I went on my very first mission trip when I was about 10 years old. Actually, I was just tagging along with my parents. Still, that week of serving in the heat outside of New Orleans had an amazing impact on my spiritual growth.
Just a child and not able to fully participate, I watched with awe as my parents and the rest of the team from our church gave selflessly and exhaustingly of themselves to a large group of inner city children. We had taken them for a week of overnight camp to a rustic and un-airconditioned facility in the south of Louisiana…in July! The group of adults and teenagers from our church wrangled energized children, cooked all of the meals, facilitated games and activities from sun up to sunset, and shared the gospel. I simply befriended the children, ran errands and performed menial chores.
But I served.
Service is the final key for spiritual growth.
Surprised? Did you think the final key would be something more studious or holy? Actually, is there really anything more holy than serving others in the name of Jesus?
See Matthew 25:31-46 for the answer to that question. Something about doing unto the least of these?
When we serve, really serve… roll our sleeves up, get our hands dirty, step out of our comfort zone and into the very uncomfortable…and serve, we experience a pruning of sorts that encourages new, fresh growth in our lives. The challenge, the push, the call for something we don’t even know we have within us causes us to bow low, reach our empty hands to the sky, and beg for grace to make it. God rains down His grace, His sufficiency, His strength and infuses us with Himself.
And we grow.
And then we serve some more. And we grow some more.
Serving stretches us. When we minister to the unlovable, we must open wide our hearts so that God’s unfailing love can flow through us. When we minister to the reprehensible, we are forced to consider deeply the grace we have received and share it lavishly. When we minister to the different, we open our eyes and see others as God sees them. When we minister to the broken, we step out of God’s way and put down our silly formulas and call on the power of an almighty and all-loving God to intervene. When we minister to the hopeless, we remember back to where we found hope and we hold out the lifeline to the one who is drowning in despair.
And we grow.
Sure, we grow simply from serving our families and our friends, our co-workers and our church family. I know I have become more Christlike simply because I have done 52,398 loads of stinky laundry without a single “thank you.” 🙂 But I encourage you to, at least occasionally, take your service to those beyond your normal circle of influence. It is when we step beyond the boundaries of our “normal” and venture into the testy, deep waters of the unfamiliar that we grow the most. And it is when we serve those with whom we have no familial ties or friendly bonds that we develop a larger, God-sized heart.
Whom could you serve this week? How would that stretch you?