On a plaque, pasted on the wall or in a frame in a bathroom, I have seen this scripture quoted from Joshua 24:15 in many homes, including my own. It seems like pretty easy instructions that God gives us. As mothers and wives, however, I found how difficult it was to really grasp what "serving" God was and what He intended for me this past year.
Serving, hmm. I can bake something, baby sit, make a few phone calls, even cut a check to someone in need. Maybe even push my limits and give a mom a ride to work when I saw her walking in the rain. Easy right? For some of us, these things are intimidating and for others, easy peasy.
Either way, God asks us to serve others but we are to serve those in our home first. “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-6)
But, what happens when serving your own family and home is more difficult that serving others? When you are completely fried from the daily life of doing the dishes, cleaning a child's face or taking out the trash? When you feel that serving others would bring more satisfaction? Doesn't it bring more glory to God when we serve others before our family? Well of course not, right? It sounds preposterous when we say it like that, or does it?
Last year, I gave birth, took care of my home without a husband for 3+ months, then packed a house, moved, unpacked, had another "40 something" birthday, lost money, lost friends, had a family disagreement over Christmas and had a dear young lady that I loved like a daughter, pass. All of this while trying to serve people and feeling guilty if I couldn't sign up for a meal to be delivered or attend the next church event. I't has been a very difficult time to think of serving others let alone serve my family! Trying to balance just the daily struggles at home seemed like I was actually living another whole life and still at the end of the day, I couldn't even get myself into the shower. And I am still expected to serve my family? Wouldn't they understand if I just didn't today?
Life gets interrupted and we let our families suffer when we serve others before serving them. God gave me instructions to serve them first…
Jonah was a man that needed a little life "spanking" if you will. He was told by God to go to Nineveh and didn't listen. Instead, he decided to listen to himself and his negative attitude about a city that needed God. So he takes a cruise with a couple guys in the opposite direction, thinking that where he is going is much more fun and exciting. The men on his vacation aren't having a good time. No man bonding here. They throw him off the boat, no lifesaver, nothing.
I am sure at this point someone yelled "last call" and the entertainment was at a stand still. Jonah is now in the water, perfectly knowing that he just ruined a perfectly good trip. "If I would have just listened to God, but maybe, I can swim to shore"…
"Uhhh think again Jonah, you are going to get a free ride from God himself".
Can you imagine what Jonah was thinking when he saw a WHALE coming up from the water, mouth open and ready to swallow him? ( I always wonder what kids think when I tell this story in Sunday school and they take a whale watching trip-lol).
I don't know if Jonah had ever seen a whale but I think that back then they were seen as monsters of the ocean and personally, I probably would have peed my robe (hoping that the whale would be disgusted and take off). Anyhow, Jonah wasted a lot of time with his own agenda. He made these decisions on what he thought was best and may be what would give him a little glory in the end.
God gives us instructions to serve our family, first. If we are to obey our loving God (and don't want to end up on the wrong cruise line) we should be listening and obeying His directions. Listening requires us to pray about our lives in a way that God gets to give the instructions and we follow them. Serving others is done the correct way when God places you in a situation that He wants to be glorified. He wants to be thanked for what He has done through you. It isn't to make you feel good about the food you made or get the pat on the back for spending a bunch of money. God wants us to bring His name to those who we serve. Serving others isn't an act of popularity either. It isn't meant to inspire someone to want to hang out with you more or baby sit your kids the next day.
God wants His name to be thanked by your family too. Sometimes we spend so much time serving those outside our home that we forget that there are little ones (and big ones) standing right in front of us in need of God's Word and the love of Jesus through us.
Our families need dinners on the table made by us. Our kids need our discipline. Our families need our encouragement. They need a warm hug. They need a place to come home to that doesn't have a note saying "I am serving someone else tonight, figure it out". When we do this with God's instructions, we enable our children and husband to stand up straight, confident in who loves them and who takes care of them…Jesus. It is Jesus that resides in our hearts as mothers when we serve our families first and make them a priority.
We deliver delicious dinners to those in need but forget that we haven't made a hot meal for our own family. We give money to the poor but forget that our own kid needed shoes and now we cannot afford them. We stay up all night with a friend in need but go right to sleep when our husband's are "in need" of our time. Some of this, please don't get me wrong, is not wrong, but we serve those more than we serve those right under our noses. Yes, I believe that we should sacrifice as a FAMILY a TEAM and we should sacrifice things in our lives for others.
As mothers/wives we should first submit to our husbands how we should serve others. Our husband's direction is from the Lord and we as wives should honor that by asking our husbands, first.
There are plenty of times we can serve those in need when we are just out and about. Our kids' school by serving a teacher, another mom or even another child. We can serve our neighbors and our friends. We can serve at church. We can find ways to serve if we ask to do this in the time that God gives us, allowing the Holy Spirit to work within us and in great timing! Serving with His direction gives those you serve a clear picture of Jesus and you are doing this with a full heart for Him. You are an effective tool in His Kingdom.
So how did this all come about to me last year? One night my 5 yr old asked me to pray with her at bedtime. She said "God make my belly feel better". It broke my heart. Here I was serving someone else all day and I never even knew that she didn't feel good. I had forgotten about my own child! Not saying that this won't ever happen while serving someone, but I know that serving that person was NOT where God wanted me. I never prayed about it, I was never given direction and I knew in my heart I should have been at home.
5 months later, God "brought" me home. He removed me from a 1800 square foot home to a 900 square foot apartment. He made everything smaller and less cumbersome to clean. He gave me a place on the 3rd floor that would keep me inside and a little challenging to just come and go. To serve my family, first. Not only was this hard for me but I had to find joy in the last 6 months in it. I had to see that He is working on a place in my heart that I am not used to. I know how to serve others and it feels easier. He wants me to be here, serving my family, when in fact, that is hard for me and not as "joyful".
Now, I can say that I find joy in serving my home. I enjoy cooking meals and I even find joy (some, not a ton just yet) in doing laundry and dishes. Even more than the housework, my time with my kids and husband has been more fulfilling than it ever has. It has it's ups and downs but I haven't laughed with my older kids like I have in a long time. When I lack in joy, I have found that time to be with God in prayer and in worship. I see a change in the way I serve others too.
They get to hear the prayers of my husband and I to serve in His time. Listening to God's instructions and not our own. They get to see why we serve, who we serve and not with any self glorification. All His glory.
Thanks Jonah. No whales are needed here.
"Serve the Lord with gladness, come before Him with joyful singing". Psalm 100:2