By Dr. Jim Pratt
At the time of the writing of this article, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 has affected us all. I believe the needs in other parts of the world are greater than ever. Some of our missionaries have said that the fear for many of the people in the countries were they serve is that starvation, not the COVID-19 virus will kill them.
However, especially at this time in our history, start talking about the need for Christians to be involved in international mission work and often you will hear, “Why should we send people and money overseas when we have so many needs here in the United States?” But, the more I study God’s Word the more convinced I am that it is not international ministries or national ministries, it is both.
Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He stated in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (NIV) The Jim Pratt version of that verse states, “If you are controlled by My Spirit, you will reach out to people across the street, across the state, across the country, and across the world.”
Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others? Are you embracing your life mission or purpose?’” Put another way, are you embracing the opportunities God gives you to make a difference in other peoples’ lives? I used to pray for opportunities to reach out to others. However, I realized that I was praying the wrong prayer. I needed to pray for an awareness of the opportunities God gives me every day.
In my current job as Mission One Coordinator I challenge people to pray about being involved in mission work internationally. General Baptist International Ministries (GBIM) currently is involved in international ministries in Guam, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Niger, Philippines, and Saipan. As soon as possible, we will again be sending mission teams to each of these locations. Detailed information concerning mission opportunities at each of these places can be found here.
God gives each of us opportunities every day to reach out to others. If you want to be blessed by God bless others. We must embrace the countless chances God gives us every day to be a blessing to others. However, we must see them and embrace them.
The fact of the matter is, by nature, we are selfish people. We tend to walk through life focused on our own interests—what we want, what we need, what we have to do to get ahead, what makes us feel good—rather than focused on the people around us. It is real easy for us to fall into the “every person for themselves” attitude by default, forgetting time and again that life is bigger than our personal concerns.
Even though we are self-focused by nature, most of us know that focusing on ourselves does not bring much satisfaction or joy. If we are honest, we will admit that we feel most alive when we shift our focus off of ourselves and onto other people.
We all know that it is not about us, and deep down within our souls we are desperate to connect with purposes bigger than our own. We want more for ourselves. We want to bless other people; we want to receive God’s blessing. However, we still fall into the rut of making it all about us.
The good news is that we can break out of this rut by embracing the opportunities given to us every day. If we want to experience the abundant life God has for us, find significance, and grow in maturity—we must become aware of the needs around us and be on the lookout for opportunities to bless other people.
If we want to become great we must serve God and others every day of our lives. We must practice becoming aware of the opportunities right in front of us to makes someone’s life a little better, to help someone in need, to give an encouraging word, or to lighten a load.
Jesus often taught on the importance of seeing and seizing opportunities to bless others. Matthew 25:34-40 states, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (NIV)
In this passage, Jesus points out six specific opportunities to serve others. We should not assume that Jesus’ reference here are merely superficial. Every situation He mentions presents us with a literal opportunity and a more figurative opportunity to engage with the people God puts around us. Let’s take a closer look at each of the scenarios Jesus describes.
I was hungry and you fed me. Since we here today have full stomachs most of the time, we easily forget that there are hungry men, women, and children all around us. In cities and towns throughout the country and the world scores of people will go to bed hungry tonight. According to the organization “Feeding America,” one in every six Americans does not have enough food to eat, including more than one in five children. Around the world, the numbers are more staggering.
Those of us who have been blessed with plenty have a moral obligation, a Christian obligation, and a clear call from Scripture to help those who are less fortunate. We are often guilty of eating our three meals a day, without so much as a thought for the family down the road struggling to put food on the table. When we open our eyes to the problem of hunger, however, our perspective begins to shift and we begin to see chances to help all around us.
Hunger exists in more than one form. While many people may not have enough to eat, many of them are desperately trying to deal with the ache of emotional or spiritual hunger. They are hungry for acceptance and approval, for friendship and love. We can feed these hungry people in our lives with a kind word, with a touch, by reminding them of their worth, by telling them that God loves them and we do too.
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. Living in the United States, we have clean water flowing out of every spigot in our homes and bottled water available at every supermarket and convenience store. We are privileged. Around the world it is a different story. More than a billion people live without access to clean water. Two million people die each year as a result of a water related illness. As we open our eyes to the reality of the thirsty people our world, we begin to see that we have the opportunity to help.
There is a spiritual implication as well. Our lives are filled with spiritually thirsty people—people who are thirsty for love, encouragement, and forgiveness. Once we open our eyes to the thirsty people all around us, we will begin to see their need. We possess the ability to quench their thirst in small ways every day.
I was a stranger and you took me in. Our relationship with God is just like this. Before you and I knew Him, we were strangers to His love. But God opened His home to us and invited us in. With that example as our guide, we should be aware of the opportunities around us to show love to strangers—to invite them into our lives and community, to befriend them and give them support when they need it.
We have this opportunity when someone visits our church, when we see an opening to make a new friend, when we come across someone we have the power to help by inviting him or her into your home. Always be in the lookout to be a blessing to others.
I was naked and you gave me clothing. Our overstuffed closets are a visual reminder of the opportunity we have to help people who are not as fortunate as we are. While they may not be walking around naked, there are people all around us who are in desperate need of clothes, warm coats, and shoes. In this area there are needs across the street and across the world.
I was sick and you cared for me. Life is so crazy that we often gloss over the sickness of others. We tell them that we hope they feel better as we say a little prayer of thanksgiving for our own health. The truth is that sickness provides us with a great opportunity to serve others. Whether we take soup to a friend with a cold or sit with a family member who is facing a terminal illness, the opportunities to be a blessing are everywhere.
Physically speaking, we all get sick from time to time, but many people are live with continual spiritual and emotional sickness. Plenty of people that we come in contact with every day are facing crises of self-esteem, loneliness, and questions of worth. A word or two of encouragement can go a long way toward helping the spiritually and emotionally sick person feel better.
I was in prison and you visited me. People, who find themselves on the fringes of our society, whatever the circumstances, are the ones who need the most love and forgiveness. We must be aware of those who are outcast and show them love and concern.
There are also people living in prisons of their own making. People in your life and mine are living in prisons of shame, prisons of despair, prisons of hurt, and prisons of want, and many other prisons of their own design. As I stated earlier, we need to open our eyes to the pain of the people that are brought into our lives every day. Then and only then will we be in a position to embrace the Greatness Principle of loving God and loving others, and as a result, being blessed by God.
The reality of the matter is that, as Christ followers, we do not ascend to greatness. Rather, we descend to greatness as we embrace the opportunities to meet the needs around us and put those needs before our own. We must be willing to serve as Christ did. We must humble ourselves as Christ did. We must bow before Him and acknowledge that we cannot achieve greatness on our own, but only through His power and direction.
God gives us opportunities to humble ourselves and serve others every day. We must be on the lookout for chances to bless others in big and small ways. God will bring opportunities to us to act on to fulfill our life mission. May we embrace each of the opportunities God gives to us whether the opportunities are across the street or across the world.