A couple Saturdays ago I woke up at the crack of dawn and spent the first half of the day chopping onions and rolling brown rice and quinoa into cabbage rolls with a small group of women in an old dilapidated church deep in Brooklyn. And after hours of prep and hard work and talking and getting to know each other, we opened the doors of the church and let the community in.
Throughout the meal I had the awesome job of going from table to table and finding out what each of our guests liked or disliked about the food. And as we were chatting, I got to know their names and pieces of their life stories. And we wished them well and told them to come again.
And as I waited outside for my husband to pick me up again and bring me home, a man named Dave approached me and shook my hand and told me he couldn’t wait to come back, even if we put too many vegetables on his plate.
On the way home, I couldn’t help but think about how it was one of the best experiences of my life, and how I couldn’t wait to do it again next month.
And did you know that in all of those hours of chopping and prepping and cooking and scrubbing dishes clean, and after all that waking at dawn and driving across the city, and giving up the good part of my one free day, and chatting and surveying and encouraging little kids as they told me about where they went to school, we served only twenty six people?
Twenty six people.
Twenty six souls who on that morning saw and felt and heard and received the love of God. And in that moment it felt like one hundred. And it occurred to me later that day that often the kingdom of God has very little to do with drawing a crowd.
In our 21st century American culture we’ve adopted the idea that doing something right means being well received by ever growing amounts of people. But the lives of all of the prophets, or Jesus’ disciples, or the earthly life of our Lord and Savior Himself throw that into stark contrast.
Often when Jesus gave His best sermons, He lost the greatest amount of followers – because what He said was hard. It was challenging. And it was downright unpopular enough to get Him killed. And Paul, author of two thirds of the New Testament, wrote that he could not please both people and God.
In fact, throughout history when God’s people did what He called them to do, it very rarely yielded worldly success. Often doing what was right or sharing the word of God landed them in the hot seat. Or the lions den. Or the furnace. Or a cross.
It was when they lived their most true calling that they received their greatest rejection.
Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”… At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:60; 66-69 (NLT)
If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s way too easy to give up long before we’re the one in the hot seat, or the lions den, or the proverbial furnace, or even the proverbial cross. Because the danger in being surrounded by likes and shares and retweets and Pins and having all this instant access to what everyone either thinks or doesn’t think of us is that it takes our eyes off of what God’s doing and onto how we’re doing instead. It’s easy to become consumed with ourselves.
It’s easy to equate honoring God with being successful, and once we’ve done that it’s even easier to get swept along with the tide. Or to think that nothing we say or do to share God’s love ever matters at all. It’s easy to forget Jesus’ words when He told us, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)
“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding…” – Proverbs 3:5 (NIV)
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10 (NIV)
On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4
Original photo by GaborfromHungary from morguefile.com. Adapted for this blog post by Stephanie Oh.