(Originally published on Wellsprings and Wineskins and also on LifeBrook back in 2008, this article is posted in response to readers’ request)
Our culture, it seems, is on some kind of spiritual quest. As I cruise about the Internet these days I often encounter articles, web sites, and discussion groups throwing about the term “spirituality.” With increasing frequency I also find sincere seekers, including professed Christians, attempting to define what true spirituality is. Some of the definitions are profound while others are more arcane than the tax code.
For Christians, the definition of true spirituality should not be a mystery. The meaning of the word, given to us by Jesus with alarming clarity, may not be the answer we are looking for. The definition of spirituality provided by the Lord had nothing to do with esoteric philosophical speculations, nor did it encompass the need for expanded knowledge of a multi-dimensional universe. On the contrary, Jesus told us what real spirituality was in a very direct and precise manner. He didn’t explain it to us; he showed us.
Jesus gave a new definition of what true spirituality consisted of when, as described in the 13th Chapter of John’s Gospel, he shocked his disciples by performing the lowly act of cleansing their dirty, dusty, and most likely, fetid feet. In this act, Jesus then said that he had provided an example. In his words:
I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you… (John 13:14)
As Christ-followers, we are called to no less. We are called to the ministry of the towel. For the Christian, that is the meaning of spirituality. We are to be of service. Everything else, no matter how profound, is superstructure.
At its most fundamental level, proactive service, motivated by love and compassion, is what incarnational Christianity is all about. No matter what setting in which we find a need to be addressed, we are to obey and go. No matter how filthy, grimy, or smelly, we are to take up our towel and basin and hit the ground running. This is our calling and this is our duty. This is what Christ did and we are to do no less.
Even as sincere believers with a genuine desire to manifest active Christian love to our hurting world, we often complicate this issue of service to an extreme. “What is my true mission?” we often ask ourselves. “Is helping with this situation something I am gifted to do?” Other times we vacillate by comparing ourselves to others. “Are there other people far more skilled than I to help with this?” Moses tried this approach and God didn’t buy it. Although there is nothing wrong with assessing our talents and gifts, we need to realize in any situation, there is some type of service we can provide. There is at least some need we can meet. Just about anyone can fold chairs, clean a kitchen, drive a van, or deliver food.
At the end of the day, this issue of Christian service boils down to one word: availability.
We must each look into our hearts and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, ask ourselves: Am I available to be used by God? We need to be rigorously honest with ourselves in answering this all-important question. If we answer in the negative, then we need to explore the reasons why we feel we cannot currently follow Christ’s call to service. If we answer in the affirmative, then we need to find a place to serve, a way to serve, and get on with it. It is of vital importance that we keep in mind that we are Christ’s representatives here in this broken world. We are his hands, his feet, and his heart. And, we are his agents no matter where we are. Gary Thomas explains how this has come to work in his life:
“Once I begin surrendering my body to be transformed, I become a living and breathing center of possibility. I become a force that God can use to impact the world. This truth teaches me to see my life as a call to represent Christ wherever I go, whether it is at a high school basketball game, a family get-together, the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles office, a local Starbucks, or my own home. Regardless of my location, I can live with a sense of offering myself up to God so that he can encourage his children and reach out to the lost.”
Individual Christians are not alone in over-thinking the issue of service. Entire congregations can do the same thing. Instead of diving in and providing immediate relief or help to those in need, churches often choose to conduct exhaustive investigations and hold endless committee meetings, trying to design a program that will address a community need. Again, research and planning are essential, but not at the expense of allowing people to suffer while we weigh our options. Jerry Cook, in his informative book The Monday Morning Church, strikes at the heart of the issue:
“I am convinced that as Christians we are not about programs. We’re not about bigger or better blessings. We’re about responding to people who call for help because their world is falling apart. These individuals aren’t looking to be converted – they’re looking for help! Being their help – by being the presence of Christ in their lives – is the only thing we’re about. Everything else we do is secondary and can even detour us from carrying out the true purpose of the church…You are filled with the Spirit of God. You are living in this window in time called the last days. You are where you are because God has strategically placed you there. The question is, are you open for business?”
Cook makes a poignant statement here and asks the pivotal question, a question that each of us must answer with truth and honesty: Am I open for business?
Each of us must find somewhere to begin his or her own unique mission, in whatever setting God has placed us. So, again, where do we begin? Why not start where Christ himself began? As he picked up the Holy Scriptures in the synagogue at Nazareth he spoke clearly and without reservation, echoing his Father’s words from the 61st chapter of Isaiah. Christ said he had left his comfort zone in the spiritual realm and incarnated on this fallen planet in order:
To bind up the broken hearted
To proclaim liberty to the captives
To comfort all who mourn
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Surely, these words pertain to someone or some situation you are aware of. Are you aware of anyone who is broken hearted or held captive by some form of addiction or behavior? Do you know someone who is in dire need of comfort at this time? Is there anyone in your family, your church or your neighborhood who is in need of a little beauty and joy in life; maybe someone who needs help with depression or some other type of spiritual heaviness?
As stated earlier, the first salient question is not so much “How shall I go about doing good?” No, the question is, “Are you open for business?”
Are you ready to become someone God can use? Are you ready to become, in the words of Gary Thomas, a living and breathing center of possibility?
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved