I learned lesson in serving on the weekend when I took part in a youth outreach event with Project X.
Well, it was actually more of an extension of a lesson that began in March this year.
While at an event called Simply God, God challenged me about my motives behind serving Him. One of the most challenging questions was: If my books never generate money or recognition for me, do I still want to put the effort into writing them?
We all know what the ‘right’ answer is. But honestly, my motivation diminished when I considered that scenario.
Then God presented the question another way: If I never land a publishing contract or a husband—two things I’d like to find in the next 10 years—will I still be as enthusiastic in serving Him?
I knew then that my attitudes would be challenged. However, it was all head-level at that point. On the weekend, I got a taste of it in practise.
I’m part of a group called Project X, and we held our second annual youth outreach event in the outback town of Roma last weekend.
It included freestyle motorbike riders, an X Factor competition, a gaming zone, a graffiti art zone, a girl zone and more. My job was in the girl zone, where I had prepared a creative writing workshop and brought in magazines and games, planning to chill out and chat with high-school aged girls.
In the lead-up to the event, there was a lot of talk about how teenage girls were a particularly vulnerable demographic in that area. We planned accordingly, and prayed every step of the way.
The even wasn’t supposed to kick off till 3pm Saturday, so we were pretty pumped when people started rolling through the gates at 2.45. The first few through the door were younger girls, aged between 4 and 8, so I plopped down at our nail painting station and started with them. We expected the older girls to arrive soon.
Within half an hour, the place was packed. But there wasn’t a lot of teenagers in sight. In fact, it seemed that we’d attracted every age group except girls aged 15-19. By the end of the day, I’d spent a couple hours simply asking, ‘Which colour glitter would you like?’
Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time with those little girls. They were adorable and told me all about their schools and siblings and glitter preferences.
But the day didn’t go quite the way I expected. While I knew I’d played my part in a larger movement (our group preached the gospel to hundreds that day), I had little contact with the spiritual side of it myself.
So at the end of the night, when my friends were on a total high about the conversations they’d had and things they’d seen, I … wasn’t.
At first, this bothered me. I journaled a little during church the next day (yes, I’ll admit I wasn’t really listening…) and God used that time to point out a few things that I’d momentarily forgotten.
The biggest one was: serving is not about me!
I’m not supposed to serve just because I want warm fuzzies or a spiritual high. I’m not supposed to serve because it makes me look holy or important. And I’m not supposed to serve just because it’s going to be fun. (Though it was a pretty fun adventure with my mates!)
I should do this because I want to obey God. I wanted to spread His message and hopefully be part of expanding His family. And I want to glorify Him.
At the end of the day, whether 1 or 100 people responded, we were successful if we fulfilled those three objectives.
It’s a question I’ve been thinking about ever since our Project X meeting on Monday night. Project X is a youth outreach that I’m a part of, and in addition to running our yearly event, we also meet every week to pray together. In fact, Project X is pretty much built entirely on prayer. Some awesome stuff has happened; stuff I’ve rarely seen anywhere else.
While I was there, someone quoted a verse from the Bible:
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
James 5:16 NIV
A thought jumped instantly into my mind.
I mustn’t be a righteous person, because my prayers aren’t powerful or effective.
The thought left, but I pondered it. Were my prayers weak and ineffective? When had one of my prayers really, unmistakably, worked? I couldn’t think of a single instance. My ‘prayer resume’ certainly couldn’t compare to Project X’s. Wherever that group goes, awesome stuff seems to happen. But not so with me individually.
I kept trying to think of answered prayers during the week. I still couldn’t come up with anything. But I while I contemplated the issue, I held back on feeling guilty, frustrated or sad. I hit the pause button. Because I’d seen this trick before.
I’ve often blogged about my frustrations that my good works seem ineffective, and sometimes it feels like God doesn’t use me. God’s been changing me in that regard all year. This prayer thing was just a variation of that same old lie. I didn’t want to get sucked into that trap again.
But still, the question remained in my mind. That is, until I started planning this blog post. This is, word-for-word, what I wrote in my red polka dot notebook.
“Be on guard. Holy Spirit for all. No favourites. Duh.”
I looked at what I’d written, and the penny dropped. God doesn’t play favourites.
It’s a simple truth that I know in my head, but my heart looked at other people whose prayers got answered all the time, and wondered, ‘What’s wrong with me?’
The answer? Nothing.
If God has told us that He hears our prayers, and I pray, then my prayer is just as effective as anybody else’s. Sometimes it might not look that way. But what do I trust more? The way things look, or what God says?
That’s part one of God’s answer to my query. Yesterday morning, part two happened.
It was about 5.50am, and I was sitting in bed, yawning, doing my morning devotions. I prayed for various people and my writing and causes like Project X. Well, not so much praying as begging. “Please, please God, help us with this event. Please, please, please touch my reader’s hearts with what I write today. Don’t let it all go to waste. Please don’t let me miss an opportunity.” I was imploring Him to act, like I had to talk Him into it.
Then remembered that the Lord’s Prayer does not start with a shopping list. So I backtracked and figured I’d honor God by thanking him for some stuff.
“Thanks God, that You’re this big, amazing, powerful God who knows everything and sees everything and knows what He wants to happen and has the power to do it —” then I stopped. God knows what He wants to happen and has the power to do it. So I don’t have to talk him into it.
This doesn’t take away from that fact that I should obey God by doing good stuff. It doesn’t take away from the fact that God tells me to pray. Obeying and praying aligns my heart with His, which is a great thing. We should pray with passion, even urgency.
But I’ve been thinking that His work won’t get done unless I badger him into it. I have to convince him. And I can never be confident that I said things the right way and He’s convinced. I feel like Project X has cracked a secret to prayer that I’m yet to discover.
But God is God. He knows what He wants to happen and when He wants to do it. I’ll be obedient in taking action, and obedient in prayer, but I can also be confident in His intentions.
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