Service: A Lesson Learned the Hard Way

I’m not sure if it was being in my 20s, being a new mom, or being fresh on the field, but my first year overseas catapulted me into the most intense identity crisis.

For someone who traditionally defined herself by tasks and roles, I was lost in my transition into my home abroad. I didn’t have a job title, and no one seemed to know what to do with a woman who wanted to work outside her home. I was pouring myself into language study, but I had no professional outlet to use my vocabulary.

This post may not speak to many of you, but it’s my confession. I moved to SE Asia as a workaholic who found my worth in productivity and my ability to GET THINGS DONE.

I tried in every way possible to validate myself as a Christian expat. I perfected my by-line on social media. I defined myself by my studies, by my motherhood, by my region of service. I wanted to be known for the *good* I was doing, and wanted to be identified by those kinds of measurables.

The problem is, the glory of the Lord is not a thing to be robbed.

Working for the Lord is not about our ability to make things happen on our own – it’s about His divine authority to make things happen for His glory.

So many times we want to lead big movements and have big followings and say big things, but our motives behind these desires are rooted in insecurities, selfishness, and pride.

The insecurities I faced as a new mom, a young professional, and a green expat overwhelmed me, and I tried to overcompensate by seeking validation through hard work and results.

Part of me thought if I accomplished enough for the Kingdom, God would be happy with me and I’d be worthy in His eyes. Part of me thought if I led enough and talked enough, people would be happy with me and I’d be worthy in their eyes.

I learned the hard way that God’s validation doesn’t come through my accomplishments, and seeking the approval of others is a disease that slowly eats away at my mental health.


This week we’re talking about spiritual disciplines, and I wanted to share this confession because I’ve learned so much about service.

The remedy to finding our exact spot in the identity of Christ? It’s found in the great paradox of the first being last (Matthew 19:30).

I’m afraid I’m going to step on some toes, but mine have been danced all over and I’m better for it. So I bear my soul here in hopes of speaking into the life of another one struggling to find her validation through works and deeds.


When we say we ‘seek to serve the least of these’ but what we really mean is lead our own non-profit, how can we check our motives?

When we desire to bring development to an impoverished world but what we are really after is the power to fix others’ problems, how can we check our intentions?

When we claim to bring the message of a Savior to a lost community but we’re keeping tallies of all the people *we* have saved, how can we check our hearts?

Coming from an entitled background that is coupled with a faith in Jesus can be an enigma. How do we use our material, social, and cognitive capital to be like Christ to those less fortunate?

The answer is service. We have to become nothing. We can’t and shouldn’t be first until we’re last.

If I’m honest, this took practice for me. I wish my spiritual gift was service, but I’ve had to be especially intentional to practice this as I’m more gifted towards leadership.

And leadership leads to accomplishments. And accomplishments lead to pride. And pride leads to glory-robbing.

For the women of my generation, I pray that we can see the value in doing whatever good deed is put in front of us, and really pour ourselves into that act of service.

I pray that we can see the value of an act of service even if it’s not put on social media. I pray we can see the value of an act of service even if it doesn’t lead to a greater following.

When it doesn’t bring us attention, when it doesn’t help us professionally, when it doesn’t grow our influence, I pray to goodness we see the value in the spiritual discipline of service.

Because that leads us closer to the heart of God. And when we are close to the heart of God, we no longer seek validation from Him or from the world. We simply know every battle already has been won.

What makes the spiritual discipline of service hard for you? What helps you in those times?


  1. Sarah Hilkemann May 8, 2016

    “The glory of the Lord is not a thing to be robbed”.

    This is a huge lesson I’ve been learning over the last year, mostly the hard way. I wanted to prove to a lot of people, both at home and fellow workers, that I was worthy of this calling and I wanted them to say nice things about me, to be good enough for them. I’m learning that doesn’t work very well, because this calling, this life (no matter where we are) is not about me but about Jesus. I am fighting the urge to perform and impress, and trying to bend my will to the discipline of being nothing, only a servant of the King. This is still a huge part of my journey, and I’m so thankful for your honest words!

    1. Lauren Pinkston May 9, 2016

      I teared up when I read your comment, Sarah. I was so nervous to submit this post, so I can’t thank you enough for having the courage to let me know I’m not alone.

      1. Amy Young May 10, 2016

        Oh Lauren, I think almost everyone of us gets this!! When we don’t have financial cues or year end bonuses, what other people think becomes so out of proportion. Here’s to God rewiring us all  . . . as we grow to be more like him and less like this insane version of our false selves :). Love you BOTH.

  2. Jennifer Ott May 9, 2016

    Since everything we came to do fell apart around us (we’ve been told again and again by our leadership that it wasn’t our fault, but it’s difficult to believe that), this really resonated.  The Lord has been showing us what He wants to do, and it’s not as glamorous or cool to take pictures of, but I am trying to walk in that.  Thank you!!!  (I am printing this out to read again and again.)

    1. Lauren Pinkston May 9, 2016

      Oh Jennifer, it’s so hard to watch things fall apart and not blame yourself! When we were in training, we were studying the work of God. Something that really stuck with me was realizing that so often we make huge plans and write beautiful mission statements, and ask God to bless those things. Instead, maybe we should find where God is at work and ask Him to join Him in that work? That way we know it’s already been blessed!

      Unfortunately, the things God is at work doing and the people He is working through don’t incite a photoshoot. And I think that is perfectly okay. I pray our generation can change the trajectory of storytelling and supporting overseas worker in a way that honors God above all else! <3

      1. Jennifer Ott May 9, 2016

        Yes!  God has pushed us into a place where He undeniably is and is working, and I need to rejoice in that!  It is a lesson I am slow to learn.

        I hope our generation can change things.  I feel the constant burden of financial pressure and feeling judged by our supporters…

      2. Ellie May 9, 2016

        “I pray our generation can change the trajectory of storytelling and supporting overseas worker in a way that honors God above all else!” Oh, yes and Amen!

        I feel this caution recently as everything is FB and Instagram and we are encouraged to blog and so on..

        In some ways it is good for our organisations to want us to provide them with high quality pictures and catchy stories of what’s been happening to keep people up to date with God’s work but God forbid we should fall over the line into “keeping up appearances” or selling something that’s not God’s work” (in fact it’s the “selling” I have the problem with rather than the “telling”, but where to draw the line is so hard sometimes.)

        It’s so very important that we are”honouring God above all else” and that often looks like a long patient slog. Yes, Jennifer I hear you: “it’s not as glamorous or cool to take pictures of, but I am trying to walk in that.” Well done and yay! May we all do that. Thanks for your post Lauren.

        1. Amy Young May 10, 2016

          Ellie, I get this, the tension. Yes, it is good to want to be professional and be able to document our work. It is! But we also need to fight the urge that is the sum total of the story.

    2. Tina May 10, 2016

      Jennifer – This rings so true to me too. We showed up on the field and “the plan” as we knew it crumbled. Now we are building anew and stumbling around like toddlers. We too hear that it isn’t our fault – and I believe it is not — but the performance programming haunts my mind. The Holy Spirit keeps whispering to my heart, “It’s all about Me. Eyes on me chica. You’re correct. You can’t but I can!” So we walk. Trusting he is setting our feet straight, sweet sister, as we continue our dance through life with the King!

  3. Jenilee May 9, 2016

    This is such a strong, real lesson for me… Monday mornings… I wake up with lists of things to do, things I want to do, dreams… and remember I’m home today with no vehicle, laundry and other home responsibilities. Service. Such a major life change for this get-it-done girl. Thanks for your honest words and reminder that I’m not alone in this fight to remain faithful in the “small” things

    1. Lauren Pinkston May 9, 2016

      You are definitely not alone. And my to-do list aspirations are way higher than they should be in a given day. Hope your day *stuck* at home turned out to be joyful and life-giving!

      1. Amy Young May 10, 2016

        I think the three of us (and many others! hello others!) are cut from the same cloth.

  4. Spring May 9, 2016

    Thanks so much for this post.  I totally agree with this and am very task oriented. A few years ago before going on the field I realized I was living by works and not faith.  It has been a slow change in me, and a difficult one!  Personally I’ve only been on the field a few months and my biggest struggle is I don’t have a lot to do outside of our home.  (and I can’t seem to get everything done inside of our home).


    I guess I would ask you how does this look as a M who has to raise support?  No matter how non task focused I am.. one of the first things people ask you is “What did you do”? We are returning to the US to raise support which will take us about a year and I am just trying to think of what the balance is.  Thanks so much for your insight!

    1. Lauren Pinkston May 9, 2016

      First of all, know you’re in good company! It has been painful to change the way we raise support and talk about our work abroad. But we’ve done everything we can to take the pressure off ourselves and direct everyone back to what God is at work doing. We are very honest with our sending fellowship about our desire to seek His heart and join the work He was doing in our country.

      We welcome accountability from our sending body. We really do want to be accountable to the work we are in Asia to do! But we tried to define the outputs we’re measured by to be our personal prayer and study time, our obedience to God’s leading in our lives, and our seeking out two people to be REALLY pouring into at a time. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but it has kept us SO busy, and led to the most amazing open doors. The Father has blessed us and also blessed our relationship with our senders.

      We also send out a short weekly update to a massive list, so people know what we do each week and are able to walk with us through our highs and lows. I know this probably seems overwhelming, but I attribute so much of our prayer support to that tiny weekly email.

      I hope this helps in some way!

    2. Amy Young May 10, 2016

      Spring, I love what Lauren said. Since you’re new to the field and I bet that much more of your time is spent on daily tasks than would have been at home . . . your supporters (out of ignorance, not malice) have no idea. I’m wonder if you could track this next week how you spend your time and take some pictures. May you could prepare a small photo book or Power Point what a week looks like — with TIME added, how long it takes to do things.

      And showing how what you are doing in the home is supporting a bigger picture. AND how it is setting you up for a longer haul than to flame out. Love that you are asking these questions :)!

  5. Cecily May 10, 2016

    Amen!  Couldn’t agree with you more.  I came to the field with my plan.  It was yanked out from under me 18 months in.  Then what?  It has been a long, hard journey since that devastating day in October of 2009, but I am still here, I am closer to the Lord, and I have learned the joy of serving.  Now that I actually have an assignment, it is difficult to find time for it because I am so busy serving 🙂  Who knew?  This certainly wasn’t the way I thought things were going to work out.

  6. Christine May 10, 2016

    “So many times we want to lead big movements and have big followings and say big things, but our motives behind these desires are rooted in insecurities, selfishness, and pride.”

    I’ve been thinking through the current fundraising trends for those heading overseas, myself included, and have continually struggled with how it requires a level of being or looking perfect. The perfect message, photo, family, resume… Yet service does not require perfectness. Service requires faithfulness. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Monica F May 13, 2016

    Laura, I resonated so much with this post.  Every single line.  As a young child I suffered from a physical disability that no longer inhibits me to the same extent as an adult… back then, I was limited and I was ‘not good enough’ to do what other kids could do.  I was broken and couldn’t be fixed.  I realized quickly if I became really, really good at other things (academics, piano, youth group activities,etc), people might not see my other physical flaw- the thing that kept me from being ‘good enough’.  I think in my ‘little girl mind’- that ‘overcompensation’ seeped into my spiritual life as well… then into my missiology…and followed me right overseas.  Having to-do lists and lots of ministry responsibilities made me feel like I was being productive for His Name Sake… I was being effective, therefore I was acceptable.  

    Last year, when our family came ‘home’ for a much needed sabbatical- I was faced with the harsh reality of where my identity came from….my accomplishments, my leadership, my years of experience on the field, my work, etc. With forced rest came a stripping away of layers of overcompensation, insecurity, and pride.  I was brought to a place where I meekly asked, “God, do you really love me…because I’m me?  Is it possible you love me even if I’m not DOING all those other things?”  It took awhile to muddle through all the layers of ‘being a good overseas worker’, but it was so worth it… to recover, to heal, to go from being broken and burnt out to whole again.  Can I just shout how freeing it was to sit at His feet with the understanding that He LOVES ME!  Full stop!  

    In His grace, I’m recovering (can I say that?) from years of a genuine desire to serve my King, mixed with the insecurity of ‘being enough’ and gaining approval from others along the way.  I have to really check myself and my motives now… and constantly re-center myself at His feet whenever I let the tasks, the requests, and the ROLES begin to define who and what I am.

    Thank you again for sharing Laura.  I’m so thankful that VA is a safe place to share…I would have never written these words ‘out loud’ two years ago:)


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