Monday, July 28, 2014

Scrubbin' Toilets. Changing Lives.

I've heard it said that everyone should be required to have a service job at least once during their lifetime.  Waitress, retail...something like that. Those jobs teach so much about other people, but I've found they teach the servant even more about him- or herself.  Scrubbin' toilets has the same effect.  

I just finished reading a book written by Corrie ten Boom, a lady who grew up in Holland and was put in prison for hiding Jews during World War II.  The opening quote says, "Today I know that memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.  I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do."  How true I'm finding this to be!

My whole life has been a series of preparations; of this, I am sure.  I was recently given the opportunity to share my story--God's story in my life--and was reminded as I did so that nothing is wasted when we let God use it.  I have been amazed time and time again at how God has used the things Mom and Dad taught and instilled in us to help us through the difficulty of their death.  Even better than that, the memories and lessons from the past have given me hope and excitement for the life I have yet to live.  Each trial and pain, triumph and joy, has shaped me into who I am today. 

I remember in high school wondering what real difference being a Christ follower made in my life.  I did the right things, but I couldn't look at my life and point out specific things that had changed or developed in me as a result of my relationship with Jesus.  But folks, I'm happy to announce that God--once again!--knew exactly what He was doing.  I needed those days of steady security to prepare me for the adventures I've now begun.  

And the learning is not over! 

These past two-and-a-half years, and the past two-and-a-half months in particular, have taught me so very much. After seasons of grief, healing, and new beginnings, I knew it was time for me to Go.  No more sitting around, moping, waiting for life to take me somewhere.  God was clearly opening several doors, and I knew it was time for me to step through them. Yes, there were fears, insecurities, and a couple doubts along the way.  After all, with man, this is impossible. But with God...all things are possible.  And so, before I knew it, my summer was booked for trips to the unknown lands of Bolivia and Montana!

I cannot begin to recount all that happened on these trips,but God certainly proved faithful and taught me more than I knew was possible in two short months. 

One of the first things I noticed was how very much I had to learn!!  Pastor Bruce, with Montana Indian Ministries, taught us the word hubris, which is arrogant pride.  This pride is not always obvious, but it is detrimental to ministry.  Hubris is walking into a situation just knowing that your way is best and all other methods must be cringed at and criticized. While we should always use Biblical discernment, I was amazed and horrified at how much prejudice I carried with me into these trips.  I always thought I had an open heart and mind, but my trip to Bolivia especially revealed that this was not the case.  After getting there, I realized that I had gone there to teach them about God.  After all, they must need those lessons desperately!  Instead, I was daily humbled by their deep understanding of the Scriptures and the character of God.  God is alive and working in His church--His body--all across the world.  He is not limited by culture, race, language, or economic status. I quickly realized that I was the one in need of a fresh perspective on God and the Gospel. 

He taught me that following Him is always worth it.  Sometimes, following God means that we will endure suffering and hardship, loneliness or boredom.  But those times are valuable, too.  They help us to see what a blessing the good times really are.  They teach us patience, wisdom, and daily trust.  They equip us to reach out and connect with people who experience similar struggles.  But most of all, following God is worth it because it makes Him happy! Obedience does not, and cannot, make God love us any more...but I believe it makes His heart smile :)  After all that God has done for me out of Him simply being Who He is, it is the greatest joy to know I am able to make my Father proud.  Even if obedience brings temporary suffering, I have found that any cost is worth my heart  being at peace with the One who created it.  His grace is sufficient.  His presence is guaranteed.

During these trips, it has become clear to me that going into ministry is something I'm supposed to do.  As we step out in obedience--whether it is a shuffle or a great leap--God teaches us and solidifies things He has been telling us through His Word.  For the first time in my life, there is a very real desire to make Him known.  To be known for loving God and loving people.  Before this summer, I would have said those were desires of mine...but action was lacking.  When it came down to the moment, I rarely stepped out boldly and unashamedly for Christ because I was more concerned about being rejected.  Now, there is nothing I desire more than for others to be given the opportunity to know and love God.  This is more than salvation.  While it starts there, no doubt, my heart has a deep desire for believers to become disciples.  For the saved to step into the fire and allow God to shape their hearts and change their lives. 

I've realized, too, that ministry is loving God and loving people.  Without a love for God, all of the service is meaningless; it provides mere temporary help where an eternal difference is needed.  Love also goes beyond knowledge.  God Himself reminds us that it is our hearts He desires, not our religious acts. Loving God is seeking, desiring, and following Him--not simply knowing about Him. Once love of and for God has left its mark, we should love people and share Christ with them.  If a man finds a treasure which is only multiplied when shared, what good has it done him to keep it from his neighbors in need?  Knowing and loving God is personal, but it was never intended to be private.  

In order to know and love God, prayer and reading Scripture are crucial.  These are far too often neglected in my own life.  My trip to Bolivia gave me a brand new appreciation and desire for spending time talking to God and reading His Word.  My trip to Montana showed me again how much more I should value prayer, yet business and exhaustion usually filled my quiet times.  At the end of my trip, I looked back in amazement at how much God had done, and yet I had to ask myself, "How much more could I have seen God do had I made time in prayer and the Bible a priority?" 

Another thing: we were not designed to go alone.  Jesus called and sent people two-by-two.  Even when God and Adam walked in the garden together, God knew that Adam needed a human partner. So He graciously provided Eve.  Ministry is tough.  It can be tiring and challenging and frustrating, even in the midst of the blessing.  This summer, God provided me with so many people to serve with.  We were able to bounce ideas off each other and pull through when the going got tough.  There was sweat, and laughter, and tears. We shared our hurts and short-comings.  We rejoiced and laughed together as I have not laughed in a long time!  Human relationships are so important to ministry in the way that they build us up and are a visual of Christ's love to those we serve.  Take a look around.  Thank God for the ministry partners He has placed in your life, and pray for provision where there is a need.  If there is a need you know you are supposed to fill, do it!  The body only functions to its full ability when all the parts are working together.   

This is most of our awesome Team Bolivia, including some of the people we met there!

From left to right:  Pastor Bruce, Carrie, me, Sande (Bruce's wife), and Miss Carol (a ministry partner of theirs in the summer months)
My cousin, Carrie, got to join me for my month in Montana.  While many other wonderful people came and went during that month, her friendship proved as faithful as ever!  I could not have asked for a better partner in ministry...and occasional crime ;) 

And here's where scrubbin' toilets comes into play.  While in Montana, I got to scrub several toilets.  One day in particular, they seemed to just keep coming. Well, as I moved on to yet another, my attitude stunk worse than the toilets I was cleaning!  And then it hit me: how dare I question and complain when God has clearly set a task before me??  We spend so much of our lives just wishing and hoping and praying that God will give us clear direction!  That He will come out and tell us--if even for one day--what we are supposed to do.  That day, God answered my prayer for direction.  He had clearly brought me to Montana, and I was clearly needed to fill the role of Toilet Scrubber Extraordinaire.  Yet...I was discontent.  I wanted recognition.  I wanted someone to talk to.  I wanted to be doing BIG things for God!! ...Or at least fun things....  But that day, I realized how ridiculous all those things are.  Jesus Christ left Heaven to dwell among sinners and spend His last hours being beaten, spit on, ridiculed, and rejected by the very people He was dying for.  And I couldn't handle a few hours cleaning bathrooms...?  In His oh-so-gentle-and-yet-blunt way, God was teaching me another lesson.  It doesn't matter what I am doing.  If I am doing it for God, with a heart of thanksgiving and praise, it is a task worthwhile. And, if I will not do the smallest tasks in this manner, then what makes me think I am ready to give my life to the Lord for His use?  That day, it became very clear to me that God was being gracious in using "the little things" to train me for the lifetime I have committed to Him.  In giving me a day of scrubbin' toilets, God was gently preparing me to spend my life joyfully serving Him--no matter the task!--so that other people may know Him.  

Finally, life is full of joy and blessings!!  Some days, we must work a little harder to find them.  But I sure am thankful for another opportunity! I believe the moments of peace and laughter are just a glimpse of Heaven...God's reminders to hang in there another day as we thank Him for this life and look forward to our eternal one.  Each day is a gift.  Each moment is an opportunity to grow closer to our Lord and Savior.  Each person we meet is a chance to let all that Christ has done in our lives unashamedly overflow.  

So why wait to Go??   Wake up.   Give your day to God.    Love Jesus.   Love people.   It's what we were made to do :)