A few years ago we moved back to the U.S. from a difficult term overseas. I was running on empty, emotionally depleted and more tired than I thought a person could be. My daughter started attending a small Christian academy that required all parents to serve in some volunteer capacity, but I was too overwhelmed to choose which service team to join, so I told an administrator to put me wherever she wanted. A few days later she sent an email informing me that I was on the moms’ prayer team.
I’m comfortable with prayer but I knew being part of this team would require vulnerability. I can’t pray without being real, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of authenticity with a new group of women.
It’ll be okay, I told myself as I propelled my reluctant feet toward the door for our first prayer team meeting. I’d planned to introduce myself and then sit quietly in the corner, engaging as little as possible without being rude. My plan worked ... until a woman burst into the room a few minutes late, spinning in circles as she greeted people before dropping into the seat beside me, breathless and laughing.
Turning with a disarming grin, she introduced herself and whispered, “I’m so glad you’re here! I think you’ll love this group. They’re so real!”
It didn’t take long to discover that my vibrant new friend was right. Those ladies opened their lives, sharing with a vulnerability that invited my weary, wary heart out of hiding. We’ve become like sisters as we’ve prayed each other and our school through emotional peaks and valleys.
Just showing up — even when I felt I had almost nothing to offer — led me into some of the sweetest community I’ve known.
Why Should We Engage?
Choosing to engage with people or service opportunities isn’t always easy. Maybe you feel like I did: depleted and unable to offer much. Maybe you’ve been burned in the past and are afraid to open up again. Or perhaps you feel you don’t have time to invest in one more thing.
So why should we consider getting involved when it can feel so costly?
When we find excuses to avoid engaging with groups or individuals, we’re not just dodging the complications and costs of relationships but also the unique beauty they bring.
Even more important than that, though, is simply that Jesus wants us to love and serve people: “One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: ‘Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus replied, ‘What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?’ The man answered, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘Right!’ Jesus told him. ‘Do this and you will live!’” (Luke 10:25-28, NLT)
If we claim to follow Jesus, we’re supposed to love God with everything in us and love other people like we love ourselves. Investing in people is a core element of the gospel.
But it’s impossible to invest in all seven billion people on the planet or even each person in our community. We have limited time and resources, so we need to consider who and what God is asking us to engage with.
Who and What Should We Engage?
Some relationships come more easily than others. We tend to connect best with people who are in similar stages of life or have stories and values like our own. It can be tempting to invest all our time and energy in these comfortable relationships and only get involved in opportunities that directly impact us. We may even identify with the religious expert’s response to Jesus’ command to love his neighbor as himself: “The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29, NLT)
The religious expert probably expected Jesus to affirm his bias toward the Jewish community; instead, Jesus told the shocking story of a hated Samaritan rescuing a Jew who’d been attacked by bandits and left to die by his own countrymen.
The Samaritan became the unlikely hero when he showed up and responded to someone’s need in spite of the differences between them. He wasn’t searching for someone to rescue. He simply chose to serve the person he noticed in his path.
We don’t have the capacity to be involved in the lives of everyone around us or every worthy cause we learn about, but we can notice the people and opportunities God brings into our paths — both comfortable and uncomfortable. God didn’t give us permission to only serve those like us, nor has he called us to single-handedly save anyone; he just asks us to show up, be present and engage in one conversation or act of service at a time.
As we respond this invitation, what should our involvement look like?
How Should We Engage?
I once attended a symposium on modern-day slavery, which is an enormous issue in the U.S. and around the world. The statistics were overwhelming and the victims’ stories made me ache. As I focused on the magnitude of the need, my individual contribution felt pitifully small.
We all face situations that feel bigger than we can handle. Focusing on all the ways we feel unequipped to engage issues can be paralyzing, and we can even convince ourselves that we can’t make any real difference.
Jesus’ disciples felt this way too. One late afternoon, they stood in the midst of 5,000 men, plus an unrecorded number of women and children. They had all followed Jesus onto a hillside to hear him teach, but the sun started to set and the people got hungry. Only a child stepped up to meet the need, offering his meager meal for the cause. One of the disciples voiced a valid concern: “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” (John 6:9, NLT)
That little boy brought what he had to Jesus simply because there was a need, and Jesus didn’t minimize the boy’s gift. Instead, Jesus took the food in his hands, thanked his Father in heaven and distributed the bread and fish to the entire crowd.
The entire crowd.
But what’s even more surprising was what happened after the meal: “After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, ‘Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.’ So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves” (John 6:12-13, NLT).
God’s math isn’t the same as ours. He has a way of taking our smallest offerings and multiplying them to impact people in ways we couldn’t have imagined.
This reality allows us to confidently engage the people and causes in our paths by bringing whatever we have to the God who multiplies and trusting him to meet needs. We can hand over our meager offerings — our willingness, humble words, fumbling prayers and limited resources — and leave the results in his hands.
It’s not about what we offer to him. It’s about showing up, giving God the little bits we bring and watching him do what only he can.
As you think about showing up and engaging when God asks, consider these questions:
What keeps you from showing up?
What relationship or cause has God brought into your path and how is he inviting you to engage?
Think about a time someone really showed up for you. How has your life been impacted by that act?