The following is an excerpt from a talk I recently gave in Melbourne at a camp for high-school girls. The theme of the camp was “partnering together.” I plan on posting the contents of my other two talks over the next few days or weeks.
I made the decision to become a Christian when I was about ten years old, about 45 years ago. That’s a long time ago. My mother had sent me to a Christian camp in the school holidays and I heard for the first time that being a Christian isn’t about being good. It isn’t primarily about living by a moral code of conduct. (And I was a good girl.) Rather, being a Christian is about having a relationship, a connection, with God himself that was made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection, and made possible by the Holy Spirit who provides that connection.
I wanted in. I wanted that relationship. And over the past 45 years, through some ups and downs on my part, and even through times when I was not such a good girl, my relationship with God has been the most important thing in my life. God really has been my focus.
I often say that the Christian life is a journey of discoveries, decisions and determination. And I’ve learnt a lot on this journey. One of the things I’ve discovered about being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, has to do with serving God.
The Privilege of Partnership with God
I think we all agree that serving God and serving his people is important. This idea of service can be tied to what Jesus said when he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” This is how Jesus replied to that question, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-39 NIV; cf. Luke 10:27).
When you love someone, you do things for them. You do things to make them happy. You do things to make them comfortable. You do things to help them succeed. And you are loyal to them through thick and thin. Love isn’t a feeling that has no actions involved. And God clearly wants us to love people. How we treat people is very, very important to God.
But here’s the thing I’ve discovered: God doesn’t need us to serve him. He doesn’t need anything from us (cf. Acts 17:25; Rom. 11:33-36). God doesn’t need you to talk to your friends about Jesus, for example. He doesn’t need you to help Christian orphans in Pakistan. He doesn’t even need your prayers to help persecuted Christians in India or hungry people in Africa or the abused and struggling people in our own neighbourhoods and in our own families. God can do it without your help. He is Almighty God after all. So, we can take a deep breath . . . the pressure is off. It’s not all up to us. It’s not all up to you!
If he chose, God could just appear to everyone as he did to Paul on the road to Damascus, when Jesus spoke to Paul in the blinding, bright light (Acts chapter 9). However, even in Paul’s story, God chose to use certain people to help Paul. Jesus spoke to a man named Ananias and told him to find Paul. And through the ministry of Ananias, Paul miraculously regained the sight that he’d lost, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and was baptised with water (Acts 9:17-18). Then another person, Barnabas, introduced Paul to the apostles when no one else would touch him, and Barnabas included Paul in ministry (Acts 9:26-27; 11:25-26). Paul himself always ministered with the help of co-workers such as Timothy, Silas, Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila.
Technically, God doesn’t need us, yet he chooses to use people in his work. He chooses us to partner with him in his plans and his purposes. God using people, and using the prayers of his people, is usually a big part of his plans and purposes. So it is likely that God actually does want you to talk to your friends about Jesus and perhaps help orphans in Pakistan, but in every work of God, God does most of the work.
It is a privilege to be a part and a partner of God’s work—to join in with what God is already doing. I believe this is an important perspective we need to get right. Serving God doesn’t need to be a tiresome duty or a heavy obligation or a scary undertaking, though it might be all of those three things. Whatever the case, when seen in perspective, serving God is wonderful. We are working for an awesome God!
Listening to the Holy Spirit
To serve God and partner in his work, we need three things. (1) We need to know God; we need to know who he is and have a relationship and connection with him. (2) We need to know what he wants us to do, and this might look different for each of us. (3) We need to do what he wants us to do. And to successfully do these three things, we need to be attuned to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus’ earthly ministry, including his redemptive death and his resurrection, Jesus returned to heaven and is now seated at the Father’s right hand in glory. In Jesus’ place, the Holy Spirit was sent to earth; in fact, the Holy Spirit has been sent to every believer. At this present time, the Holy Spirit is effectively Jesus’ replacement—Jesus’ representative and agent on earth. He is even called the “Spirit of Christ” in the Bible (Rom. 8:9 cf. Acts 16:7; Gal 4:6; 2 Cor. 13:5: 1 Pet 1:11).
Romans 8 tells us we are to live according to the Spirit and we are to be led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:4. 14). We are to minister, or serve, in the power of the Spirit. And learning to listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance should be a part of our walk with God. The best way, and possibly the most important way to develop our spiritual “hearing,” is to read the Bible. God still speaks to us mostly through Scripture, and by reading it we can learn to discern his leading when he guides us in other ways too.
The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is a good gift from God—an essential gift (Luke 11:9-13). We must explore our relationship with the Spirit and become more aware of his presence and power in our hearts and lives. How aware are you of his presence?
We must learn to sense his leading so that we can become more obedient to God. In this way, we effectively follow Jesus and become more like Jesus in the process. One of the Holy Spirit’s main roles is sanctification. And sanctification basically means that we become more and more like Jesus. Jesus is our Lord, he is our saviour, but he is also our role model.
Agents of Jesus, Empowered by the Spirit
Not only are we to gradually become more like Jesus, God wants us to continue the work that Jesus started when he was on earth. The Holy Spirit has been given to us so we can be agents of Jesus and ministers of the New Covenant wherever we are.
So what kinds of things did Jesus do when he was on earth?
He loved people. He healed sick and troubled people. He hung around with people and taught them about his kingdom. He gave hope to the lonely, the poor, and the outcasts and included them.
I like how Peter summarises Jesus’ ministry in Acts 10:37-38 NIV (italics added):
Peter said, “You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee . . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”
Doing good is more than a moral code of conduct. It’s about actively doing good things. And that’s something we can all aim to do with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Listen to Jesus quoting from Isaiah 61:1, words he applied to himself:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 (NIV); cf. Isaiah 61:1
These are the things God wants us to do too. To bring healing and hope. To bring peace. All these things are encapsulated in the word “shalom.”
Starting Small: Helping
Most of the time, doing good will be expressed in small ways, simply by being kind towards people. Never underestimate the impact of small gestures of kindness.
But some of you may decide to enter the field of medicine or nursing and bring actual healing. Perhaps even restoring people’s eyesight. Some of you may decide to study psychology or counselling and help people through their troubles and help restore broken relationships. Some of you may decide to work in the field of law and bring about justice. Some of you may work to bring joy and enrichment into people’s lives through the arts or sports. Some of you may decide to become ministers of the gospel in some way. Some of you may have the gift of giving and will support people who are doing the kingdom work of healing and justice and shalom.
But don’t let me give you the wrong impression. Serving God isn’t necessarily about a job. We serve God best in our relationships, by being a loving and helpful daughter or sister or friend. And God doesn’t just use people with good jobs. Jesus chose disciples who were fishermen and tax collectors. People who followed Jesus came from all walks of life. And some of them would have had problems and hang-ups.
The Bible says that Mary Magdalene had been delivered from seven demons. I imagine she had some baggage she had to deal with. But that didn’t stop her. Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ closest disciples and most faithful followers, and she used whatever resources she had to support Jesus’ mission.
Here’s the thing: God can use us if we’re from a peaceful home or a troubled home. He can use us if we’re feeling strong or feeling fragile. He can use us if we’re outgoing or shy. He can use us if our mental health is A1 or if we have depression or anxiety or something else. He can use us if we’re on the spectrum. If we have ADHD. If we have a physical impairment. He can use us if we are comfortably off or struggling financially.
No one has it all together. No one is perfect. But if we want in, if we want to be a Jesus follower and serve him, we can become an agent of Jesus. God can use us at any time, in any circumstance, to bring peace and wholeness—shalom. And there will be times when we will need some R & R, rest and recuperation, and, hopefully, be the recipients of the ministry of other agents of Jesus.
Accepting our Mission as Agents
You see, being a Christian isn’t just about believing in Jesus. Believing, or having faith, is the underpinning of our walk with God. But being a Christian is about becoming like Jesus and continuing his work on earth. This is our mission as individuals and this is our mission as the church.
None of us, on our own, can do what Jesus did, but if all Christians were prepared to do the bits of his work that God wants each of us to do, and these bits may look different for each person, the community of Jesus’ followers, the church, could make a huge impact in the world. We could bring shalom.
It might be as simple as an encouraging word that will brighten someone’s day. Or a helping hand with a chore that needs to be done. Or it might be something more significant that will bring healing and even lead to salvation.
Some preachers tell their congregation that God has a great dream for their lives. This is true in a way. But I suggest that for most of us, serving God starts small. Then again, what might look small to us may not be small for the people it helps and it may not be small in God’s eyes. Serving God and being an agent usually starts by helping out where there is a need and where we have the ability to help. Helping out at home, helping out at church, helping out at school, helping our friends, helping out in our community. This might develop into a ministry or a fulltime vocation, or it might not. That’s not the important thing. The important thing is that we are serving God and being active agents of Jesus.
And if you do have a dream to do something big, go for it!
There isn’t much of a difference between helping and serving, and there isn’t much of a difference between serving and ministering. It’s all about attitude and motivation.
Colossians 3:17a says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus …” (ESV) This is another way of saying, And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything as an agent of the Lord Jesus …”
Is there a situation you know of where you can help? Does your church need helpers? Is there a pressing need in your community that you feel passionate about? Or perhaps you’re the kind of person that is always ready to lend a helping hand in whatever the circumstance. We have a mission, to be agents of Jesus wherever we are and to bring his peace, his shalom, to those who need it.
Relationships are forged, people are blessed, shalom is experienced, and Jesus’ kingdom is enlarged when we all accept our mission to be agents of Jesus.