Hurricane Katrina. The tsunami. Not to mention the victims of poverty, addiction, a lack of education and abuse much closer to home! All day every day the media bombards us with pictures of hurting people reminding us that Jesus told us to love others and meet their needs. We want to help, yet most of us barely manage to get through our daily to-do lists as it is. And seriously, we can ’t fly off to New Orleans or Southeast Asia, can we? We have kids and jobs and obligations and there’s not enough money in the bank to write a check that is anything more than a tiny drop in the proverbial bucket.
How can we find time and resources to share with others when we feel like one more thing will topple our precarious work-life balance? How can we, as a practical matter, respond to Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves?
Before beating yourself up with guilt or giving up in despair, try these simple steps. You ’ll discover that time, energy and resources to serve are more available than you think.
Tell God that you want to be of service but that you don’t know where to find the time or where to begin. Simply say, “How can I serve you today God? Make me alert to the needs of those around me and show me what you want me to do.” Make it a habit to ask first thing each morning (before you get out of bed, in the shower, while you are filling the kids’ lunch boxes, whatever).
Recognize that your to-do list is not your own. Each day, lay it before God. Ask Him to reprioritize the items on it. You can do this during your morning commute or while you clear up the breakfast dishes. Ask Him to make smooth the rough patches-like incorrect bills and office politics-that take up so much of your time and energy. Ask Him to help you eliminate those things that do not really need to be done at all. Ask Him to give you His peace during the midst of the busyness so that you have the emotional energy to respond to others’ needs as well as your own. Ask Him to lengthen your days so that you will have time for others.
Recognize that simply praying for others is one of the best and most effective ways to serve them. How much time have we actually spent praying for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami or a local tragedy, as opposed to worrying about how inadequate we are to respond to all their needs? Right there in your home or office, at the stoplight, or waiting in the grocery line, you can make it a habit to pray for those in need. It is probably helpful to take a few moments to research specific needs and the names of ministries or people responding to them so that you can focus your prayers. For example, you can go to your church or denomination’s website and discover the names of pastors and congregations located in Louisiana or Mississippi. You can visit the websites of organizations active in disaster relief, foreign missions or whatever ministry God has brought to your attention. Most sites list specific prayer requests or will email emergency prayer requests as needs arise. If you’re really short on time, just take a few minutes to listen to the news each day. As each story is read, pray briefly and specifically, asking God to meet the physical and spiritual needs of those involved.
Remember that you may already be serving the homeless and the hungry. The majority of American women between ages 28 and 58 provide housing, food and/or basic care to at least one person who depends on them, most usually a child, grandchild, or elderly parent or in-law. Without you, these people would be homeless, hungry, unwashed and unhealthy—possibly as much or more so than the people of New Orleans—so treat these obligations as one aspect of your ministry or service to God. (If you think this is copping out on Christian service, note that 1 Timothy 5:10 specifically lists “bringing up children” as a good deed and 1 Timothy 5:4 says that caring for one ’s own parents and grandparents pleases God.) God wants to use you where you are and has placed service opportunities all around you in the shape of the people who depend on you. Embrace those opportunities fully! Make sure that you create a home where the love of God is obvious, that you hand out spiritual food as well as physical food, and that you do the household chores with the same enthusiasm you would perform those same tasks on a short-term mission trip.
Look at the things you already do-the things that make up your daily routine-and ask if any of them can serve double duty. You already cook meals. Can you cook a little extra some nights for a church or community program which provides meals to shut-ins or the poor? (Think of the woman who, short on food but planning to cook for herself and her child, shared her meal with one of God’s needy workers. 1 Kings 17:12-13.) You already grocery shop. Can you handle the grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor or buy a few extra canned goods every time they are on sale to be ready to give generously to all those fall food drives? Maybe you frequently entertain. Next time add to the guest list someone who never gets invited anywhere and has no ability to reciprocate. Keep the menu simple and the mood comfortable, as in, “Hey, we’re ordering pizza Friday night. Do you want to come over?” (Romans 12:13 tells us to practice hospitality and Jesus emphasized that we should show such hospitality to those whom no one else wants to entertain. Luke 14:13-14.)
Acknowledge a truth you already know—no act of service is too small or too insignificant. I know you feel you should be ready to take six months off to rebuild homes in New Orleans or feed the hungry in Africa. In fact, if you’re like me, your lack of ability to do something big right now may paralyze you into doing nothing at all. Instead, try to remember that you serve the God who commended a woman for giving less than two pennies and who promises to reward those who give merely a cup of water to someone in His name. (Read Mark 12:42-43 and Matthew 10:42.) If all you have is two pennies, two minutes or one cup of water, give that little bit and thank God for your ability to do it. God will multiply your efforts. Remember what He did with two fish and five small loaves of bread?
Finally, take 30 seconds to read 2 Corinthians 2:8. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” That’s the New International Version. Read it again as paraphrased in The Message: “God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done.” Memorize it. Jot it at the top of your to-do list, stash it in your Palm Pilot, write it on a 3×5 card and stick it on your dashboard or refrigerator. Whatever you do, remember it. It’s an iron-clad, good-as-gold promise that your time, energy and resources will never be inadequate to serve others in His name.
– Catherine Reid