity, and some courage, you have all you need to love God, love others, and share Christ’s message. Peter wrote, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10, 11).
Ask God to make you aware of local, national, and global needs which you are uniquely wired to meet and make a difference.
Listen. Get to know your neighborhood. Walk slowly. Take in the moment. Learn names and individuals. Pay attention to others’ well-being.
Prioritize time in your schedule to serve. Review resources and prioritize them for good use. Consider things you already do that could benefit others.
Be kind in little things.
Smile. Compliment a customer representative to a manager. Sincerely ask how a service provider’s day is going. Visit new neighbors. Thank custodians. Send a note of encouragement to a missionary.
Let your family and friends serve with you.
Pray together about the hurts of the world. Give gifts in honorarium that bless those in need rather than purchasing gifts that may go unused. Serve at a local food bank, on a mission trip, or as hosts for a family in need. If you live near each other, commit to caring for your neighborhood together.
Bring your small group along.
If you don’t have one, consider building a group of friends with whom you can serve and care. If you do have one, talk about the passions and talents of your group and the needs of which you are aware. Consider ways to serve others in your sphere of influence. Designate certain group meetings as service days, and find ways to include any group members’ children in serving.
In all these planned and spontaneous acts of service, don’t forget to enjoy the moments serving the Lord.
Nikki Hunt serves as Executive Minister at First Christian Church, Johnson City, Tennessee.