MY PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES PREVENT REALISTIC CHRISTIAN SERVICE. WHAT SHOULD I DO ABOUT IT?
All through my Christian life – both when I was part of the Organised Church, and now that I am operating outside the Institution – I have been hearing this heartfelt cry. It comes almost exclusively from three groups of people. Firstly there are working people who have become very pressurized by the demands of their jobs. Secondly, there are the mothers of young children, who find family duties pretty all-consuming. Finally, there are senior citizens, who have ever-decreasing energy, and often have a selection of ‘aches and pains’ that hinder them from doing as much as they have done in the past. At one time, all these people have been active in the service of the Lord, but now feel themselves forced into a position, by circumstances beyond their control, where they feel they cannot do very much for Him.
When I was a pastor, I used to say to such well-intentioned folks: “Even though you have to cut down on your involvement in our church programmes for a season, you’ll get back to them in due course.” Then I would add, as something of a consolation: “In the meantime, there are sure to be some individuals who will cross your path – at work, or at the school gate, or in your immediate neighbourhood (if you’re no longer able to go out much) – whom you could be a blessing to, in one way or another.” I made “Cross-My-Path Care” a sort of temporary second best, till Christians could get back to what then seemed the ‘real business’ of the Church Programme.
Nowadays, I would express myself in more or less the opposite way! As you will already know, if you have read “The Remarkable Replacement Army, I see “Cross-My-Path Care” as the ‘real business’, and projects of one kind or another as having a genuine but limited place in our lifestyle, with care having to be taken that there should not be so many projects that “Cross-My-Path Care” is squeezed out.
What I want to say to those of you whose circumstances seem to prevent “doing much for the Lord” is this: Be very aware of each one of the different individual people within your circumstances. There will definitely be occasions when you can be a blessing to them in some form – in practical ways, by giving encouragement or helpful comments, or spiritually at various levels (including praying for them). Even the busiest working person has colleagues, and work-contacts, and also neighbours where they live. Despite their busy-ness, busy men and women often engage in sport, or other leisure activities, and there are real people there too! Even the most harassed mother comes across other people – at school gates, and school functions; in shops and in clinics: and they too have neighbours in close proximity. Even the most house-bound elderly person almost always has people calling in: neighbours again, nurses and the like, maybe even the postman. Most house-bound folk have telephones through which they can be in touch with others. Furthermore, many elderly people, though they experience increasing limitations, have not reached the stage of being housebound, and definitely have fellow human-beings, to whom they are capable of being a blessing, scattered throughout their circumstances.
Of course, you will all need to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance about what (if anything) to say or do in any situation. Older folks, even if they are not house-bound, still have their ‘off days’. The Spirit knows about that, and is able to show them when and how to be helpful, even if it is not at the precise moment that help seems needed. The same applies to mothers, and to working people, who often require to be in certain places at certain times, and cannot necessarily give help at the time they become aware of the need. I am fully convinced that the believer who seems very restricted, as far as ‘Christian Service’ is concerned, by limitations imposed by work, family duties, or advancing age, can nevertheless be a great blessing to others, in Jesus’ name, and for His sake – if they simply remain alert about those who ‘cross their paths’, and operate in tandem with the Holy Spirit.
There is one last thing I want to say. There is a tendency for some enthusiastic Christians to disparage the actions and duties that keep them from ‘spiritual’ work – to get frustrated by clearing up after the kids, by having to engage in tedious activity in connection with one’s job, or (if you are getting on in years) by how long even the simplest procedure takes, compared to how long it used to take! Even if you embrace the message I have been ‘preaching’ above, and see that there are genuine opportunities to serve the Lord scattered within your lifestyle, you may resent the large parts of your life that seem irrelevant to Christian Service.
May I give you a little parable to finish? An art form that I greatly appreciate is the mosaic. Down through the ages, from the earliest times, people have made pictures by setting little pieces of coloured stone – sometimes, actually, precious stones – in a foundation of clay. If we understand “Cross-My-Path Care” properly, I believe we become mosaic-makers. We are engaged in setting little pieces of blessing (of one kind or another) into the mosaic of life. It is important to remember, however, that every mosaic has two components: attractive stones and dull boring clay! You can’t actually have a mosaic if you don’t have the clay to put it in. To my mind, the seemingly trivial tasks in which we must engage – family duties, the humdrum parts of working life, and the care of bodies that even the Bible says are ‘outwardly wasting away’ as we get older (2nd Corinthians 4:16) – all of these are merely the ‘clay’ that surrounds the ‘stones of blessing’ that we should be laying.
Remember, then, that you are a mosaic-maker. Remember, that the ‘stones’ you lay will be of varying importance. They will range from a smile, or a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42), or a ‘word in season’ (Proverbs 15:23), right through to the occasional precious stone of a life-changing encounter. Remember, too, that even to the end of your life, you will just be an apprentice mosaic-maker. You will need to have the Holy Spirit – the master-craftsman sent to you by the Father and the Son – alongside you to guide you in your mosaic-making work.
Finally – those of you who are frustrated by the many seemingly trivial things that appear to get in the way of doing what the Lord wants of you – remember that dull grey clay is a necessary part of even the most stunning mosaic!