This article was originally published in the August 2013 Newsletter.
I rounded the last corner of the route back to my home and picked up the pace of my cadence. I was finishing the last mile of my morning cycling and was looking forward to a cool drink at the house. I had gotten a late start that morning and the Florida sun was blistering hot in the mid-morning sky. The humidity was high from rains overnight, making the stifling air feel like a wet blanket draped across my face.
And that’s when I saw her. She was about 50 yards ahead of me headed toward me on the sidewalk. As I drew closer I could see she was breathing hard in the smothering heat. She was stooped over two small bags of groceries lying at her feet as she rested her weight on a cane. Her shoulders drooped. Her head hung down and she did not raise her eyes as I passed.
I was already past her as I squeezed the brakes and brought my bike to a crawl. I looked back over my shoulder and saw her form in the distance. Quickly I turned the bike back in her direction and pedaled up to her.
“Good morning!” I said, as I pulled up beside her and came to a stop. “It’s a hot one, isn’t it?”
“Sure is,” she replied as she glanced up at me.
I pulled off my sunglasses so she could see my eyes and I smiled at her to ease her mind. I’m sure she was wondering what this guy on the bike wanted from her. But all I wanted was to help her. As we talked, she told me that she was in her late 80’s and could no longer drive. She had no family in the area. Her husband died years ago after a bout with cancer. She was alone and had no one to help her. To get groceries, she had to walk a quarter mile to the grocery store on the corner. She would buy just enough so that she could carry them home. But today, the heat was winning the battle. Looking down at her grocery bags, I could see she had bought a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk. It was the milk that broke her. It was just too heavy. She didn’t know what to do. She had given up and wasn’t sure she could make it home.
I felt deeply for her. She could easily have been my Grandmother. “Why don’t you let me carry those groceries for you and I will help you get home” I said. She hesitated, glancing back at me, unsure if she could trust me. Finally she agreed. I picked up her bags and hung them on either side of my handlebars. I slowly walked beside her, pushing the bike, as she began to shuffle her way home.
It took nearly twenty minutes to walk that quarter mile but in those few moments she shared her story with me. She often glanced at me as she plodded along and spoke as if she were dictating her memoirs. Occasionally her eyes would dance as she described her husband and children. But then her eyes would drift to some point in the distance and a cloud would pass over her face as she shared in somber tones a tale of loss and trial. Finally we arrived at her home and she placed the cane against the wall before turning the key in the door. I followed her into the kitchen and set the bags of groceries on the counter. Before I left, I wrote my name and phone number on a slip of paper and told her to call me if she ever needed any help.
It was a small thing, a very small thing indeed. I had not spoken to a crowd in a packed auditorium. I hadn’t done a radio interview. I hadn’t done a concert. But what I had done was to serve the God of all gods. It was a small thing, but a very important thing. I was serving God.
Consider this verse:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27, ESV).
So many times we think that serving God is for pastors, missionaries, or other full-time Christian workers. Or we think that serving God means committing to help with some program of the church. These are all good things. But I don’t think it cuts to the heart of what God intended. I think it is much more.
Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV.
Once you understand that you have “been bought with a price”, then the idea of serving God changes. Being a servant is not something you do, it is someone you are. It is no longer a question of if you will serve God, but of what kind of servant you will be. Will you be an obedient servant or a disobedient servant?
Will you take care of widows and orphans? Will you give a carry-out bag of food or a glass of water to a homeless guy that is hungry or thirsty? Will you visit someone in prison? Would you ever open that extra bedroom in your home to a homeless person to sleep? How about your couch? Would you ever clear out a portion of your closet to give clothing to someone who had little or none?
Now you may say, “But Tim, some people make bad choices and there are consequences to those choices” and this is true. But serving others is not dependent upon the other person’s deserving it. It is dependent upon who you are, not who they are and you, my friend, are a servant of the most high God, if you claim to be a follower of Christ. Remember, you were bought with a price.
You might also say “But Tim, think of the risk” and there are risks for sure, especially if you serve to the extent of bringing someone into your home, which, incidentally, I have done. But are you aware of the risk involved if you do not? Consider carefully what Christ said:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:33-46, ESV)
The relationship I have with God should be evidenced by a lifestyle of service. If it is not, then I should question whether my relationship with God is legitimate. It is one of the key ways the Scriptures describe our relationship with God. He is Lord, or perhaps a better way to say it is that he is the Lord. He is the Master. We are the servants. But somewhere along the way, we in North America have forgotten this one simple truth.
The other day I sat in the parking lot of a church in New England with the engine running, the air conditioning cooling off the interior as I set the GPS for the place I was going to spend the night. I had just finished giving a concert at the church and I was tired. God had clearly moved during the service and it was satisfying to see. I was about to leave when suddenly my cell phone began to ring. I didn’t recognize the number, but saw that it was from my home area code in Florida. I almost let it go to voice mail and then at the last minute decided to answer it.
The voice that greeted me by name was old and feeble. My mind was racing to figure out who it was that was calling. Finally it hit me. It was the woman I had helped with the groceries! It had been months ago that I had walked her home but she had saved my number. Another heat spell had hit and she needed milk. She wondered if I could come over and drive her to the store. I smiled as I looked back at the church where I had just ministered. It was an important ministry I had just concluded, but another ministry event was calling, one that has a special place in God’s heart. I explained that I was in Maine and would be returning home the next day. I would be glad to help if she could wait long enough for me to get home.
I pulled the car out of the parking lot of the church and began to work my way down the road. After a night of rest I would fly home, to where a really important ministry event waited, where the next day I would have the privilege of serving the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.
Are you ready for your next ministry event? It could happen today. I pray that you will understand the privilege of serving God in the opportunities that come into your life on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and yes, sometimes even on Sunday. Love God with utter abandon. Love others selflessly. Serve the King of all kings.