By LESLIE LUDY
I stepped hesitantly out of the rented van, gazing uncertainly at the unfamiliar surroundings. The sweltering July air was oppressively humid and it was hard to breathe. The run-down New Orleans neighborhood was dismal and poor. Dirty children roamed the street unsupervised, and loud music and televisions boomed from the dilapidated houses.
I was seventeen, and had come to New Orleans with my mom and some other church members to help lead a vacation Bible school. Now, I wondered if I could really handle being here for an entire week. As we entered the house where our mission team was planning to stay, my heart sank at the realization that there was no air conditioning. It was stuffy and uncomfortable, with threadbare furnishings and peeling paint. Cockroaches scurried through the kitchen. I cringed inwardly, longing for my cool, clean, comfortable bedroom back home.
The first night, I hardly slept. I tossed and turned, miserably hot, drifting in and out of disturbing dreams about cockroaches crawling on my bed. In the shower the next morning, several strange-looking bugs crawled in and out of the drain as I balanced on one leg to avoid stepping on them.
After breakfast, our group walked to the church where the Bible school was to be held. Even though it was only nine in the morning, our faces were already dripping with sweat. My spirits were low. Maybe I wasn’t ready for this kind of “suffering for Christ” just yet.
But the moment I entered the church sanctuary, my selfish thoughts were cut short. Hundreds of little children crowded into the seats, looking at us with wide-eyed curiosity. Suddenly I remembered. These precious children were the reason we had come. As I looked at their eager faces, my heart was deeply stirred. Yes, it was worth being a little uncomfortable in order to invest into the lives of these little ones. In fact, it would be worth far more sacrifice than heat and bugs in order to reach them with the message of Christ’s love. My perspective began to shift right then and there.
As I began to focus on serving the children, I slowly forgot about the heat and humidity, the cockroaches, and the dismal surroundings. I became caught up in the joy of serving. I was surprised to realize how invigorated I felt – even though every day was physically exhausting. I was truly sad when the week finally came to an end. It had been an amazing, uplifting, exhilarating experience to put aside thoughts of myself and my own comforts, and simply focus on giving to others.
Giving joy brings joy – that was the unforgettable lesson I learned on that hot, uncomfortable New Orleans trip. This principle seems so backward in our “put-yourself-first” world. But I have learned that whenever my emotions take a downward spiral, turning outward and sharing Christ’s love with others is a wonderful antidote for depression – even if it means getting out of my comfort zone in order to do so. Sacrificially serving others takes my eyes off myself and allows me to participate in the incredible joy of being a part of God’s work on this earth.
Do your problems seem overwhelming, complicated and stressful? The answer may be simpler than you think. Though it feels counterintuitive, I encourage you to put your own struggles aside for a while and find someone you can selflessly serve. It’s not that God doesn’t care about your personal needs and issues. There is a time and a place to wrestle through your own concerns with Him. But don’t let the enemy fool you into thinking that you need to wait until all your own issues are resolved before you can turn outward and become Christ’s hands and feet to this dying world. Begin now. You will be amazed at how much healing, strength, and true joy flows into your life the moment you embrace the “good works” He has prepared in advance for you to walk in today!
Pouring our lives out for the benefit of others may, at first glance, seem like a fast track to exhaustion. But when we serve as unto the Lord and not to men, and when we lean upon the amazing strength of Christ, it can actually be one of the most refreshing and energizing activities we can ever engage in.
And remember – it doesn’t need to be something that seems impressive or spiritual to others – God may ask you to give joy by simply embracing your family situation and serving those who are right in front of you. Don’t wait for a “perfect situation” to begin living a poured out life. Start right where you are at, right with the people you are encountering on a daily basis.
Giving joy to others starts with a new heart-attitude. One that says, “my life is no longer my own; I’ve been bought with a price. I’m ready to put aside selfish, shallow pursuits and make myself available to You, Lord, no matter the cost.”
And as you take this step of willingly turning outward, you will soon be able to say along with John the Baptist, “…this joy of mine has been made full” (Jn. 3:29 NASB).