I was finally alone in the kitchen, gleefully anticipating a few minutes of peace while I prepared dinner. My four girls were upstairs playing, negotiating and making toy trades. The day had been long and there were still a few hours left to burn.
In some professions, I’d be clocking out about right now, I thought.
But a parent’s shift isn’t squeezed into twelve hours; it’s a lifetime of daily availability.
“Mama,” called a raspy little voice from around the corner, “Can I help?”
I tried not to let out an exasperated sigh. I really didn’t need or want a sous chef at the moment. Letting a 5-year-old assist with just about anything is messy, time consuming and requires more patience than I had at that 5 o’clock hour.
“Sure,” I said begrudgingly, as my eager child pulled up the stool beside me.
I passed the Pyrex to my servant-hearted girl and watched her little fingers tear corn tortillas for the chicken casserole. The light from the setting sun poured in, reflecting off the glass dish and dancing across her cheek, still rounded soft from the remnant of baby remaining. I felt a pang of conviction. That's what happens when the Light pours in.
Why was I so bothered in that moment by this sweet child wanting to help?
I looked hard into her fearfully-made frame and swallowed down my guilt. The slope of her tiny nose, the curve of her pressed lips and the concentrated blinks of her big brown eyes made her look like a living doll.
Why was I being so selfish?
Isn’t one of my very prayers, the daily plea to my children, that they be servant hearted and others minded? Isn’t the mantra in our home that our God-given hands are for helping? So why was I feeling so inconvenienced by the request for my child to work alongside of me?
I was tired, not just from the day but from the absence of abiding in Jesus.
As we layered the dish together, God began to reveal the layers of my heart. (I'm convinced children are God’s classroom for slow-to-learn adults.) I leaned in to listen, to encounter Him as I rested against the counter.
You don’t like being out of control. You don’t like messy. You don’t like being interrupted. You don’t like clutter. You’d prefer for things to be neatly packaged to perfection and executed with masterful efficiency.
Why would I expect more from my child than I could ever do myself?
The thing is, this desire for perfection, when misplaced, produces imperfect love – for yourself and for others. The very faults I find in my children are often like sharp knives pointing back to me, to my own inadequacies and unholy habits.
Raising children is messy. Shaping image bearers, with all our hearts full of clutter and sin and selfishness, takes time and tenderness and round-the-clock work – gospel work that can only be done by the grace that comes from abiding in Jesus.
There is no clocking out when living and breathing in Christ.
God's shift, thankfully, isn’t squeezed into twelve hours; it’s an eternity of daily availability and access made possible through Jesus.
As my daughter added the next layer to the casserole, I began to wonder: If I can get so stressed about letting one of my children help in the kitchen, then why would God ever let me help in His kingdom?
Surely, He doesn’t need my assistance. Surely, it’s messier and slower and more painful with me involved. Surely there is nothing perfect about the way any one of us lives and loves.
So why does He allow us - no - call us to co-labor with Him (Matthew 28:19, I Corinthians 3:9)?
When Jesus walked the dusty earth - teaching, preaching and healing the very ones He made from dust - He felt great compassion towards the people (Matthew 9:36). He looked hard into them and saw that they were distressed and dejected, like children without a Father. Jesus was moved by their helplessness, not annoyed or angry like human parents so often can be. He leaned into them, instead of pulling away or isolating Himself. He refused to leave them as spiritual orphans.
Heartbroken by their overwhelming needs, Jesus explained to his disciples why God implores those of us who have been reconciled to Him to be His helpers, to be His hands and feet:
“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).
It's not that God has this overwhelming amount of work to do that He can't accomplish without us. God is completely sufficient within Himself. But God knows the only way we’ll learn to become more like Him is to work with Him.
It is all grace that He lets us do this.
Jesus was speaking in agricultural terms, because that was the relevant language to use and reach others in 1st century Israel. But in our modern 21st century world, the aches of our hearts are ancient. There is no temptation that isn't common to man (I Corinthians 10:13). The need for God’s truth and love is still desperate in our fields of Facebook and frenemies and fallacy about for Whom, what and why our very minds, bodies and souls were created.
If you are a believer in Christ as Lord, you are an appointed worker who has been called to live on mission where ever God sends you. Your mission field could be in the board room, the bank, at the baseball field, the Bar Mitzvah, the border, inside the Beltway or in your restless baby’s bedroom.
Anywhere and everywhere is a mission field when you are part of the priesthood of believers (I Peter 2:9). You have been promoted from death to life, darkness to light, squalor to splendor, purposelessness to eternal purpose so that you can give life, light, splendor and purpose to others.
You are a manager of the mysteries of God (I Corinthians 4:1).
You are an ambassador for Jesus, the megaphone for His mercy (2 Corinthians 5:20).
You are a temple of the Holy Spirit, created to receive not reject those who need Him (1 Corinthians 6:19).
And this is the harvest: the souls of the unsaved, stones scattered throughout the nations, the 1 billion unreached people groups who have yet to hear the gospel. The harvest is your hairdresser, barista, neighbors, family members, long-time friends, acquaintances, and, yes, even your enemies. The harvest is the people in other countries that we may not think or care about. The harvest is the unseen souls under bridges and in broken homes and those who continue to bash their heads against the impenetrable wall of the world's shifting worth.
We are living in the age of the Church, of worldwide missions, where God has called us to be His celestial coworkers, bringing His kingdom to earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 28:19, Acts 1:8). And it begins in our own backyards, our spheres of influence, no matter how slight or how grand they may be.
Here's the good news: God’s expectation of us isn’t perfection. His expectation is a heart wholly devoted to Him, abiding in Him, so that it can be wholly devoted to helping others. We are blessed to be a blessing, and we are saved to serve and share the gospel.
We can’t come to work half hearted (Colossians 3:23).
We must be passionate to present ourselves to God as approved workers who love and live His Word (II Timothy 2:15). Passionate, not lazy. Because "laziness induces deep sleep and a lazy person will go hungry" (Proverbs 19:15).
If we want to stay spiritually awake and feast on the Bread of Life, we will pray for God to give us passion about His plans.
Will it be messy? Absolutely. We will do it perfectly? Absolutely not.
But God lets us do it anyway. He yearns to see us mature as believers and grow up in our salvation, to prepare a feast for others that points them to our Maker (I Peter 2:2).
God gives grace and fills in gaps, and He equips us for our calling. He is working out all things for the good of those who love Him, for those who have been called according to His purpose. This includes our failures and flops and even our false theology (Romans 8:28).
Because once we’ve grabbed hold of the gospel, there is grace upon grace upon grace. What a forgiving and generous Father we have.
We will only be able to unabashedly, correctly and joyfully work for the glory of God by abiding in Jesus, by breathing in His very breath through Scripture. He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion, to perfection in fact, even as we are imperfectly helping to bring others to Him (Philippians 1:6).
Like a daddy who wants to give his kids the world, God wants us to taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34:8). But we can’t do that from a distance. We must pull up our proverbial stool and work elbow-to-elbow with and for our Father.
"Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:30).
We must work with God through all the layers, all the given roles, all the insecurities, all the jobs big and small, so that we can serve, share, and surrender our hearts fully to Him and the work He has assigned to us.
"We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the good works God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).
May we be like children eager to be used. May we daily walk in our Father's presence and ask, "Daddy, can I help?"
Oh, the things we learn when we serve Him. We learn about the patience of God, how He stoops low and condescends just to be near us.
We learn about His heart of compassion and justice to lift others high.
We learn about ourselves as we look into the face of a willful child or a burned-out believer, how stubborn and selfish and slow we are to walk in His ways. With every eye roll, every rebellious reaction, every defiant deed, may we see ourselves in those we serve and may God turn our hearts to love them as He loves us.
His banner over us is love (Solomon 2:4). Therefore, our banner over others must continue to be love, no matter how long the harvest takes or how imperfectly we do it.
Let us pray together, just as Jesus instructed, for God to send more workers into the mission field - into the classroom, the courtroom, the clinics, the cubicles. Pray that in whatever field you are working, that you would be among the workers He sends out today. Let us never grow weary of helping, for it is a high calling and a holy privilege.
Abide in Jesus, and be strong in grace as you work for Him.