At a recent men's Bible study, a brother in Christ was praying out loud for various things -- health issues, ministries and the like. Out of the blue he began praying that the Lord relieve the stress that my wife and I are feeling about our homeless ministry.
I felt my head jerk as I thought, "Hey, what is he talking about? We are incredibly blessed by this ministry. In fact, the more we do, the less stressful it seems."
As the Bible study was ending, I took this man aside.
"Hey, thanks for the prayer," I said, "but really, we aren't stressed at all."
"Yes, you are," he said, smiling in a patronizing way.
"No," I said. "You don't understand. I know it looks like we do an overwhelming amount of stuff, but God blesses it in amazing ways. We spend every day with our mouths open in wonder. We wake up every morning wondering what miracles we will see. We are happy, energized, excited. What part of that sounds like stress."
He raised his hand in the face of this tirade, then said patiently, "I'm not saying there aren't some positives. But I know from just one day serving with our prison ministry how beaten down I get. It's perfectly understandable for you to feel that way."
Obviously, I thought, I'm not explaining myself very well. I certainly don't want people thinking that outreach is some arduous, painful duty.
"Okay," I ventured. "Maybe we aren't stressed because we aren't trying to FIX anyone. We leave that entirely up to God. So we don't have to be disappointed if people stay in the woods, or if they go back to drinking and taking drugs. We see our role as just loving them, introducing them to Jesus and nurturing the relationship between them and Christ."
"Besides," I continued. "We don't have the slightest idea of what it would mean to 'fix' them in the first place. Are they really better off in an apartment than in a camp? Are their lives better if they work at a high-pressure job than if they fly a sign on the freeway?
"Sometimes I feel like someone selling the deed to a condemned property. Here we are in a Bible study learning that we should give up our dependence on material things. How can I turn around and tell the homeless they need to get what I want to give up?"
At this point, the man seemed to lose steam. He actually looked a little perplexed; a little sad. In fact, he looked the way I imagine the rich young ruler looked in Mark 10:21-23:
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
I went on to remind him that Jesus says in Matthew 11:30 "my yoke is easy and my burden is light." So if what we are carrying seems heavy, maybe it isn't from God.
My Christian brother looked at me almost with resentment and said, "Well, maybe someday I'll be where you are, but not yet."
For all my talk about not trying to "fix" anyone, I felt deflated to know that I had somehow failed to reach this man. True, I might have persuaded him (with great difficulty) that my wife and I were perfectly happy with our ministry. But I had failed to infuse him with the enthusiasm for doing God's work.
I wondered why it was that this man felt "beaten down" by sharing the Gospel with prison inmates. And why was he so ready to project his sense of burnout onto others?
For those of you who have read this far, I'll provide a little exercise. I'll give you details of what my wife and I do each week (in addition to my fulltime job and her fulltime home-schooling and other activities) so you can see what the outside world sees.
Every Sunday morning, my wife writes notes to 20 or more homeless men and women we have the blessing of knowing. She attaches the notes, which include personal comments and scripture, to plastic bags we will later fill with food.
we visit three grocery stores and pick up food that would otherwise be thrown away. We put a main dish, dessert and bread into each bag and bring what is left to a local resource center. Then we personally deliver the bags and notes to homeless camps.
At the camps, we pick up those homeless men and women who want to attend our church (this number has ranged from one to 18 at our most recent service). We sit with them at church, introduce them to others there, then bring them to our home for lunch and fellowship.
After lunch, some use our telephone to call loved ones. Others use the Internet and newspaper to look for jobs. Then we drive them back to their camps.
Every weekday morning, we bring the three homeless people currently living in our home to their fulltime jobs a few miles away. We have set up bank accounts for them, cash their checks and help them manage their money as they prepare to get apartments.
On Monday night, we bring two homeless people to their Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
On Tuesday, one or both of us volunteers at a local motel that provides rooms so the homeless may take showers and get lunch. We pray with them, offer them encouragement, sometimes provide transporation.
Throughout the week, we are available to help the homeless get to doctors' appointments and to pick up food and clothing donations.
Every Thursday night, we meet with up to 20 homeless for dinner and a Bible study.
Once a month on Saturday, we join our church in providing food and prayer to about 100 homeless in a downtown area.
Underlying and shoring up our work for God are some important components: We read the Bible and do devotionals every day. We participate in our church's home group program. We try to mentor other Christians who are interested in doing more for God.
Where do we find the time? Honestly, I don't know. But here are some things we don't do: We watch very little television -- maybe four hours a week. We don't play video games. We only go out to the movies every couple of months. We eat almost every dinner at home. We don't work out or play sports (other than occasional walks). We don't travel very much.
I guess to most people, this looks pretty insane, but I promise we are not stressed out. And we get to see God and His miracles every day.