by Joanie Butman
One of my devotionals this week posed this question: “If you were asked to use one word to describe the Christian life, which one would you choose?” I was surprised by the author’s answer: good works. While service is certainly an integral component of the Christian life, works wouldn’t be the word I’d pick. Mine would most definitely be JOY. Too many Christians sleepwalk through life working diligently, but with a lack of joy that baffles me. It’s a constant striving to earn something that Christ freely bestows upon us. Our works flow out from it, not towards it.
Along with a variety of other bizarre misconceptions I absorbed during my Catholic school education, I was under the distinct impression that good works had to involve some kind of sacrifice to ‘count.’ It had to hurt. Meaning you had to lose something in the process whether it be time, finances or comfort. It had to cost you something to be of any value. Luckily, over the years that understanding has been debunked.
Experiential wisdom has taught me that true service reaps its own reward. In fact, when you are using your God-given time, talents, and treasures in service to others, you gain more than you give. It’s a divine transaction that defies human logic. That’s not to say there won’t be times when the opportunity put in front of you won't be inconvenient and disruptive; but whenever I’ve chosen to do it anyway, I’ve always received an unexpected gift, and walked away with an extra bounce in my step and an extra dose of joy in my heart.
However, when choosing ongoing efforts to pursue, it’s imperative to use the very things that you enjoy doing. If you love sports, coaching might be the obvious choice. If you have a heart for children, mentoring would be a logical pick. As Frederick Buechner maintains, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And when you are in that zone, you can’t help feeling joyful. Another famous author and theologian, Howard Thurman, put it this way, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
An important aside here: Be wary not to get distracted by what someone else is doing. The current affliction of FOMO (fear of missing out) can be applied to even the most noble of endeavors. Sounds crazy and convoluted I know, but I’ve never claimed to be entirely sane. Even so, I’m sure I’m not alone in falling prey to this temptation. You know the nagging voice, “You’re not doing enough. Look what so-and-so is doing. You should be doing more,” which I promptly do, making myself miserable along with those I’m serving. Not everyone is called to BIG service, but we all have something to offer. In his book, The Work, Wes Moore defines service as simply “embracing the possibility of living for more than ourselves. It’s the truth that hunts us down, our common calling.” C. S. Lewis takes it one step further claiming that “To follow your vocation (or calling) does not mean happiness, but once it has been heard, there is no happiness for those who do not follow.”
Without a doubt, utilizing our gifts and talents in service to others can be a source of great joy. But it’s just an extension of the deep-seated joy that comes from choosing to nurture a relationship with Christ. When you choose Jesus, He fills you with His immeasurable joy just as he promises in John 15:11. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” He’s referring to all of us. It’s ours for the taking but only if we choose to do so. When you do, I promise that any endeavor you take on will be with a new perspective and enthusiasm.
I will close with the wisdom of a good friend and colleague. She enlightened me on the genesis of the word enthusiasm. It is derived from the Greek work EN-THEOS, which means inspired by God.* I'll leave you with a thought to ponder this week. What brings you enthusiasm? How can you choose to use that to enhance your family, your community or our world?
*Genesis Workshop, C. B. Kunkel