In the late 1970s, my husband, Josiah, and I spent his seminary internship in a sunny Florida city.
A regular part of Josiah’s responsibilities was to take care of all who came to the church seeking help.
One afternoon he arrived at our apartment with a homeless man, a paranoid schizophrenic who needed a shower, clean clothes, and dinner.
The shower, clean clothes, and dinner I could understand, but what I found hard to fathom was that Josiah brought this fellow home—to his pregnant wife and two preschool children—to provide them.
The dinner conversation that evening was as odd as you might imagine.
And later, it took lots of scrubbing before I could put our children back in the bathtub our guest had used for his shower.
I knew Christ wanted me to love troubled souls like this man, but I was not happy that Josiah had brought this particular troubled soul home for me to love.
I resented Josiah for what he had done and my faith faltered.
My resentment was quickly followed by shame at my response to such a small request for kindness.
The weakness of my faith was revealed as I lost my connection with God’s desire to use me in our corner of the world.
Since then, Josiah and I have learned a lot through our years in ministry.
Josiah has learned that I respond better if I have some lead time before a difficult situation. I have learned that I have to be ready for ministry before the moment arrives.
What is ministry?
Ministry is our daily answer to Christ’s call to love the world and communicate his good news.
The unexpectedness of what we are sometimes asked to do exposes our inadequacies, like the visit from the homeless man exposed mine.
Those moments often catch us at our most vulnerable (in my case, pregnant and exhausted by preschoolers) to highlight how truly needy we are. I thought of myself as hospitable and loving until this troubled man exposed the tenuous nature of my hospitality and love.
When things get hard, the first question that often comes to mind is, “Where are you, Lord?”
We assume that Jesus has left us on our own to feel the poverty of our resources. If you have ever found yourself inadequate for the task at hand or unable to love the people who come your way, you know what I mean.
Ministry confronts us with our insufficiency over and over.
I have learned that I am better able to respond with faith if I am ready for these moments before they occur.
So, how do we ready ourselves for ministry?
Many of us are running on empty as people and obligations press in.
I am persuaded that, more than anything else, the good news of Christ’s coming is the good news that we need to hear for ourselves.
The gospel message is not just information we share with others – but our personal encounter with the promises of the gospel is what readies us for ministry and fills our tanks.
Adapted from Running on Empty by Barbara Bancroft.