God meant for us to minister to others every day and in every circumstance of life. Too often, if we see our lives as a ministry at all, we see it as periods of service broken up by periods when we cannot serve—for example, when we are ill. In other words, when things don’t come easily, when things are not perfect, we are “on break” or “out to lunch.”
If anyone had an excuse for taking a break, it was Paul while he was in prison. Yet he tells the Philippians that he was fulfilling his mission to preach the gospel, “this grace,” even while imprisoned, Phil 1:5-7. God recently taught us this lesson of perpetual ministry in a way we will not soon forget.
Keith had major surgery in May that kept him in the hospital five days. In fact, it kept me in with him since I can more easily communicate with this deaf spouse of 40 years than anyone else can, and I took care of many basic nursing chores too.
We have always made it a point to treat service people as people, not personal slaves or furniture. Many waitresses have told us they remember us from earlier visits precisely because of that. We tried to do the same with the hospital medical staff. We didn’t complain; we didn’t make demands; we took care of our own needs as often as possible, and said please and thank you when we had to ask for something. We never really thought about that—it’s just something we do because the Lord would have us treat everyone kindly and with respect.
One night one of the nurses took me aside and asked about our “religion.” “There’s something different about you,” she said, and gave me an opening to talk with her about the Lord and our church family.
Another night one of the nurses stayed in our room talking to us far longer than she needed in order to accomplish her task. Finally she said with a sigh, “I need to go check on the others, but I’ll be back to talk more when I can.”
Yet another day, one of the nurses who had been with us for three days was leaving for four days off, and knew that she wouldn’t see us again. She made a point to come say good-bye.
While we were there we handed out tracts and blog cards. We wrote down church addresses and website addresses. We gave out email addresses. Although we had taken those things with us “just in case,” I was shocked at how many we were able to give out, at how many people wanted to talk. We thought we needed their care, but God showed us how to give it right back.
What is happening in your life right now? Don’t assume that you cannot serve when you are physically indisposed. Don’t hang an “out to lunch” sign on your life because you have too much going on right now to pay attention to anyone else. What did Jesus do while he was hanging on the cross? How many did he minister to? His mother, a thief, the very men who drove the nails, and all of us as he died for our sins.
Jesus expects us to live as he did, thinking of others’ needs first. If you have done it long enough, it comes without thought, even in turbulent times, painful times, sorrowful times. The trick is to do it while things are good. Do it in the grocery store. Do it on the freeway. Do it at school and work and when you speak to your neighbor. It must become natural in order to come automatically in trying circumstances. Any difficulty you have, especially when things are easy, is a telling factor—it shows how little you have been working on it.
Service, first, last, always--and regardless of circumstances—that is the motto of a true disciple of Christ.
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ, Philippians 1:12-13.
To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak, Ephesians 6:18-20.