I received some feedback on my post Serving or Surviving that surprised me. Several people who are close to me reflected that they are in survival mode rather than serving mode — despite the fact that in at least one case, I know that person to be serving others in a valuable yet unseen way. Some questioning from me revealed that these individuals recognized that their church was in serving mode, but they felt that they were personally in survival mode. While my original post was about whether churches were serving or surviving, I thought I would post some further thoughts about this question of serving or surviving when it comes to the individual.
Halford Luccock, an American Methodist minister who taught homiletics at Yale’s School of Divinity, once remarked:
The best-preserved thing in all human history is an Egyptian mummy. The surest way to make a spiritual and intellectual mummy out of yourself is to give all your attention to preserving self.
I think that all of us, at some point or another, kick into survival mode when life seems to jerk the rug out from beneath us. That’s natural — we humans have a self-preservation instinct built into us. When we’re in this mode the last thing most of us are likely to think about is being of service to others, because let’s face it: when you’re worried about paying the bills, it’s hard to think about whether anyone else can pay their own. Such a survival mode shouldn’t be the norm for us, though, and I don’t think being in this mode precludes serving God or others. I can personally attest that finding some way to serve has been the key to exiting survival mode.
In the 17th century, a young man faced disappointment because he could neither sing nor play an instrument. An older friend of his family offered him the advice that there were many ways to make music, and that what mattered most was the music in one’s heart. So the young man became apprenticed to this family friend of Amati, and began learning the craft of building stringed instruments. Out of such a beginning the young man — Antonio Stradivari — became the most famous violin-maker in history. Despite not being able to sing or play, he turned his talents to service by consummately crafting instruments for those who could.
W.T. Purkiser once wrote,
The building of the spiritual house of God is a task for which some are given special talents. They stand at the front and work directly at the task. But the labors of those who build are possible only because others, less gifted in some ways, fashion the tools and supply the materials.
Consider how what Purkiser wrote fits in with the Apostle Paul’s admonition to his fellow Christians in Corinth:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? (I Corinthians 12: 4-12, 27-30)
If you feel stuck in survival mode, let me encourage you. There is some way that you can be of service to God and others. Perhaps it is simply writing encouraging notes to others in your church, letting them know they are being thought of or prayed for. I have been in congregations where one individual stayed after the service to sharpen pencils, or straighten chairs, or clean up discarded bulletins. Perhaps you can serve in the way one sister I am friends with delights to do, and walk the sanctuary before church begins, praying over each seat and the one who will occupy it. Start small, and you may find that your opportunities for service grows larger as you cease to merely survive. Remember that Jesus Himself told us something very important when it comes to service:
“But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” (Matthew 19:30 NLT)