This post is part 23 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can view all of the posts in the series here on the series landing page.
In my last post I shared about a time when I longed to serve God in a certain capacity at my church but was delayed in getting the opportunity because I had to be proven to be worthy of that capacity.
Today, I’d like to swing the complete opposite direction and discuss something that I feel Christians also struggle with, while sharing another part of my story.
In May of 2012, the spring semester of PWOC (an interdenominational Bible study for military wives on military installations) was coming to a close. Earlier that year I had stepped up into a full-time worship leader’s position for the group. Each week I was responsible for picking out songs to sing, preparing Powerpoint slides to use during worship, practicing with the team, and then leading the group in prayer and singing during our weekly meetings. It was a very big responsibility, one I never dreamed I would be getting into so quickly. But there was a need and I had stepped up to fill it.
The opportunity was a blessing and I loved being able to use my gifts for God. But there were also a lot of moments when it was overwhelming: learning how to communicate well with the members of my team and trying to learn all of these contemporary songs while trying to not lose my more conservative music style in the mean time.
I was approached at the end of the semester with an application, being informed that, as a technicality, I needed to “apply” for the position again for the upcoming semester, something I hadn’t done previously as I had taken over the position mid-year.
My initial reaction was to fill out the form and turn it back in. But the morning I was to return the form, I looked over it again. There was a question on the application that went something like this: “Is your spouse supportive of you filling this position and are you in agreement about it?” (not those words verbatim, but that was the gist).
I felt a nagging that I needed to approach my husband one more time to make 100% sure that I was answering that question honestly. When I came to him, he gave me a list of his reservations. His desire for me was that I could have more time to relax and enjoy what would end up being my last year of PWOC. He thought I was under too much pressure and could use some time off. Having Ezra also had made it really difficult in practicing with the group. And there was also the uncertainty of when we would be moving away from Fort Knox and the possibility that I wouldn’t even be able to finish out the year anyway.
After speaking with Russ, I knew that I had to decline the opportunity. I went back to our spiritual life coordinator with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes. I felt horrible and guilty. It seemed like there was no one else to do it. Who is going to step up in my place? I felt like I was abandoning my sisters, keeping myself back from something that I could do. I felt selfish.
Yet she received the news with grace. She understood. She appreciated my honesty. She told me that God would provide, as he always does.
I went back in the fall to see that everything she had said was right. God had brought a whole new team of women to sing and play and lead worship. Every week, I simply stood in the audience – singing, sometimes just listening. Receiving instead of giving. Being served instead of serving. Being blessed instead of being the one offering blessing.
I also made the decision early on in that year that I would not volunteer my time in the nursery or children’s programs, for many of the same reasons. With each passing week, each worship session, each Bible study – I felt the overwhelming feeling that I needed to be there in that moment. God was doing some amazing things in my heart and I didn’t want to miss out on even one moment of those things. Yes, they needed help, and I could have served. But I felt like God saying to me, “No. Aprille, right now is not your time to serve. It’s your time to rest, to heal, to grow. I will call someone else to do that work. Right now I need you here.”
I often wonder what would have happened if I had pushed aside the call to rest and forged ahead into service. I wonder how much that pressure would have affected me – how burned out I would have gotten. How much less I would have enjoyed PWOC.
I have often heard preachers say something like this:
“Are you standing on the promises? Or are you just sitting on the premises?”
They chided people harshly for not stepping up to serve, for just sitting in the pew, for always taking and never giving. And I understand their point, especially when it’s common in churches for 10% of the people to do 90% of the work.
But what about those people sitting on the premises? Do we know their story? Do we know what hurts they are recovering from? Do we know why they aren’t serving? Could it be that maybe they aren’t lazy at all, but rather hoping to gain a closeness with Christ that they feel can only come through “sitting on the premises,” resting, and being still? Or maybe they are holding back because they are giving themselves time to heal – from an abusive relationship, a prior bad church experience, a miscarriage or still birth, the loss of a loved one, a difficult deployment? Maybe they have a chronic illness?
But all we see is a lazy Christian who can’t lift a finger to serve in the church.
While mulling over these thoughts over the past few weeks, my mind keeps returning to the story of Mary and Martha.
Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42)
Here I see a girl “sitting on the premises.” I see her soaking up Jesus instead of serving. And Jesus says that this one thing – dedicated, focused time to spend in his presence – is needful; it’s a good choice; and it’s something that won’t ever be taken away from us.
The Bible talks a lot about serving God and other believers through good works, giving, and encouraging. But God also talks a lot about rest, being still, and sitting at the feet of Jesus.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)
Maybe you are reading this and you are a Martha – casting wary (and weary) eyes on your sisters, fussing to Jesus and pointing fingers at those who won’t lift a finger to help out. Why don’t you stop those judgmental thoughts for a moment and put yourself in their shoes. Do you know why they aren’t serving? Do you know what their struggles are? Perhaps you should take some time to get to know them better – you know, the ones who aren’t there every service and aren’t involved in 20 ministries like you are. Chances are that they are in need of a friend. They need encouragement. They need healing. They need a lot of grace. Maybe you can be that person for them – and maybe, just maybe, they might have something to teach you in the process.
Maybe you are a Mary – or you are a Martha but long for nothing more than to set down your broom and go be one – but you are plagued with guilt. You feel selfish. You hear messages about “sitting on the premises” and fear that taking a break from your ministry would be paramount to sin. I urge you to consider God’s call to rest. Discuss the issues openly and honestly with your husband – perhaps even your pastor or your service leader. Don’t downplay the importance of resting in Christ to fill yourself up.
I have what you need,
But you keep on searchin,
I’ve done all the work,
But you keep on workin,
When you’re runnin on empty,
And you can’t find the remedy,
Just come to the well.
So bring me your heart
No matter how broken,
Just come as you are,
When your last prayer is spoken,
Just rest in my arms a while,
You’ll feel the change my child,
When you come to the well
(The Well by Casting Crowns, portions)
Maybe you are reading this and you are a pastor or ministry leader who has been frustrated at the lack of people stepping up to serve. Maybe you are so frustrated that all of your calls to action are falling on deaf ears. You want all of those people “sitting on the premises” to wake up and do something for God. I believe that you would be better off pouring words of encouragement – life, grace, and healing – into your congregation than pressuring people to serve God. I think that if more pastors focused on seeing hurting people healed, empty people filled, imperfect people made whole, then our churches would have many more people serving.
Because when you are tired, hurting, and empty – it’s really hard to muster up the courage to serve other people. But when you’ve been blessed, served, encouraged, poured into, and filled up with grace and love? WOW – you can only contain that goodness for so long before it all bubbles over and you have to give the same thing to others that has been given to you.
And now that you’re full,
Of love beyond measure,
Your joy’s gonna flow,
Like a stream in the desert,
Soon all the world will see
that living water is found in me,
Cuz you came to the well
Let’s remember that while there is definitely value in serving God, sometimes, there’s just as much value in “sitting on the premises.”
Have you ever taken a break from service to spend more time taking away from the services instead of giving? Did you feel guilty because of it? Do you think that the church does not value rest enough?
To view all the posts in this blog series, visit the landing page.
Next post, part 24: The real me