A few months ago, I visited my old church in South Carolina. I love going back home: seeing old faces, meeting some new ones, noticing how the church has continued to grow and flourish in my absence was a joy and encouragement. And a humbling experience.
I headed up the children’s church ministry when I was a member of that church. I was one of two or three photographers for church events. I knew a lot of people, had been there a long time, and had my special friendships. Friendships don’t die with distance, but they do change, and photography and children’s church jobs must necessarily end.
Which means someone else takes over.
Which means I visited my church and didn’t set foot into the children’s church room until after the service, but somehow the kids still learned–because other people are teaching them now. Sure, the room still has some of my fingerprints on it: a poster I made, song charts I wrote, perhaps the format I followed is still being used to some extent. But new teachers have chosen new routines; new workers teach new songs; new kids move in with their own needs that God meets through new individuals. I was used, but I’m not needed there anymore.
My old kids are still there, teenagers now. They gave testimonies of how God is working in their lives. One professed faith in Christ–an answer to a long-time prayer of mine from years ago. The foundation I laid is there, but it’s being built upon by different people now. The kids are growing and learning and changing, and someone else is discipling them. I was used, but I’m not needed there anymore.
We had a potluck meal after the service. Someone else–someone new who had come since I had left–took the pictures. And they were good pictures, too! No more, “Thanks, Audrey, for being photographer,” but, “Good to see you, Audrey, thanks for visiting.” And photos went up on facebook, people liked and commented, and my only role was to be tagged in one or two. I was used, but I’m not needed there anymore.
My friends are still my friends, but they also have new friends now: people that live close, that love the Lord, that are helping them to grow in their knowledge of and love for God. We keep in touch and continue to encourage each other, but my friends are doing fine without having me close by. I was used, but I’m not needed there anymore.
And the fact of the matter is, where I’m being used now, someone else was used before and will be in the future. The Deaf ministry was fine before I started learning sign language. Second graders were educated before I got into my classroom. The 4-year-olds at church heard Bible lessons before I came to help. Babies were watched in the nursery; families had meals brought to them; church events had enough volunteers. God’s kingdom would not come to a screeching halt if I decided to jump ship, nor would the whole world receive Him if I presented the plan of salvation in detail to every individual.
So why, then, do I serve? If God can work His purposes with or without me (Numbers 23:19-20), then why should I “help” Him? Why not just kick back and enjoy my life while God does His thing?
Because “my life” has been bought by Him so that now my thing is His thing (2 Corinthians 5:15), and “His thing” is to proclaim His glory through His people, the church. I was completely separated from God, but He brought me into His family, and though He doesn’t need me, He is making me useful to Him (2 Timothy 2:19-21). When I live for Him, I fulfill my purpose as well as God’s and tell everyone, “Look how merciful and wise and loving and powerful my Jehovah God is!”
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence…that we who first trusted Christ should be to the praise of His glory….
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to…the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus…For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them….
Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…to make all men see what is the fellowship of the [gospel]…to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord…
[T]o Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 1:7-8, 12, 2:1-7, 10, 13, 3:9-10, 21)