I have a confession to make about Purpose Driven Life: I’m actually way ahead of where I should be. I decided when I started rereading it that I’d read two days at a time instead of just one. As I promised myself and all of you, I’m writing the question for every day, even if I’m not posting it to this blog. But I’m ahead of the readings, mainly because I wanted to hurry up and get to the last two sections that talked about service and ministry.
I wish I could just scan all of Day 29 here without getting socked with a copyright violation! This is the point in the book that got me so excited the first time I read this book, and it’s no different this time.
I’ve often wondered why more Christians don’t use their spiritual gifts when God gives them to us for a reason and Jesus told us to go out to all the nations of the world to tell them the Good News. But this brings up my first recollection of learning about spiritual gifts, and to be honest, I’m not sure when I first heard about them. I can only tell you that my first experience serving in the church happened before I became a Christian. When I was sixteen, the fifth and sixth grade Sunday School class at my church needed a Sunday School teacher. Don’t ask me why, at the age of sixteen, I decided to take on a bunch of ten and eleven year olds, I just did. I suspect I had my own motives for it, but I also felt a push to do it, a drive, if you will. I’ve often hoped that I did little spiritual damage to those poor kids as I rambled my way through such subjects as friendship and school.
I taught that class for another year after I became a Christian, until I graduated from high school. At that time, the high school teacher decided he didn’t want to teach anymore, so I got a wild hare to teach the high school kids for a while. Yes, some of them in my own graduating class (though all at a different high school, the one in our little town), people my age who I’d grown up with, been friends or not friends with, guys I’d had crushes on, girls I’d fought with, people I’d laughed with and at.
Have I mentioned I’m crazy?
I taught high school all that summer and the following fall. I had to give it up when I started college in Indiana that Spring Semester. I didn’t teach Sunday School again until I was 25, which is fine by me. It’s not something I ever really enjoyed a lot, but I did it because I wanted to serve and felt driven to do so in that capacity.
So I served, but I don’t remember hearing anything about this thing called spiritual gifts until I was 21 and we moved to Springfield. One of the Sunday School classes we were in at First UMC at the time had a segment on spiritual gifts. We were given a spiritual gifts inventory and told to fill it out.
I don’t think it will surprise any of you that at that time, one my gifts was teaching. It also shouldn’t surprise you that it made a huge, life-changing impact on who I am. A year later when I got hired at another church as a member of the program staff, I used what I’d learned in that Sunday School class to teach other people about spiritual gifts.
It’s spiraled from there. I’m not going to tell you that I eat, breathe, and live spiritual gifts and stewardship, because I don’t. There are times when it doesn’t even occur to me to think about either thing – like when I’m reading to Liam or making him laugh his head off, or spending time with Jeff, other family, and friends. But even in those times, when they seem so far from my mind, they are never more than a thought away for me.
Because it makes so much sense to me, and it’s RIGHT THERE in the Bible, I don’t understand why so many Christians aren’t serving in their churches and in the world. But that begs the question: do any of us really practically apply every word in the Bible? I mean, seriously. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe we think that we’ve applied the “important” parts, like the part where Jesus says we need to be saved and we need to spread the Good News. But have we applied the parts about forgiving those who sin against you (I fail at this)? Have we applied the part that says we need to tithe (hint: if we all would do this, churches wouldn’t have to do “stewardship”/financial drives every fall.)? Have we applied the part where Jesus told us to feed the widow and the orphan?
Yeah, I though not. It’s easy to apply what we learn in school. We use math to balance our checkbooks, we use science to figure out various things (I like to look at pretty pictures of planets and then help my mom figure out why it took my brother longer to get home from Germany than it did to get there in the first place – and this had nothing to do with the amount of beer he drank at Oktoberfest), we read all day long (even if it’s just comic books). It’s easy to apply English when composing a letter or out-trivia-ing your husband, but when was the last time you deliberately forgave your best friend for forgetting your lunch date? When was the last time you loved a stranger or bought a pizza for a homeless guy?
It’s not easy to apply things that demand we make life changes, and using your spiritual gifts makes you change your life, whether you like it or not. So maybe there are lots of Christians out there who have read the Bible oodles of times, and think nothing much of it when Paul mentions apostles, prophets, teachers, and healers. Maybe they think that talking in tongues is crazy. Maybe they want to be a leader or administrator instead of a giver or a helper. I don’t know the rationale behind it, I just know that there are a lot of well-meaning Christ followers out there who want to save the world and have no idea that there is a way for them to go about it. Or maybe that have no idea that being saved is just the beginning, not the end. The race starts the day you get saved and doesn’t end until you stand before the great throne of God. I can only pray that one day I will hear, “Yeah, Steph, you fed the poor, took care of the widows and the orphans. When you did these for the least of these, you did them for Me. Well done, good and faithful servant.” We all want to hear these words, but we have to obey God to hear them. And that can change our really comfortable lives.
In Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says, “You were put on earth to make a contribution. You weren’t created just to consume resources – to eat, breathe, and take up space. God designed you to make a difference with your life. While many best-selling books offer advice on how to ‘get’ the most out of life, that’s not the reason God made you. You were created to add to life on earth, not just take from it. God wants you to give something back. This is God’s fourth purpose for your life, and it is called your “ministry,” or service” (227).
Warren makes four major points for Day 29: you were created to serve God; you were saved to serve God; you are called to serve God; and you are commanded to serve God. Serving God isn’t optional; it’s in our blood, our bones, and our souls. If God made us specifically to serve Him, why would we want to do anything else? Why would we ignore that call and command on our lives?
Warren also points out that “Another term for serving God that’s misunderstood by most people is the word ministry. When most people hear “ministry,” they think of pastors, priests, and professional clergy, but God says every member of his family is a minister. In the Bible, the words service and ministry are synonyms, as are servant and minister” (229). Pastoring is a spiritual gift; ministry, on the other hand, is a command.
I mentioned several gifts above. Some of them look pretty glamorous and like they’d get a lot of attention from other people. Some of them, on the other hand, make you look like, well… a servant. You might think it’s way cooler to be an apostle than someone who helps, but that’s the world’s view, not God’s. In the eyes of God – who created all these gifts, in case you forgot – every gift is equal. Warren says, “There is no small service to God; it all matters. Like wise, there are no insignificant ministries in the church. Some are visible and some are behind the scenes, but all are valuable… There is no correlation between size and significance. Every ministry matters because we are all dependent on each other to function” (230).
I’ll talk more about this in depth, I’m sure. For now, I’ll leave you with the same question Warren leaves for his readers at the end of Day 29: What is holding me back from accepting God’s call to serve him?