When my son’s teacher asked me to serve as a chaperone for their science camp, I hesitated. How could I be a role model when mistakes littered my past, when I still struggled, stumbled, and slipped into old bad habits? God helped me love and raise my son, but I often doubted He could use me to serve others.
Sometimes I still fail to recognize that God—the only perfect One, the only One who can change hearts and lives—transforms us over time. Then the Holy Spirit reminds me how Paul encouraged Timothy to embrace his on-the-job training, persevere in faith, and use the gifts God had given him (2 Timothy 1:6). Timothy could be courageous because God, his power source, would help him love and be disciplined as he continued to grow and serve those within his sphere of influence (v. 7).
Christ saves and empowers us to honor Him with our lives, not because we have special qualifications but because we’re each valuable members of His family (v. 9).
We can persevere with confidence when we know our role is to simply love God and others. Christ’s role is to save us and give us a purpose that extends beyond our small vision of the world. As we follow Jesus daily, He transforms us while using us to encourage others as we share His love and truth wherever He sends us.
For ten years, my Aunt Kathy cared for her father (my grandfather) in her home. She cooked and cleaned for him when he was independent, and then took on the role of nurse when his health declined.
Her service is one modern example of the words of Paul who wrote to the Thessalonians that he thanked God for “your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
My aunt served in faith and love. Her daily, consistent care was the result of her belief that God called her to this important work. Her labor was born out of love for God and her father.
She also endured in hope. My grandfather was a very kind man, but it was difficult to watch him decline. She gave up time with family and friends, and limited travel to care for him. She was able to endure because of the hope that God would strengthen her each day, along with the hope of heaven that awaited my grandfather.
Whether it is caring for a relative, helping a neighbor or volunteering your time, be encouraged as you do the work God has called you to do. Your labor can be a powerful testimony of faith, hope, and love.
Lately, as I’ve been skimming financial advice books, I’ve noticed an interesting trend. While almost all such books have good advice, many imply that the primary reason to cut costs is to live like millionaires later. But one book offered a refreshingly different perspective, arguing that living simply is essential for a rich life. If you need more or fancier stuff to feel joy, the book suggested, “You’re missing the point of being alive.”
Those insightful words brought to mind Jesus’s response when a man asked Him to urge his brother to divide an inheritance with him. Instead of sympathizing, Jesus dismissed him abruptly before warning sternly about “all kinds of greed”—because “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:14–15). He then described a wealthy person’s plans to store his crops and enjoy a luxurious lifestyle—the first-century version of retirement planning—with a blistering conclusion. His wealth did him no good, since he died that night (vv. 16–20).
Although we are responsible to use our resources wisely, Jesus’s words remind us to check our motivation. Our hearts should be focused on pursuing God’s kingdom—knowing Him and serving others—not on securing our own futures (vv. 29–31). As we live for Him and freely share with others, we can fully enjoy a rich life with Him now—in the kingdom that gives meaning to all of life (vv. 32–34).
My friend Archie came home from vacation to find his neighbor had erected a wooden fence five feet inside his property line. Several weeks went by during which Archie tried to work with his neighbor to remove the fence. He offered to help and to split the cost of the work, but to no avail. Archie could have appealed to civil authorities, but he chose to forgo that right in this instance and allow the fence to stand—to show his neighbor something of the grace of God.
“Archie is a wimp!” you say. No, he was man of towering strength, but he chose grace over a patch of grass.
I think of Abraham and Lot, who fell into conflict because their flocks and herds overwhelmed the land. “Quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and the Perizzites [the unbelieving community] were also living in the land at that time” (Genesis 13:7). Lot chose the best of the land and lost everything in the end. Abraham took what was left over and gained the promised land (12:12–17).
We do have rights and we can claim them, especially when other’s rights are involved. And sometimes we should insist on them. Paul did when the Sanhedrin acted unlawfully (see Acts 23:1–3). But we can choose to set them aside to show the world a better way. This is what the Bible calls “meekness”—not weakness. Strength under God's control.
As a child, I looked forward to our church’s Sunday evening services. They were exciting. Sunday night often meant that we got to hear from missionaries and other guest speakers. Their messages inspired me because of their willingness to leave family and friends—and at times, homes, possessions, and careers—to go off to strange, unfamiliar, and sometimes dangerous places to serve God.
Like those missionaries, Elisha left many things behind to follow God (1 Kings 19:19–21). Before God called him into service through Elijah, we don’t know much about Elisha—except that he was a farmer. When the prophet Elijah met him in the field where he was plowing, he threw his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders (the symbol of his role as prophet) and called him to follow. With only a request to kiss his mother and father goodbye, Elisha immediately sacrificed his oxen, burned his plowing equipment, said good-bye to his parents—and followed Elijah.
Though not many of us are called to leave family and friends behind to serve God as fulltime missionaries, God wants all of us to follow Him and to “live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to [us], just as God has called [us]” (1 Corinthians 7:17). As I’ve learned, serving God can be thrilling and challenging no matter where we are—even if we never leave home.
Sometimes our lives can change in a moment through the powerful impact of others. For rock ‘n’ roll legend Bruce Springsteen, it was the work of musical artists that helped him through a difficult childhood and a persistent struggle with depression. He found meaning in his own work through the truth he’d experienced firsthand, that “You can change someone’s life in three minutes with the right song.”
Like a compelling song, others’ well-chosen words can also give us hope, even change the course of our lives. I’m sure most of us could share stories of a conversation that forever impacted our lives—words from a teacher that changed the way we saw the world, words of encouragement that restored our confidence, gentle words from a friend that carried us through a difficult time.
Perhaps this why the book of Proverbs spends so much time emphasizing our responsibility to treasure words and use them wisely. Scripture never treats speech as if it’s “just talk.” Instead, we are taught that our words can have life-or-death consequences (Proverbs 18:21). In just a few words we could crush someone’s spirit, or, through words of wisdom and hope, nourish, and strengthen others (Proverbs 15:4).
Not all of us have the ability to create powerful music. But we each can seek God’s wisdom to serve others through our speech (Psalm 141:3). With just a few well-chosen words, God can use us to change a life.
Like lots of people, I struggle to get enough exercise. So I recently got something to motivate myself to move: a pedometer that counts steps. It’s a simple thing. But it’s amazing how much difference this gadget makes in my motivation. Instead of grumbling when I have to get up, I see it as an opportunity to get a few more steps. Mundane tasks, like getting one of my kids a cup of water, become opportunities that help me work toward a larger goal. In that sense, my pedometer has changed my perspective and my motivation. Now I look to get extra steps in whenever possible.
I wonder if our Christian life isn’t a bit like that. There are opportunities to love and serve and interact with people every day, as Paul exhorts in Colossians 4:5. But am I always aware of those moments? Am I paying attention to opportunities to be an encourager in seemingly mundane interactions? God is at work in the lives of every person I relate to, from my family and coworkers to a clerk at the grocery store. Each interaction offers a chance for me to pay attention to what God might be doing—even if it’s something as seemingly “small” as kindly asking a server at a restaurant how she’s doing.
Who knows how God might work in those moments when we’re alert to the opportunities He sends our way.
On August 21, 2016, Carissa posted photos on social media of a devastating flood in Louisiana. The next morning she included a note from someone in the flooded area pleading for help. Five hours after that, she and her husband, Bobby, sent out a call for others to join them on their 1,000-mile trip to provide help. Less than twenty-four hours later, thirteen people were on their way to serve those whose homes had been severely damaged.
What motivates people to drop everything and drive seventeen hours to move appliances, do demolition work, and provide hope in a place they’ve never been before? It’s love.
Think about this verse, which she posted along with her call for help: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this” (Psalm 37:5). This is especially true when we follow God’s call to help. The apostle John said, “If anyone . . . sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17). It may be a daunting task—but we have God’s promise of help when we “do what pleases him” (v. 22).
When a need arises, we can honor God by being willing to offer a “yes” of love to what we sense He is asking us to do for others.
It was a long day at work. But when I got home, it was time to start my “other” job: being a good dad. Greetings from my wife and kids soon became, “Dad, what’s for dinner?” “Dad, can you get me some water?” “Dad, can we play soccer?”
I just wanted to sit down. And even though part of me really wanted to be a good dad, I didn’t feel like serving my family’s needs. That’s when I saw it: a thank-you card my wife had received from someone at church. It pictured a bowl of water, a towel and dirty sandals. Across the bottom were these words from Luke 22:27: “I am among you as one who serves.”
That statement of Jesus’s mission, to serve those He came to seek and save (Luke 19:10), was exactly what I needed. If Jesus was willing to do the dirtiest of jobs for His followers—like scrubbing His followers’ no doubt filthy feet (John 13:1-17)—I could get my son a cup of water without grumbling about it. In that moment, I was reminded that my family’s requests to serve them weren’t merely an obligation, but an opportunity to reflect Jesus’s servant’s heart and His love to them. When requests are made of us, they are chances to become more like the One who served His followers by laying down His life for us.