Father Knows Best: Trusting God when He calls us to serve in the weeds

“God, will you please let me rock the babies?” I silently lifted up the prayer as I stood in the inner-city ministry. I was among a handful of adult leaders guiding a week-long middle school mission trip, and this ministry was just one of the many places our group had served.

I have to admit the trip had been hard. My home for the week was our local church. My bedroom was one of the middle school classrooms, and my bed was a loveseat (just a tad shorter than my 5’4” frame). Each day we led the youth through service projects, from loving on kids at a day camp, to cutting huge billboard banners into small sections, to befriending refugee children whose broken English made it tough to relate. Don’t get me wrong—it was joyful, life-giving work! But it was work all the same, and my mind and body grew more tired each day.

“I have worked pretty hard this week,” I reasoned with the Lord. “I haven’t complained, and I’ve jumped into each task. I didn’t even grumble (at least, not much) when some middle school drama broke out amongst the girls and I had to gently guide them to resolution. So could You give me a little breather and let me rock those beautiful babies?”

And then in submission, I prayed, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”

I really didn’t want to say that last line. I really just wanted to have my own way. I thought I had earned it. But I submitted to God’s next directive. The ministry leader gathered our entire group together and began to dole out assignments. When her eyes locked with mine, I held my breath.

“You four, I am going to have you go across the street to the vacant lot. We need you to weed one-half of it to look like the other side.”

Ugh. I gotta admit that my heart hurt for a moment.  I really wanted to have a “But, God…” conversation:

“But God, can’t You see how tired I am?”
“But God, haven’t I cooperated all week with every assignment You have given me?”
“But God, didn’t I earn a little chair-rocking, baby-cuddling time?”

Yet in my spirit, I knew that God was about to give me a beautiful gift disguised in not-so-appealing wrapping. So the three middle school girls and I made our way across the street. We assessed the weed situation, devised a work plan and dug in—literally.

And as we went about beautifying this desolate plot of land, conversation ensued. The girls started asking all sorts of questions about the Bible—and about life. As we excavated weeds, God tilled up the soil of the girls’ hearts and allowed me opportunities to plant seeds of His truth and love. My joy overflowed!

But God wasn’t finished moving.

As we worked and talked, a man frequently ascended and descended the stairs behind the building next door. I smiled and said hello as I weeded. Finally, curiosity got the best of him. He began to ask questions. What are you doing? Why? I explained to him that we were a middle school group from The Chapel, and we had been serving our local neighbors for the last week in whatever ways they needed. I watched him ponder and could see he wanted more information—but not about us. He wanted to know more about God.

For the next ten minutes or so, as the girls and I continued to weed, I fielded the man’s concerns and shared God’s truth in love. I watched his shoulders relax and his tensions release as his heart opened. I asked him if he would like to pray, and he agreed. Afterward, we shook hands and he thanked me. And I thanked God.

In the book of Matthew, we read about a mom who wants her two sons to have privileged seats at the right and left side of Jesus. She appeals to Him to let it be so. Jesus’s response must have disappointed the mother and sons at first: “whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28).

Jesus not only uttered those words, He lived them out. The gospels are replete with examples of His servant heart:

  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14)
  • “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-36)
  • “Now when Jesus heard [about the death of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:13-14)
  • “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-5)

The book of Hebrews explains this servant heart perhaps better than any other Scripture passage when it says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV 1984).

As He walked this earth, Jesus knew that true joy comes from total surrender and submission to God, and that serving others is far more gratifying in the long run than being served. Hebrews 12 tells us that we have a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and learned that lesson, too.

A vacant lot in inner-city Akron served as my training ground for this great lesson as well. The experience not only permanently changed my perspective, but perhaps planted seeds for a harvest of righteousness in three young ladies and in the heart of a stranger looking for hope.

I am so grateful He didn’t have me rock those babies.