We never should’ve eaten the spinach.
It was a team dinner and we got take-out from a restaurant we all loved. One of the dishes we ordered was a common side dish in our country: a cold dish of spinach and peanuts. We had a great evening as a team, lots of laughter and great conversation.
Then came the apocalypse.
The next 2 days after that fateful meal found almost all 17 of us curled up in the fetal position on the floors of our apartments, tormented by a raging form of food poisoning that would make the most iron stomach in the world weep in the corner. Everyone on the team got it – except a few of the kids: the ones who didn’t eat the spinach. So much for that parenting rule.
And did I mention that our water went completely out in all of our apartments during the apocalypse? You just can’t make this stuff up.
When we sign up for full-time ministry overseas, I think many of us have these fantastic images of how quickly we’ll learn the language, love the people, and have fabulous, meaningful ministry. We picture Elijah on Mt. Carmel, or Peter on Pentecost. Yes, bring it on! We’re going to change the world!
But, the reality is we are often flooded by experiences and needs and time-consuming efforts that we could never have imagined. Our days and nights are sometimes filled with things that never make the newsletters. Like the time I spent hours in line at the post office, only to have the woman behind the counter tell me that my “U.S. postal service” envelope was not admissible. I guess I should’ve followed the person ahead of me in line who was sewing up an old pillow case for an envelope and was accepted without hesitation.
Or, the time we ate the spinach.
I have discovered that full time service sometimes looks a lot more like Isaiah or Jeremiah, where the Lord is calling me to be faithful even when there is no fruit.
Full time overseas service has made me pull out my hair as I “wasted” hours in lines, navigated boggling lanes of traffic, and spent days trying to get the right paperwork.
It has brought me to my knees as my selfishness and pride has often been pulled to the surface, and sometimes in such ugly ways that I didn’t recognize my own heart in the mirror.
It has shattered my heart as dear people that I love and weep over in prayer continue to refuse the One who loves them and longs for them.
It has stirred up some wild ideas that needed to be slain about my identity being found in what I do, or the place I serve.
But, this life, this crazy, full time life of service is also full of surprises that bring me to my knees in joy as I watch the Lord place more chairs around His table, and I get to see precious ones come and join me at His Feast.
It has peeled back the layers of my heart, revealing a whole lot of murky places, but then deeper still, a God who loves me even there.
It has given me deep relationships with some of God’s best kids, people that I can’t believe I get to call my friends.
But, most of all, this life has been one invitation after another to walk with my Jesus.
He has continually invited me to journey with HIM into all those dark places and also into all the glorious light ones, as HE has been by one Constant, my true Companion, and the One who shares every memory.
He loves all the people I love, on both sides of the ocean. He longs for His lost kids to come to Him more than I do. And He delights in US, his children who have said yes to full time service — but not because we’re doing stuff for Him. He delights in us because we’re HIS. Before you’ve lifted a finger in your ministry, remember that. He delights in you because you’re his kid. You are fully seen, fully known, and fully loved.
As you pour out and love and give and serve and bless and cry and struggle in this crazy life of full time service, receive His invitation to journey with Him through it all. Let Him fill you to overflowing so that you spill out Jesus to those you serve. Remember that He loves YOU, not your service. And maybe be careful eating cold spinach.
What have been some of your surprises in your experience of full time service? What has God shown you in your service about His heart for you?