Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10, NIV)
This week in my group Bible study, we discussed the idea of using the gifts God has given each one of us. I've been enjoying The Weekly Faith Project, but this week's study challenged me deeply. The author approaches the idea from the standpoint that we should be serving where the things that bring us joy meet the needs of those around us. That intersection should be our passion.
Things that Bring Me Joy
I was hesitant to literally make a list of the things that bring me joy because I couldn't understand how the things I like to do are related to serving God. (If you can already see where I'm going, please stop rolling your eyes at how widely I missed the point.) I have a very narrow view of what it means to serve God, at least in practical application. When I think of the women at that Bible study, I think of women who have served God by loving me: by leaving me special voicemail messages, giving gifts to my children because they were thinking about them, by allowing my family to repeatedly use their home, and by simply sharing one of a kind friendships over the years. None of these are traditional means of ministry, and yet each woman (and their spouses, too) has uniquely served God by showing my family these kindnesses. As the Spirit spoke and my heart was convicted, I jotted down a quick list. I like writing, cooking, traveling, gathering, organizing, and meeting people. Obscure as they are, these are things I love.
The Needs Around Me
Again, I was hesitant to make a list of needs because I didn't want to write down generic, universal needs. It turned out that most of the other woman also thought of these things that we all need: love, forgiveness, acceptance, and so on. For me, writing down these types of things made me painfully aware of the fact that I was not immediately tuned in to the needs of those around me. If resources were fully available and I had to chose a way to serve someone right now (and I mean literally right now), I'm not sure I'd know what to do. Perhaps that is because this is hypothetical, but it seems more likely to me that I wouldn't know what to do because I am not in touch with the needs of those around me. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about this. So I took a step back. Who are the people around me?
I began to think, really think, about who I encounter in my daily life. I broke it down into a few categories:
- The people closest to me are the people I care most about and love deeply. They may be friends or family, and some of them are people I don't see regularly. These are the people I would feel comfortable asking for anything if I needed it.
- The next closest group of people are casual friends, those who most of us would call acquaintances. Some I have not known very long, and so the relationship is not very deep. Some I have known a long time but because of the nature of our relationship we are not deeply bonded. For most of my life, colleagues would have fallen into this category, but to varying degrees.
- Beyond them are the most distant person who can still be called a friend. They are people I know of, know in part, and have met sometimes repeatedly with no significant relationship being formed as a result. I'm calling them friends of friends, although sometimes these people are relatives who I have an undeniable connection to despite essentially being strangers.
- The last group of people I know are the random people I meet - maybe once at a party, as a client, or sitting next to them in a waiting room. The other group of people I include here are the regular strangers we see - the guy in the grocery store who restocks produce, my dry cleaner, or the couple who walks their dog past my house.
As this image of who I know began to form, I heard the theme song from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood in the background. There were no strangers to Mr. Rogers, only friends he hadn't yet made. While that idea of a neighborhood might be oversimplified, it doesn't have to be as complicated as we sometimes make it.
I return to the original question: what are the needs of those around me and how do I use what I enjoy to meet those needs? I'm not sure I'm much closer to the specific needs of those around me. I'm not sure I want to list them here even as they come to mind. For now I am content with knowing that my eyes have been opened to another way of serving God. I pray my eyes see the needs of those around me and that I act every time I can.
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