It stands to this day as one of the greatest wonders in history: Jesus took a group of outcasts and fishermen and empowered them to change the world. How did this happen?
They followed Jesus. To be sure, Jesus did not call the most gifted people of His day, and this should make us stop and think. Jesus was looking for a different quality: devotion. These men and women would accept the call to ABIDE in Jesus (John 15:5). Their serving would not be so much about their own gifts as it would be about the love and power of Christ working through them.
Over the years, I have worked with hundreds of different volunteers and staff members. I have seen a lot of different reasons why people serve. And yes – the motivations always come out, usually when things don’t go well. Of course, I have seen the dark side of my own motivations in ministry. I have had times when I was ranting about some frustrating ministry situation – only to have a godly friend challenge me. Was I serving to make people happy, or to follow Jesus? Was I serving to feel like I was “significant”, or to be obedient to my Lord?
True serving is an act of devotion. Serving to be significant or needed will always lead to frustration and emptiness – believe me, I know – because we are attempting to manipulate the power of Christ to meet our own desires. Devotion looks at the face of Love and finds peace. Jesus is the ultimate significance. Only once we understand that Jesus is the answer to our heart’s longing are we set free from false expectations of “success”.
I have seen volunteers and even staff walk away from ministry because they are so hurt and frustrated. Some of this comes from people having unfair expectations on their leaders. Some of this pain, though, comes from the leaders themselves serving for the wrong reasons. When they did not get the gratitude they (thought they) deserved, serving suddenly felt meaningless.
I hate to break this to you, but more often than not serving Jesus is often a thankless task! Even more, those you are serving in Jesus’ name will often criticize you. They will tell you (with the best of intentions) how your serving could be done better, or what you should be doing with your spare time. (What is spare time???) Unless you ABIDE in Christ, these voices will chip away at you like water torture – and eventually you will break. Deeply rooted leaders can lead the ungrateful and the critical with love – God’s love in them – serving them and pointing them to Jesus, and gently correcting them when needed.
We are serving to abide in Christ, to obey the Savior, to hold tightly to the Source of love. Significant impact and changed lives and amazing ministry may happen – or they may not. There will be seasons of growth, and other seasons when there is not growth. These are not the measure of our faithfulness. These are not the grading scale of success for the devoted. When we abide in Christ we will be fruitful – the fruit of love, joy, and peace – not measured in numbers. Only when we lay down our own evaluations can we be free – free of our own judgment and the criticism of others. We are not serving for significance – we have found the most Significant One in the universe. We are not serving for thanks – we are serving out of thanks to the One who loves us and saved us. We are not serving for results – we are serving as a result of what He has done and is doing in us.
We are serving as an act of devotion, and devotion leads to serving. Serving does not come first – God comes first. But serving is not optional for the obedient. As we abide in Him, He empowers and gifts us – in ways we never thought possible. These gifts need to be developed – and that will include evaluation, prayer, and mentoring from others. Our goal is to use our gifts to unify Christ’s body. He will not give everyone the gift of speaking or singing. Devotion seeks to understand the gifts given, and to use them well.
Gifts and growth are not our true power – our strength is Christ living in us. Just think about fishermen standing in front of their country’s Supreme Court (Acts 4:13)! They had courage and testified about Jesus. These fishermen had been changed – empowered. Abide in Christ, and serve freely out of devotion to Him. Let go of your expectations and let His powerful love dwell in you – and (like those fishermen) you just might be part of changing the world.