Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:1-4 NASB)
Abigail wrote a beautiful blog post recently on the mission of God. She asked, “How often do we, as individual Christians, feel like we’re living out that purpose in our lives? More to the point, what would it feel like to do so?” Her capacity for taking on new missions from God feels limited: “Many mornings, I wake up already tired” from parenting two small children. “Some days,” she writes, “I feel weighed down by all the bad things happening in the world.… What good is a mission when you feel like you’ll never be able to change things?” Yet, she’s not without hope that zeroing in on God’s purpose for her life will ultimately bring joy and significance to each day.
When I read Abigail’s post, I empathized with the tension between longing for significance and a sense of futility. Like her, I grieve over the state of the world, and yet the basic care of my family takes almost all of my energy and time. But I do feel that my life matters. I am contributing to God’s mission in the world. I think Abigail is contributing to God’s mission in the world, right now. Why do I think so?
One thought I try to hold onto is that our individual lives are part of a whole. We are each one piece of the puzzle, one living stone in a vast structure, one blade of grass in a field stretching beyond the horizon. Individual significance comes from living out our part in the body of Christ.
The verse at the top really struck me recently. If Paul had turned his attention to solving the problem of feeding widows, he would have “neglected” the word of God. He had a part in the body of Christ. He was not the whole. If he had tried to do everything, he would have neglected what God created and commissioned him to do as an apostle, so others took charge of “serving tables.” And I suppose that those others could have neglected serving tables by going out preaching, when that wasn’t their piece of God’s mission.
Paul writes, “All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” (1 Corinthians 12:29-30 NASB). We have to know what we’re made for.
Although I am not an evangelist, I do talk to people about God sometimes, and I’m glad to maintain a readiness to “make a defense… for the hope that is in” me (1 Peter 3:15). Mostly, though, I serve God and my neighbor in practical ways. Sometimes I daydream of doing amazing things, but by and large, my Messiah complex has waned over the years, and I am content with who I am so long as I am obeying God and living out my small part as He wishes.
Another thought I’m holding onto these days is that God values slowly unfolding processes and growth. How long it takes for a human baby to grow to maturity! God expects us to be patient with that? Yes, I think He does. He values this slowness. The more I take my cue from God in this area, the more I feel the significance of the hours I spend with my two-year-old grandson tossing rocks into the lake or repeating a song over and over. This is significant work because God created it that way.
These days, caring for family is my primary responsibility. Babysitting, cooking, shopping, visiting mom, chauffeuring dad, accompanying Kent to chemo, paying bills, praying, making coffee at church, visiting prisoners, writing letters—this is how I live out God’s purpose and contribute to His mission. My piece of the action is small, but it’s a piece of something huge and significant—God bringing His good and loving rule to bear on our world. There’s joy to be had in that.
Jani can be reached by email here.