I’m a missionary. I’ve lived in Niger, Africa with my family since 1998. I’ve learned a lot over the last 15 years, sometimes learning the hard way. One of the hard things I’ve learned is that serving is better than whining.
Something that has always amazed our family is the change that takes place in the American culture during the time we’re away. To the average American, those things just happen gradually until suddenly you look around and wonder when 70’s style clothing was back in. And when did it become normal or even expected for people to live together before they were married? And what does “I need some ME-time” mean? And the stuff that’s “okay” for T.V. these days? Well that’s worth its own article… It’s kind of like not noticing the 10 or 15 pounds that your friend put on over a year because you’re with her all the time, as opposed to not seeing her for a year and trying not to stare because of the change.
We’ve been traveling in the U.S. for the past 3 months and are excited to be returning home to Niger in just a few days. During this time in the States one of the glaring things that I’ve noticed is an increase in self-centeredness. It’s all about me. What I want, when I want it, how I want it. And I want it now.
At the same time, I’ve noticed some patterns in contemporary Christian music. Which, by the way, I love. Always have. I was a big Amy Grant / Michael W. Smith fan back in the day. Way back. Anyway, I’ve been taking note of the music that is popular now, and linking that to the self focus that has become so prevalent in our culture.
I’m hearing lines in songs like:
• Here I am, what’s left of me
• Part of me has died, I fall into your arms
• My whole world is caving in
• I find you when I fall apart
• Struggling, feeling like it’s hopeless
• I lose my way
• You lift me up when I’m weak
• Winter came back – it won’t end
• Hold on to me, don’t let me lose my way
• Life doesn’t make sense – knocked down
• He might let you bend but He won’t let you break
• Worrying what you’re going through
• I’ve lost my faith in so many things
Now please, don’t get me wrong. I understand that we all have challenges and struggles in life. And sometimes songs like these are what we need to find encouragement. We’re not alone. God has got this. Our hope is in Him and He promises in His word that if we cry out to him He will hear and answer us. Every time.
However, rather than pleading with God and bringing all that’s gone wrong to Him (He already knows), I’d like to suggest something different. Something unconventional.
I know. Doesn’t make much sense. But Jesus himself didn’t always sound sensible. Remember first shall be last, last, first? And what about this one – if someone slaps you, turn and offer your other cheek. And have you ever washed the feet of your servant (employee, child, least of these)? Jesus said to do that too.
Several years ago – not too long after moving to Niger – I was in my house and was having a pity party, all by myself. I remember it well. It was hot. I was hot. I was wondering what in the world I was thinking when I answered the call to serve in Niger.
Hadn’t I served long enough? Hadn’t I suffered long enough?
That day my husband Neal and I had made plans to go to a village in the afternoon. It was still morning and my whine was already in full swing. I felt like going to a hot, sandy village to speak a language I didn’t know as much as I felt like jumping into a lake of fire.
I reasoned that I had nothing to offer in the state I was in. But the plan was already in place. I had already told the ladies I would be there. The least I could do was keep my commitment. So off we went.
We arrived and I joined the ladies. I still remember sitting on mats on the ground outside the mud brick church. (It was too hot to go inside). I could see the well in the distance where the evening water was being pulled up by hard-working women. As I sat there practicing my Hausa language skills with those gracious ladies something amazing happened. I began to enjoy myself. The heat didn’t feel so hot. The dirt didn’t seem so dirty. We sat around and laughed together – well, they were mostly laughing at me and my attempts at Hausa. We were having fun. We didn’t have a 3 hour church service, didn’t do any dramas or even sing any songs. That simple act of me chatting with these ladies may have blessed them, but it did far more for me. It taught me something profound.
I arrived home feeling so rejuvenated it amazed me. Then the Lord directed me to John 4 and the revelation hit me. Jesus has just finished talking with the woman at the well. The disciples show up and figure He must be hungry so they tell him to eat. Jesus tells them that He has food that they don’t know about. They start wondering who is secretly bringing food to Jesus. Then He says to them,
“My food is to do what my Father sent me to do. My food is to finish his work.” John 4:34
It’s as simple as that. I began to think about it. Food. I need it. I enjoy it – a lot. It gives me strength. And Jesus just said His food is to do His Father’s will. In other words, He finds strength in doing God’s will. He finds pleasure when he’s doing what His Father told him to do – when He’s serving. His needs are met when He does His Father’s will. Wow.
That revelation completely changed my outlook. If I get the focus of myself and my pity party and on to what God has called me to do – problem solved! That may sound too elementary but I really do think it’s that simple.
Since then, whenever I feel discouraged I know that if I will go out and serve, doing what God has called me to do, my strength and joy returns.
I dare you to be unconventional.
Worship God. For who He is.
Spend time focusing on Him and not on your problems. That’s one way you can serve Him. Then step out and serve someone else. You could even support a missionary =)!
While some Christian music seemed focused on me and my problems, I found some great songs that focused on Jesus and worshiping him with lines like:
• We are here for you
• Our hearts are open – nothing is hidden
• You are our desire
• You alone are holy/worthy
• We welcome you with praise
• Let the people of the world stand in awe
• We are waiting here for you with our hands lifted high in praise
• Desperate for your presence, Waiting for your presence
I understand that during those times of discouragement the last thing we feel like doing is serving or even worshiping God. And unfortunately I can’t say that I successfully make that decision 100% of the time. But I can tell you from my experience that when I do, my entire outlook changes and my joy returns. One-hundred percent of the time.