Some background: last week, I volunteered at a local kids’ camp, run by my church, with the intent to give children in the area a fun, safe, and loving place to come during the holiday, and to teach them a little about Jesus, too. I’ve been going since I was four – first as one of the kids, and then as a helper when I turned 11. For the past few years, I’ve been on the team that gives the kids drama sessions (songs and dances, puppet shows, and sketches/skits) – this year, I wound up unofficially leading this team, for the first time.
So uh, thanks. Truly. I recently had what was quite possibly the greatest week of my life, and its all down to you.
I mean, everything is down to you, but that’s beside the point.
Lighthouse 2017 was entirely fantastic. The chance to put so many smiles on the faces of so many kids is something I am so grateful for that I cannot put it into words. Leading the sessions, using the puppets, dancing with the kids, doing the drama on stage for them, leading them in action songs – all small yet wonderful things that I was overjoyed to do that week. I can honestly say that it made me the happiest I’ve been in a long time. It filled me a joy that is not fading.
I was in my element.
I don’t know what about it made it fit me so well, but fit me it did. It felt so, so natural. Being that person. Living my life for you – eating, sleeping, breathing, everything for you. Dancing around like an idiot to Christian parodies of pop songs, jumping up and down like a child, running across muddy fields from session to session, staying up until one to write scripts for the puppet shows, skipping half my lunch break to rehearse for a sketch – all ridiculous, all wonderful, and all for you. All acts of service, to bring glory to you and to help the kids enjoy the week.
Serving has always been a big deal to me. Serving, and doing so graciously, are things that I’ve always known I should do, and always tried to do.
But there’s a difference between serving graciously from your heart, and serving graciously because you feel like you should.
It’s strange, because that’s what ‘graciously’ is meant to mean. It is defined as ‘in a courteous, kind, and pleasant manner’. To serve graciously should be to serve kindly, generously, and sincerely.
And yet, during that week of Lighthouse, I realised something. I realised that serving graciously, and serving with deeper intent are two very different things.
There’s serving graciously – but because we know we should, because we think it’s the right thing to do, because someone told us to. Because it’s a rule that you wrote in the Bible that we should serve graciously, and, as Christians, it’s our job to follow the rules, right? So, we put a smile on our face and look like we’re enjoying ourselves and we perform because graciousness is all about appearance.
And then there’s serving from the heart. Because we want to. Because it will glorify you, and that is what we want to do. Because it will make other people happy, and we want that more than anything. Because this awesome organisation needs help to carry on, and we feel strongly about it. Because nothing is more incredible or important than helping to spread the news of you.
It’s when the smile doesn’t accompany the serving – it’s the result of it. When we serve from the heart and with intent, the graciousness isn’t a choice – it’s the natural by-product.
I always kind of knew that. I’m the one who says to my friends that being a Christian isn’t about having a book of rules to follow, things we have to do. ‘It’s about having a relationship. It’s about wanting to do things, not having to do things.’ I parroted all this stuff I’d heard in church and youth group, and yet I was doing exactly what I was saying wasn’t the point. I was saying the stuff because I felt like I should.
And I am so sorry. I missed the entire point so spectacularly, for quite a while, and it infuriates me. I was being ridiculous and blind, while considering myself superior. I’m sorry.
I had a similar realisation during the worship one morning at Lighthouse too – (we have a morning leaders meeting, with notices, a mini-sermon, and a few minutes of worship) – on that super-stressful day when I got in and found out that one of the team was ill and we’d need to do a whole bunch of re-arranging, and I was tired because I’d stayed up until late doing prep and my head was hurting so much and I just wanted to crawl back into bed and stay there. I’d been saying the whole week that the whole team had to go to the morning meeting, Christian or not, because we had to put on a good face, we had to show the organisation team that we were committed and we had to interact and be a part of the community. But this morning we had so much to do and rehearse, so I said that some people could stay if they needed – so obviously everyone wanted to stay, because who wants to go to some stupid meeting when they could be eating chocolate and messing around with puppets?
I did. I’d always been to the meetings because I felt like I should, because I knew it was a good idea and I had to put on a good face for all these adults I’d known since before I can remember. But this one time where I had a very valid excuse, I chose to go. Because I needed it. I needed the refreshment of a few minutes of closeness with you to get me through the day. I wanted it. I so wanted to hear someone talk about you, and to throw myself into a short time of worship, because it’s just so great. And I realised that when it comes to you, going to the meeting isn’t the important bit. It’s making the choice to go to the meeting. Making the choice to draw near to you. Choosing you over a ‘better option’, because we want to.
I don’t know when it was that something clicked inside me, but I had shifted from feeling like I needed to follow the rules, to wanting to do the stuff the rules outlined – not out of obligation, but out of desire, need, and personal choice. Since Lighthouse last year, something has changed. My relationship with you has changed, and deepened, and been tested. And because of that, I was serving for a different reason this year – and I have never enjoyed it so much as I did this year.
There is no point in us reluctantly following the rules ‘because we should’, or ‘because the Bible says to’, or ‘because our parents/church tells us to’.
Physically abstaining from sex but internally resenting the fact that we ‘have to’ defeats the whole point. Physically going to church but spending the whole time wishing we were elsewhere is not getting us anywhere. Physically living a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle because ‘it seems more Christian’ means nothing in your eyes, and us doing so is pointless.
There isn’t any point in us following the rules unless we want to follow them. And us wanting to follow them can’t happen until we dedicate ourselves to you. Until we live for, and with, and in you. Until, as all the hip and trendy youth ministers say, we are ‘on fire for you’.
Thank you, God. For outlining so clearly so many ‘rules’ that we can choose to follow, to glorify you. For making it so clear how we can live the best possible life. For filling us – me – with so much joy and excitement. Just for being, and for helping us to be.
As always, with love,