It was an opportunity, there in Uganda where we lived.
She needed a place to stay. We had room. Well, when we weren’t hosting others.
What we didn’t have a lot of was margin. And as I heard more details about her story, something niggled at me.
Our family’s weaknesses seemed like a poor fit for her needs. When I got honest with myself, it didn’t seem something I could manage well–loving her and loving my family well at the same time.
But what I hate to say to any ministry opportunity, almost always, is no.
The True Cost of Overcommitment
I’ll let you listen in on the words of my husband to me, quite gently and with much wisdom and compassion, in that same house.
“I want you to know that sometimes your overcommitment affects how the Gospel is played out in our home.”
He was right.
When I was exhausted or feverishly busy, my kids and my husband witnessed much less of Jesus through me.
Having enough margin–time, energy, thoughtfulness, patience–to love sincerely (Romans 12:9) means loving not just broadly, but deeply. Hurry, even when it is thorough, can rob me–and my relationships, including with God himself–of so much joy in each other, and a lot more.
(Pro tip: If the agency you’re considering seems to prefer running its staff ragged–run for the hills. Check out Choosing an Emotionally Healthy Missions Organization.)
Is this the right ministry opportunity?
But it’s challenging when a “ministry opportunity” is not a bunch of nonessentials munching at the white space on my calendar.
It’s people. People with needs; pain; longings; hope.
And it was then that words from a friend drove themselves home, settling in my chest: “The need does not always constitute the call.”
I chewed on this.
Sometimes the need does constitute the call! It jolts awake my slumbering, callous indifference. This need-turned-call may pry my fingers from my tightly-controlled schedule. A ministry opportunity presents itself at my gate, and I have a choice to turn it away or to welcome it in and share openhandedly what I have.
This possible call beckons me out of the boat, already, to live a God-sized life of courage rather than one limited by what I can see.
But not always.
When Needs are Everywhere
One of the most disheartening slices of working in a developing country–or in any lifestyle of helping others–may remind one of Whack-a-Mole: as soon as you conquer one presenting problem with that big, furry mallet, another rears its taunting, plastic little head.
The cycles of poverty are systemic, intricately interwoven, and overwhelming, tsunami-style.
Ministry opportunities, in truth, are everywhere.
I tend to be a “help, then ask questions” kind of person. But I’ve had a lot to soak up from my husband and his wise, thoughtful, probing questions. They’ve saved our family from a lot of hurt: not only to ourselves, but to the people I’m hoping to “help.”
No more keenly did I become aware of this than when my husband and I were knee-deep in the adoption process, which we eventually, painfully decided against.
While something truly beautiful and faith-filled may be found spontaneously helping–Here am I! Send me!–tremendous beauty also exists in wise, well-considered, God-seeking steps of faith.
Even Elijah, amidst a famine of the entire nation of Israel, was sent to provide daily for just one poor woman and her son (1 Kings 17:8-16).
Fantasy Me vs. Real-life Me
As my husband and I leaned against the kitchen counters, discussing taking in the young woman above, I had to admit to him there is a sizeable gap between the person I want to be and the person I have capacity to be.
My dreams, I told him, will always surpass what I am actually able to do.
Acting solely on need, rather than considering whether or not I actually have the capacity, can actually reveal my unbelief. It’s as if God desperately needs me, and only me.
It’s as if the Body of Christ–and God’s ability to provide–are not to be trusted. Rather than working from peace, occasionally I work out of fear, wringing my hands over problems–rather than out of faith and deep joy.
Consider the story of the Good Samaritan, who actually demonstrates thoughtful boundaries with the ministry opportunity in front of him.
- He cares for not everyone on the road, but the bleeding person in front of him.
- He continues on his journey the next day, but delegates the innkeeper to care for the robbed man.
I think (pridefully) more highly of myself than I ought (Romans 12:3). At times it can be a large view of myself, and small view of God.
Now, in writing this post, a healthy fear hovers over me–of undermining or throwing into doubt God’s perfect orchestration of circumstances. Far more, I fear giving apathy and laziness another excuse in our quite-human brains and stealthy hearts, always hunting a crafty reason for ourselves not to come and die.
No matter how much we give, selfishness exists always as a profound pull. Jesus came so that “those who live might no longer live for themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Paul himself questions, And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? i.e., need is often a part of our call. Fulfilling your role matters.
And Isaiah 58 exhorts us to “pour yourself out for the hungry”–i.e., spend yourselves on these people! Live poured out!
Still, Jesus’ words ring true. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
The bottom line of any ministry opportunity: Is my decision formed out of fear–or faith in the greatness of our God?
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