Starving in a Soup Kitchen

starving

“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. ”
(1 Corinthians 9:27)

It’s hard to imagine being any busier than I’ve been over the last six weeks. My wife and I, who are blessed to work for the same ministry, have traveled to Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, D.C., Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Missouri. Our final stop, my childhood hometown of St. Louis, was for a conference where we spent three days encouraging people to memorize Scripture. We’re wrapping up our time in the Show-Me state by spending a few days with family before making the trek back to Texas.

The cross, as seen from the highway.

A St. Louisan at heart, it’s always fun to visit the Gateway City and show Laura the familiar sights of my childhood. One such sight, not far from my old home, is a beautiful cross made from hundreds of rocks on the hillside. Located just off a main highway, thousands of drivers see it every day. Occasionally, you’ll see a man near the cross with a wheelbarrow full of new materials, perfecting his masterpiece for all to see. As we drove passed it last Wednesday, I told Laura of the cross’s significance and of the anonymous man who maintains it.

Today, Laura woke up with a nasty cold that kept us from attending church as planned. I made a morning run to the local grocery store to pick up some juice and medicine, and as I stood in the checkout line, I found myself standing behind a man in his 50s. A dirty looking man in need of a haircut and shave, he wore an explicit t-shirt, holding a pack of beer in his left hand and an energy drink in his right. I generally enjoy meeting new people, but this was the sort of person you silently hope doesn’t try to strike up a conversation.

An unforgettable moment

As I stood there trying to be invisible, the man turned around and laughingly complained about the length of the line. I agreed, saying as little as possible, but he persistently kept the conversation going. He used language littered with profanity as I tried to discern whether that smell on his breath was alcohol or something else. While I contemplated whether to share Christ with this man who obviously needed help, he suddenly changed the subject and said, “If you head north on Highway 21 and see the rock cross, that’s mine.”

Why doesn’t he enjoy the hope he shares so zealously?

I stood there stunned. This was the guy? Not sure how else to respond, I complimented his work and told him how frequently I’d admired it when I lived nearby. When I asked what inspired him to build it there, his response was simple: “Everyone needs a symbol of hope.” After he finally made it to the front of the line and asked for a pack of cigarettes, he looked back at me and said sincerely, “I’ll put a rock on the cross for you.”

As I drove back to the house, a dozen questions flooded my mind. How does a man who spends so much time inspiring others end up like this, skipping church to buy beer and cigarettes? Why doesn’t he enjoy the hope he shares so zealously?

I didn’t arrive at a satisfactory answer to any of those questions, but this unexpected encounter did serve as a needful reminder of what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 9:27. To say the least, Paul’s ministry made an enormous difference in many lives. He committed his life fully to the cause of Christ, such that in his final letter to Timothy he could honestly say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). But despite his calling to serve others, Paul remained humbly aware of the ever-present danger that he could still miss the mark himself in the end and “become disqualified.”

Learning to say no

Whatever your calling is, embrace it with joy and fulfill it with diligence. But as you do, don’t forget the need to discipline your own body and bring it into subjection. Sharing hope should never be a higher priority than having hope. For me, telling other people to memorize Scripture should never be a higher priority than delighting in God’s Word myself. In a nutshell, applying truth personally is more important than preaching truth publicly.

Giving proper attention to your own spiritual health might sometimes mean saying no to good ministry opportunities. Other times, it’s as simple as saying no to the distractions of social media for an afternoon. Whatever it means for you, don’t starve yourself while serving in a soup kitchen. After all, the most effective ministry comes from an overflow of a healthy walk with God, not the shattered remains of a neglected one.

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