Sunday, March 3, 2013

Commissioned: His Calling


In 2011 I attended a meeting to learn more about a new ministry at our church called the Stephen Ministry.  Stephen Ministry is a distinctively Christian caregiving ministry that offers individualized one-on-one personal care, walking alongside of those who are hurting, grieving, dealing with loss, illness, death and crises.

My heart was drawn to this ministry as I have always had a soft spot for those who are hurting. I believe God has given me the gift of encouragement, and I see ways He has used me to encourage others throughout my lifetime.  I recall instances in my childhood where He used me to do this.   Even as a naive, inexperienced, young girl on the school bus.

After high school I went on to receive my bachelor’s degree in psychology.  I chose this field out of my desire to help others.  God has uniquely shaped all of us with varying gifts, desires, and abilities.  Being a good friend and helping others around me has always been a passion of mine.  After college I went on to graduate school and earned my Masters in Social Work where I put this passion into use and briefly became a therapist at a Christian Counseling Agency before becoming a stay-at-home mom.

Even as a young mother I looked into biblical counseling and got my feet wet in this field.  This passion and desire within me never grew dim throughout each stage of my life.  Yet, I hadn’t found a place to put these skills and passions into practice. Or the right timing for it.

After attending that initial Stephen Ministry meeting in 2011, and learning of the time commitment it would require, I convinced myself that this was not the season in life to be part of such a ministry.  I desired to do so, and felt a stir in my heart to follow through with it, but fear and selfishness caused me to close the door on it.  I believed that it would be a ministry He would call me to later in life.  However, about a year later I discovered that God had other plans for me.

A few months into homeschooling (spring/summer of last year), I received a card in the mail from our church inviting me to attend another upcoming Stephen Ministry informational meeting.  The stir in my spirit sent chills throughout my entire physical body.  It gave me goosebumps, sent my heart racing, and filled me with a bit of fear.  I knew God was calling me to this.  There have only been a few moments in my life where I have felt certain of the moving of the Holy Spirit.  I experienced it when my husband and I were faced with the decision to switch careers and move out of education.  And I experienced it that day I opened up that card in my kitchen and was invited to attend that Stephen Ministry meeting.  And so I began to pray. I am so glad I journaled throughout this process.  It is a record of God speaking and working in my heart.  A treasure.

One of the lessons I have learned along this journey is to be open to God’s will and direction in my life.  Especially when it doesn’t match up to my own.  I don’t always understand His will or His ways, but I’ve found that there isn’t much peace when I am walking outside of it.

For years I dabbled in various ministries and hadn’t found my calling.  I knew I was called to serve and I found ways to do so, but none of them filled me with a sense of purpose and fulfillment.  My husband is gifted in teaching and leading.  We co-led Home Groups at our church, but this was always his area of strength and passion.  We also taught a couple of bible studies with our youth program at church and presented at a couple of speaking engagements, conferences, retreats, and banquets.  God always worked through me and blessed me in these endeavors, but they took me out of my comfort zone and still didn’t quite satisfy that yearning to regularly serve and be used by Him like I desired.

A few months before I received the invitation to consider the Stephen Ministry I started doing a Bible study on my own called “Nehemiah: A Heart that can Break,” by Kelly Minter.  My prayer and desire when choosing to do this study was that God would give me a heart that breaks for the things that break His.  I was praying that God would open my eyes to the needs around me and give me a responsive heart.  That God would help rid me of any feelings of selfishness with my time, and that I’d gain His perspective on such things.  I had also been contemplating and praying about where He wanted to use me, and asked Him to show me where and how I could serve others.

These prayers began before I even contemplated the Stephen Ministry.  In my mind, I had already dismissed this idea the year prior and had resolved to believe that the timing wasn’t right in my life to be part of this ministry.  Yet, I still longed to serve outside of my home, to best use my gifts and abilities in a way that brought purpose and fulfillment, where I knew He had me exactly where He wanted me.  

I felt I hadn’t yet found my “niche” in serving.  I saw people who were musically gifted serve on our Worship Team.  I saw others who were gifted in teaching serve in Children’s Ministry or the Adult Education Team.  I saw others with gifts of leadership lead out various studies and teams.  All the while, I still yearned to be used by God, with the gifts and talents He had given me, to find an area to serve.  With this being said, my most fervent prayer became one in which He would show me the way to do so.

Since the beginning of my study on Nehemiah, a recurring question in this study was, “What has God put on your heart to do?”  My answer at the time was, “I’m still trying to figure this out.”  So began a season of committed prayer asking God to show me where He wanted me to serve and what part He was asking me to play.

Months later when I received the invitation to be part of the Stephen Ministry, and the stir in my spirit grew stronger, I knew God was giving me my answer to prayer right there.  It felt like a personal calling.  So from that day forward, I prayed daily to hear God’s voice and for Him to make it clear to me if Stephen Ministry was where He was leading me to serve.

God began to move in my heart and confirmed to me that this was His calling. During one of my morning Bible study times (on Nehemiah), the author, Kelly Minter, reminded us to “not be so easily drawn from what God has put in our hearts to do.”  At that time, I could think of a hundred reasons why I should not do this ministry.  I was adjusting to my new role as homeschooling mom and felt like I was drowning in this alone.  Plus, we were still transitioning into a new lifestyle after my son's diagnosis with a chronic illness, and managing to cope and find our new "normal."  It was by far the toughest year of my life.  Insecurity, doubt, fear, busy-ness, selfishness, and life transition were fresh on my spirit and some of the many reasons I felt this was not the timing for me to explore new areas of serving.

However, when I opened that card and read the invitation to consider joining the Stephen Ministry, that stir from within was not taken lightly.  God had laid upon my heart a passion for this ministry.  As mentioned before, my passion for people and to reach the lost and the hurting has been within my heart for as long as I can remember.  Even though I hadn’t worked as a therapist for years, I could see ways that God had allowed me to use my education, training, and gifts in the lives of those around me.  This time, while considering the Stephen Ministry, I was purposeful in setting out to not be drawn away from what God had put on my heart, but to pray and press through each fear and doubt to discern His will.

Moving further into the Nehemiah Bible study, the question came about, “Is God asking you to lay down an entitlement in a situation where you are justified to hold onto it?”  Just as in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul said he had a right to reap a material harvest (salary/living) in exchange for sowing a spiritual seed (preaching the gospel).  But Paul gave up his “right” to be paid in order to “win as many (souls) as possible.”

Nehemiah also gave up some of the rights he was entitled to regarding choice foods, salary, etc.  When first contemplating this question, “What is God asking me to lay down or what right is He asking me to relinquish?”, my written response on this day was, “I can’t see an area of my life where He is doing this.  I’m just a mom.

Later on that afternoon, I went online to listen to one of my pastor’s sermons because, due to illness, our family had missed church one of the previous weeks.  Our pastor, Andy Timm, preached on the story of Gideon.  I felt God speaking to me here as well.  Our pastor mentioned that “chances are good that if God is calling you into an area of leadership or service, He’s calling you into something that’s already of great concern to you.”  That God often creates a “holy discontent in our lives so we are driven to accept the call that lies in front of us.”  I felt this for myself.  Although my first ministry was in my home to my family, I couldn’t yet quench the desire to serve outside the home.

Further into the sermon, Andy said, “It’s ok to test God and put in front of Him a question (as Gideon did)”  A question that inquires, “Is it really You asking me to do these things?”  And then he explained, “If we negotiate a confirmation of God’s leading, and He confirms it, we better be prepared to move.”  In that moment I decided I was going to apply to be part of the Stephen Ministry.

Lastly, Andy encouraged us to call out to those around us and that God would use their interests and words to confirm to us what He has called us to do.  I emailed one of our Stephen Ministry Leaders and asked her for her honest feedback in regards to this ministry and my ability to serve while being a mother of three young children.  I also shared my heart with my husband and talked about the possibilities with him.

In addition, I had recently reached out to a friend of my sister’s who had been struggling with addiction.  I “randomly” received positive and encouraging feedback from all of these people (and others) God had placed in my path and felt confident that Stephen Ministry was where He was leading.

The following day, while digging into my Nehemiah Bible study, the author revisited the idea of “relinquishing our rights.”  Kelly stated, “If God is asking you to lay something down for the greater good, He is able to repay you lavishly.  Your rights will never outrun His blessings, even if the blessings aren’t revealed until heaven.”  

And it hit me. Like a sledgehammer.  My time.  The right to my time.  This is what He is asking me to relinquish.

I mean, really, can you think of many other people besides a homeschooling mother of three who has less time to herself?  At the time, I had been homeschooling for a few months and God had already begun to chisel away at my heart in areas regarding my time.  So, in my head I began asking God, “You mean you really want me to give up even more of it?  What little I already have?”  And His Spirit distinctively whispered, “Yes.  This is exactly what I am asking you to do.”  I felt like He was telling me that there was a greater good at stake here.  Investing in others who need Jesus.  Advancing the kingdom.  Spreading hope and encouragement.  Bringing others closer to Him.

I was reminded how in Joshua, God was able to make the sun stand still.  He is the maker and holder of time.  And I felt a calmness within that He would carve out time for me to do this.  That if indeed this was His leading, He would strike a balance between my service at home and my service within the Body of Christ.  So I continued to pray and ask Him to guard me against being drawn away from what He had put on my heart to do.

The following day I spent a great deal of time focusing on determining what we should say yes to and what we need to say no to (and how often this is one of the hardest areas to discern).  I had said no to several ministry opportunities over that past year.  All of them I was prayerful about.  I hadn’t felt His peace or His lead.  I had also wanted to be part of a service area in which He said “no” and closed the door.  I had been listening and paying attention to His voice.  Asking Him to make certain where my will and His will were not eclipsing.

A couple of days later my Bible study lesson for the day stated, “God stands to accomplish the impossible through us while too often we’re content to settle for the explainable.  The impossible requires taking time to listen for what He has put in our heart to do.  It means believing He will accomplish what He has spoken.”  While doubt and fear could easily hold me back, I felt God pulling me out of my comfort zone, where life and time already seemed hard enough to manage.  That He was calling me not to settle, but to give Him a chance to show Himself possible through me.

The very next day while moving on to the next lesson in my Nehemiah study, Kelly Minter wrote, “If you are able to do it, do it for the people.  A task, a service, a ministry- the purpose behind it all is for the people.”  She warned us against putting the ministry of people above the people themselves.  She stated, “The subtle temptation to exalt the ‘wall’ of study, returning emails, planning events, and even putting together a meal for a Bible study over actual people is one of the most counterproductive traps we can slide into.  I have often found myself entirely overwhelmed with the demands of ministry, but to what end?  If I’ve lost sight of the people for whom I spend myself, I have entirely missed the heart of why I do what I do.  Besides being relevant to those in ministry, of course this pertains to motherhood, marriage, and friendship.”

This gave me much to chew on.  Again, I prayed for a heart that would break for the things that break His, that He would fill me with a love for His people, and not to lose sight of this.  That He would rid me of any pride or selfish feelings in wanting to pursue this ministry.  He reminded me that it shouldn’t be about me trying to find my “niche” or solely desiring to be used by Him.  It should be about the heart of His people.  I thanked Him for giving me a heart for the hurting, and asked Him to further soften it.

A day later, my Bible study lesson provided a quote from the Christian martyr Jim Elliott.  He stated, “He is not a fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  This made me further contemplate the whole issue with time.  I cannot keep it.  But I can give it.  And I knew that with the giving of it, I would indeed gain treasures which I could not lose.  Kingdom treasures.  Is there really anything more precious?

On this day I also studied the differences between “giving to the poor” and “identifying with them.”  Kelly Minter shared with us how she was once asked the question, “Do you know the name of a poor person?”  She was not just asked, “Do you care about the poor?” (which would have been a much easier question to answer).  Often, there is a glaring gap between the two.  Jesus got His hands dirty.  He knew names.  He didn’t just write a check and send it off to some mission or ministry.  He didn’t just pray for them.  He walked beside them.  He was in the trenches.  Being His hands and feet involved identifying with His people.  

In my own life, I knew this meant it was time to get personal and invest.  We are called to do this.  Stephen Ministry was a perfect opportunity for me to identify with the poor in spirit, the ones hurting, lost, and desperate for God.  I was feeling more ready and prepared to fulfill my calling.

I’d like to say that I jumped right in!  But fear crept in and I felt I needed more confirmation from God that indeed Stephen Ministry was for me.  Sure, He was moving in my heart and working on some things within me, but I wanted to hear His specific voice in regards to this ministry.  So I asked Him for it.

My Nehemiah study the following morning had me referencing the New Testament.  While flipping through it, I stopped first at Colossians 4:17.  It reads, “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the LORD.”  Next to this verse some time ago, I had written, “Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the LORD, so that you can accomplish it.”

And next, out of “divine intervention,” He led me to Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  I looked up a few different translations of this verse.  One version said, “we were called to be a benefit to this world.”  The New King James version described “the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do” as works that “we should walk in.”  The Message writes, “He creates each of us by Christ Jesus, to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” (emphasis mine). 

I also thought of Psalm 139 and how He created me and put this in my heart long ago, before I even existed.  All of my days were written for me before one of them came to be (including the work He has prepared in advance for me).  It’s not just about desire and giftedness, it’s about obedience and work we had better be doing.  This sounded like a command to me, something that could not be ignored, but that required action.  Not for later, but in my “now.”

I wasn’t looking or researching verses about ministry and doing the work of God.  After praying that earnest prayer to Him, I know I didn’t stumble upon these verses that morning by coincidence.  God was confirming to me the work and the ministry He was calling me to do.  Work He was requiring of me immediately.

About a week later the personal response question in my Nehemiah study asked, “How are you currently serving God and others in community? If this is a weak area, take some time to pray about a way you can get involved.  Joy awaits there.”  I considered the past few years of my life, how too many life transitions were thrown upon us at once.  In the thick of our storm, my husband and I backed out of many service areas.  There are seasons in life where it is acceptable to do this.  We stepped down from leading a Home Group, I stepped down from serving in our Children's Ministry,  and my husband stepped down from being a deacon in our church.  It was a stripped season in our lives.  With a new season on the horizon, I found myself committed to no particular ministry.  I do not think this was coincidence either.  This left me open to explore many different areas.  I needed to know for certain that the Stephen Ministry was where God wanted me to serve.  Everything He had spoken to me up to this point cried out an astounding “Yes!

I was able to see how God was connecting more dots in my life.  My son’s illness led to homeschooling, which led to the softening of my heart toward how I spend my time, which led me to consider this ministry.  2 Corinthians 9:6 states, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  I do not wish to sow and reap sparingly with my one precious life.  It became very clear to me that I was ready to sow bountifully into the Stephen Ministry.  After months of heart preparation, I dove right in with certainty and without hesitation!

Since then, I have spent nearly 6 months and 50 hours of completed training to become a Stephen Minister. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every moment of it and found the training essential in equipping me to serve in this capacity.  I am so thankful for the people who have supported me over the past six months and have allowed me to pursue this.  Without their help, it would not have been possible, and I am so grateful for all the ways God provided through them.  

And today I was commissioned at my church!  According to our training manual, "A Stephen Minister receives commissioning because it's considered a biblical practice.  When God has called people to a certain ministry, others in the church community would lay hands on them, pray for them, and send them out to do the ministry.  Through this commissioning, they asked for God's blessing on the ministry and the Holy Spirit's power and wisdom for the ministers.  The commissioning clearly communicated that the church supported the ministry and those who did it.  At the same time the ministers who were commissioned publicly stated their commitment to the ministry and their willingness to serve God and the church in this way.  These ministers showed that they accepted God's call to ministry and that they would serve in partnership with their fellow Christians."  Today's commissioning "formalized and solemnized (my) call to serve as a Stephen Minister."


This is an important day for me, and I feel so blessed to be part of this team and serve in this way.  Prior to first service I was so nervous and had butterflies in my stomach.  Partly because the older I get the more I realize how much I do not like being in the spotlight.  But also because I knew what this day and this commissioning meant.  To calm my rattled nerves I had to remind myself that this was not about me.  It was about a higher purpose...a calling.  In second service, one of our elders mentioned in his prayer that this ministry was all about God.  Exactly what I had been telling my heart that morning.  I love how He shows up, speaks, and reveals Himself to us in ways that are personal and tangible.


Less than a week after I completed my training, I was assigned my first Care Receiver.  I am already beginning to bountifully reap the blessings that have come through being obedient to His calling.  I know I am exactly where God wants me, and I look forward to all He has in store for me in the future.  I know He will not disappoint.

I dare you to do the same.  There are so many areas you can serve, and so many needs that are waiting to be fulfilled.  All of them significant in His kingdom.  You are needed and He has uniquely shaped you with gifts, abilities, passions, and a purpose to fulfill.  Seek out His will for you and be obedient to it;  I promise you will not regret it!

6 comments:

  1. You my dear friend will be a great Stephan's minister. I can't even count the number of times you have helped me and I can't imagine what I would do with you in my life. You will be a blessing to many just like you are now to me:) Love you!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. thank you amanda...YOU are one of the few precious who made this possible for me. you continue to bless our family in countless ways. and in so many ways, you are family, one of us. thank you for selflessly watching my children for several hours, unpaid, thursday night after thursday night, month after month, to make this a reality to me. you have one of the most beautiful servant hearts i've ever seen or known. i love you girl!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Congratulations, Amanda. You will be awesome in this ministry. You indeed have the gift of encouragement and I have been blessed to be on the receiving end of it many times. Good for you, friend, I look forward to hearing more about your journey:)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you Jill, for your words and encouragement. You have been an inspiration to me as well in the graceful ways you have walked through motherhood, homeschooling, and the life challenges and transitions that have come your way. I love your family and you guys are such a great example to so many!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you Jill, for your words and encouragement. You have been an inspiration to me as well in the graceful ways you have walked through motherhood, homeschooling, and the life challenges and transitions that have come your way. I love your family and you guys are such a great example to so many!

    ReplyDelete