The morning of June 13th dawned early—much too early. But it wasn’t just the hour that came too quickly—though that certainly was a factor, as we were bone-weary tired from seven jam-packed days of sweating and service. It was more that the week, which had once stretched out before us full of hope and promise, was now drawing to a close and within hours we would lift off from this land that had become dear to us, not knowing when we might return.
We came to breakfast tired. Hungry. Heavy-hearted. Reluctant to leave. And as we did every morning of our trip, once we had eaten, we invited God to join us there.
I opened our time with the June 13th reading from Jesus Calling, one of my favorite devotionals and one that had been well-utilized during our times together. It was as if Sarah Young had written that day knowing exactly what we would need to hear:
I am creating something new in you: a bubbling spring of Joy that spills over into others’ lives. Do not mistake this Joy for your own or try to take credit for it in any way. Instead, watch in delight as My Spirit flows through you to bless others. Let yourself become a reservoir of the Spirit’s fruit.
Your part is to live close to Me, open to all that I am doing in you. Don’t try to control the streaming of My Spirit through you. Just keep focusing on Me as we walk through this day together. Enjoy my presence, which permeates you with Love, Joy, and Peace.
If nothing else, it spoke to me loudly and clearly. The promise of a new work when I had just written before our trip about sensing this trip was somehow a turning point. The irony of that work being JOY, which I had begun studying at the beginning of this year, only to be derailed by illness and chronic pain and fatigue and (further irony) depression. The reminder that this joy is not merely for ourselves—it is for others, as well… perhaps even most importantly. The prompt to spend time in God’s permeating presence—a reminder I unfortunately need more than I would like to admit.
I knew I couldn’t be alone in that. I had known several of these women before the trip, and had come to know more of them fairly well throughout the course of our week together. I knew I was not the only one coming to that table with a heaviness of heart that preceded our trip, let alone our trip’s end. I knew enough of each of them to know that we longed for more of God. For more of his heart. For more of his freedom. For more of his joy.
I believe, that week, we received a new glimpse of what both the pursuit and experience of these things should look like—and as they closed their eyes and allowed the images of the week to come and go, I read to them from Galatians 5:
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day.
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.
Of all the things that stood out to me—and there were many—it was this final line that most resonated. This new work within me—this work meant not to benefit merely myself but to overflow for the profit of others—would not ever come to pass if the things God put on my heart of the course of the last week (and, indeed, the last several months) remained merely ideas in my head or sentiments in my heart.
So what, then, I asked both myself and mi amigas, should be our response to the week we’d just experienced? How are we to work out the implications of such an experience in every detail of our lives?
I believe we are to make some commitments. To ourselves. To those most in need. To the God who gives all. I shared with them the list God had put on my own heart:
- A commitment to pray. To really pray. And to lift up needs beyond my own and those closest to me. To pray for the girls we’ve met by name. For the project directors. For the projects, themselves. And for my heart to be burdened in such a way that I cannot NOT pray.
- A commitment to gratitude. To embrace a renewed and redeemed perspective— on God, on wants versus needs, on what is enough, on what is good, better, or best, on what I really deserve, on grace—and to thank God as I should.
- A commitment to sacrificial giving and service. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. I have given, but only to a comfortable degree. We are called to more. We are called to question, especially as Americans, what is truly necessary. And to make redeemed choices regarding what we do with our time, energy, and resources accordingly.
- A commitment to selflessness. To live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit, so as to not feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. To learn to not be driven by commitments to personal comfort that end with me placing myself before others but to instead put the needs of others before my own. Consistently.
- A commitment to working it out. It is all too easy to return home and slip back into our break-neck pace and mind-numbing routines, pushing the events of the last week into the far recesses of our memory. I must commit to slowing down. And to making an intentional and conscious effort to not only revisit my journal and my pictures but to actively wrestle with the convictions and revelations and stirrings and callings they created (and continue to create) within my heart, mind, and spirit.
- A commitment to Romans 12: 1-2. So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. (The Message)
What more is there to say?
You will be changed from the inside out.
Look, I am doing a new thing! See how it springs up? (Isaiah 43:19)
I am creating something new in you: a bubbling spring of Joy that spills over into others’ lives.
We left the Dominican Republic that morning, reluctant yet still just as expectant as we’d been when we’d arrived. There is more work to be done. In us. Through us. And, by the grace of God, even in spite of us.
We are ready.
We are able.
We are willing.
Your kingdom come, Lord. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.
Amen, and amen, and amen.