Give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:58 instructed me recently.
I have committed to letting Scripture guide my prayers in the new year, and as I went through my day and returned to that verse over and over again I felt more than a little bit grumpy and miffed. “I’d give myself fully to your work,” I grumbled to God, “if I had any.”
It’s a silly complaint, I know – and yet in that moment I felt it strongly, because I have a long-ingrained tendency, as I imagine other Christians do, to see “ministry” as a pretty narrowly-defined field of things that I do not often have the opportunity to do. Preaching or teaching? Ministry. Visiting the sick? Ministry! Soup kitchen? Definitely ministry.
All too often, our definitions of “ministry” mostly involve either teaching or discipling people, or volunteering to do extra activities for those in need of help or services. We view ministry, in other words, as an elective activity of some sort that we pick up (usually through the church).
And all of those things do count as ministry. But ministry can be so much more.
It occurred to me after I grumbled that I do have a ministry. During the school term I have direct access to anywhere from twenty to sixty students twice a week. I have prayed with them when their military fiances have deployed, helped them contact charities after fires, and talked through all sorts of work and home problems with them as a simple matter of course. The mere fact of being at work and being approachable means that I have countless opportunities to encourage people, pray for them, and listen to them. That’s a ministry – and one that I should take heed to perform well.
My mom has started a ministry with a handful of Hardee’s employees simply because she cruises through the drive-through so often to grab a drink that they know her by name. My uncle and my dad used to drive by with the extra fish or venison from successful hunting and fishing seasons and give it out to neighbors and acquaintances in need. And what all of these activities have in common is that they did not start out on a sign-up sheet. They were never organized or planned. They were not some elective option. They just happened in the course of daily life.
So don’t spend time sighing over lost ministry opportunities when you undoubtedly have sixty sitting in front of you that you never think about. People with jobs outside the home? Your workplace is your ministry field! Stay at home moms? Your children, the other parents you meet, the other families at the playground: ministry field! A convict serving time? You still have a ministry field!
Life is ministry. I suspect that “ministry” – something that we have over time branded and packaged up as something we do as a part of ministry – simply crops up organically for Christians as part of the day-to-day business of living. Note that in the New Testament Paul does not spend all his time directing the members of house churches to far-flung locales. They were to work where they were. Part of his instruction to believers in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, in fact, was to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” Everything that you need to do what God wants you to do is right there around you, right now.
The problem with most of us is that we sleepwalk through the boring work of life to get to the good stuff. We eyeball the clock at work until it says we can go home; we fidget in school until we’re freed from desks and lectures; we corral the kids on a snow day and breathe a sigh of relief when they’re off to school the next. But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. To wish those moments away, to flee through them minutiae of life to get to the “fun” is to miss the point.
I am wary of the term “mindfulness” – it has a lot of applications, some of which give me good cause to be skeptical – but I think it is right and good for believers to cultivate mindfulness of their ministry as they go throughout their ordinary days. Don’t get so lost in the drudgery that you forget this is the ministry God has for you today.
How would it change your attitude to say, as you went in to work, “Here is where the Lord requires me to do His labor for the day?”
How would it change your attitude to say, as you went to school, “Here is where the Lord has called me, and I should do my best to commit myself fully to His work?”
How would it change your attitude as you wipe spit-up or make a bed to say, “This is God’s work and I should devote myself to it?”
The possibility of ministry is everywhere. When we open our eyes to it, we become motivated to work harder, to be better, to serve humbly and with love. Don’t get lost in the trap of thinking that ministry is some elective option you sign up for at church. It is everywhere. It’s your life. It is right now.