Recently my sister introduced me to a blog by a man named Jeff Goins. Jeff is a writer who is generous in his willingness to help others become writers. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Jeff and his community, and if you are a writer, I would encourage you to visit his blog here. I just recently finished reading Jeff’s book, Wrecked. What a great book! Jeff begins by talking about those experiences a person may have where an encounter with someone’s profound need, or sorrow makes you re-think everything you thought you knew about life. It makes you want to DO something to make the world a better place. Sometimes it is as a result of a mission trip, sometimes an encounter with a homeless person, or a sick child. Whatever it is, it crystalizes for you what is truly worth your time and effort. What I really like about this book, though, is that Jeff brings us along from being that idealistic “vagabond for the Lord” type person to the necessity of learning commitment, responsibility, and – well, what I like to call, “serving God in the mundane.” After all, We can’t all be missionaries. Some of us have to get jobs and raise children and keep society from going to hell in a hand basket. Otherwise, who would support missions?
Throughout the book Jeff gives examples of people he has encountered in his journey to serve God in his every day life. He as done the mission trips, but also built relationships with homeless people in Nashville. He has come alongside single mothers and people dying with cancer. While reading this book I was privileged to hear Price Jones preach a sermon on Christ’s example of love to his disciples in John 13. If you don’t know, and don’t have your Bible handy, this is the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Price did a great job of discussing love in terms of “dealing with foot dirt.” Jeff knows what it is to deal with foot dirt. He speaks plainly about the fact that serving in this capacity is not the pleasant, pie-in-the-sky type ministry that we are so prone to imagine when we are young and naive and out to change the world. It’s messy, and it is hard, and it is uncomfortable, and it is fraught with failure.
Hey Jeff and Price, you know what else is uncomfortable? When you are the person with the stinky, dirty, festering feet. It is uncomfortable to be the wrecker. As I read the passage in John 13, I think that Peter must be the father of rugged individualism. “No way are you washing MY feet, I will take care of that myself!” And yet, Jesus tells him, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part of me.” I want to be careful not to add more to this text than is really here. First of all, it’s pretty clear by context that Jesus is talking about how he wanted his disciples to treat each other. He is talking about how believers ought to treat each other in the household of God. (I think it is often easier to go out and work in a soup kitchen than it is to be consistent in loving the people we worship with each Sunday). But I think we can also conclude that there will be people in the community of believers who have dirty feet. And honestly, sometimes it is easier to be needy in the world at large than it is to admit our needs to the people with which we share church community. It is hard to be on the receiving end. We should be giving, right? We should be serving. We shouldn’t need to have our feet washed. And yet, Jesus seems to be addressing not only the need for washing other people’s feet, but also the need to have our feet washed. We sometimes need to be served. We sometimes find ourselves in the position of being profoundly needy. In this sinful world we lose our way, we are abandoned, we are diseased, we are addicted, we are orphaned. We need help, and yet it is oh! so hard to admit it. Our society is all about being our own person. We are all about helping others and taking care of ourselves. We don’t like having to need someone else. We don’t like being destitute. It is humiliating, it is embarrassing, it is emasculating. And yet, it is also an opportunity to be a tool in the hands of God.
Welcome to the demolition team. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (or not), is to wreck other people for God. Exhilarating, isn’t it? Not so much. But it is, in a way a calling. Can you trust that you have a role in the Community to give opportunity for service, to be a teaching moment for someone else? No doubt being a gracious needy person is a difficult task. Often you are so wracked with pain, either physical, emotional or spiritual, that you can’t be patient and understanding with those who are pretty smug about helping you, but really aren’t helping at all. Sometimes you don’t have the gumption to voice your needs for one more person to reject. Sometimes you just can’t stand the embarrassment your needs cause. And yet for this time at least God has given you this role in His kingdom – the role of stinky, dirty feet.
So the question comes, what does this calling require? How can I be an effective sledge hammer in the hearts of God’s people? I would like to give a few suggestions here for your consideration.
A godly wrecker graciously accepts help from people who offer it. This is hard. It is hard to be on the receiving end. It is hard to sit in that chair while someone kneels at your feet and washes them. It is hard to let someone else clean up your vomit, or dress your wounds. It is hard to accept financial assistance. How do we do this graciously? First of all I think we need to be grateful. We need to say thank you. It doesn’t have to be gushy, it doesn’t have to be flowery, it just needs to be voiced. Swallow your pride, accept the help, and say, “thank you”.
Beyond that, to the extent that you can, try to put the foot washer at ease. Maybe make a joke, maybe assure them they are doing a great job, maybe ask them questions about their day so that the focus isn’t all on the stench of the feet. The year before Strokeman’s stroke, my dad had open heart surgery. After he had been moved out of CCU onto a regular medical floor, it became evident that someone needed to stay with him at night, and it didn’t need to be my exhausted mom. Of the children, I was closest and had the most flexible schedule. So after work I started the four hour trip from my house to the hospital so that I could spend the night in his room. I knew that I would need to help Dad with things that would require a loss of privacy for him, and I began to pray that God would help us work through whatever discomfort that might transpire. About that time I got a call from my mom. She said Dad had wanted her to make sure I would not worry about modesty issues. He said he was old and it didn’t matter any more. That is a gracious receiver. He anticipated I might be uncomfortable, and wanted to make sure I would know it was alright. A timely word can do wonders in making an awkward situation less difficult for everyone involved.
On the flip side, sometimes a godly wrecker graciously declines. This may be even more difficult than accepting help, because it it hard to do this without seeming ungrateful. Sometimes people will be eager to minister, but will, out of ignorance, go about it in the wrong way. It may be that you will have to say, “You need to go now”, or “this isn’t really helping”. Sometimes we need to be willing to gently educate. I have had to tell people they can’t stay long at our house, especially if they have young children, because Strokeman is very sensitive to noise. I have had to decline help from people who talk a lot or too loudly. I have had to decline help from people who offer too much assistance, actually causing more danger (and dependence) than help. Often, if you are willing to patiently teach, these helpers learn much about how to serve others more effectively. It’s difficult not to be irritated when people say or do things that are not in keeping with your needs. A godly wrecker will remember that we can’t be expected to know what we have never had an opportunity to learn. I have yet to find anyone capable of reading minds, so words have to actually be spoken.
When we are the ones who are needy, dependent on others to provide for us what we can’t provide for ourselves, we have to struggle against the tendency to be frustrated with those who are serving us. We need to be patient and forgiving and long-suffering. We have to learn to let love cover a multitude of sins. We have to learn to accept help from humans while trusting God to provide. If someone comes into our lives, we can be sure that our multi-tasking Father is working in us both. God is using us to show forbearance and patience and perseverance to those who come around us. If we refuse to let others into our world of suffering, we miss the opportunity to be used by Him in their lives. We are broken by our suffering, others will be broken by our faith in the midst of suffering.
If we are to trust the scriptures as God’s word, then we must believe that whatever comes into our lives is for our ultimate good. He will do for us what he did for Joseph and Job and David and Peter: He will take what appears to be evil and make it good. He will use it to make us more like Himself. Sometimes we just have to trust what we cannot see, and sometimes we get a tiny glimpse that makes us think, “Hey! I might actually be seeing a smattering of good here!” The question is; can you go one step further? Can you trust that whatever inconvenience you cause to the people around you – whatever stench you are giving off- whatever loss your friends and family have suffered at your hand – can you trust, dear reader that it is ultimately for their good? I don’t imagine any of us ever hope to be called to the ministry of wreckage. It’s too hard. But be encouraged, dear fellow havoc wreakers, you have been given this assignment, at least in part, in order to bring growth to the people around you. Pray that God will give you the grace to rise to the occasion. It is easy to speak of God’s love and sovereignty when everything is going fine in our lives. But when we are struggling, when we are being tested, we have the unique opportunity to speak of the hard things in scripture and be heard. If we can sing of the mercies of the Lord when we are destitute in the world’s eyes, it will bring great encouragement to our community. In this way, we can serve as we are being served.
So go ahead and pray that God will relieve you of your suffering. Go ahead and take whatever steps you can to fulfill the need. But meanwhile, pray that God will make you a gracious wrecker. Pray that He will give you the grace to be patient and grateful and educational and a willing tool in His hands. As difficult as it seems, it is a unique opportunity to prove the hope that you have in Christ.