I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Sjogren at a conference he sponsored at the Kings Island Inn in 1989. I should have known something was up when I lost one of my 2 front teeth setting up the sound equipment (a story for another time, but feel free to insert your favorite hillbilly joke here. That began a decade’s long friendship. The coffee we shared spurred great conversations and stories from Steve. His passion helped me both recognize where God had already been developing a servant’s heart in me and inspired me to begin intentionally leading others to love those around us. Here is one of the lessons I have learned that keeps me in the game 25 years later.
This was something I first heard from Steve, but it has played out in one way or another in every project I have participated in. “When you move into servant evangelism you will bump into Murphy’s Law…no, you will move into Murphy’s country!”
It seems that loving your neighbor as yourself is actually difficult – that all that can go wrong tends to go wrong. It’s weird – it didn’t seem so hard when Jesus talked about loving our neighbors.
I actually thought I was getting off easy! Every time we choose to trust Jesus and operate in the gift of the Spirit, LOVE (yes singular, because absolutely every follower of Jesus gets this one!) the Enemy is right there to make sure we don’t like it. If we did like it, we might recognize God’s power is revealed in love, and we might start to share it like it made a difference and actually change the world. To prevent this, our enemy makes sure that Murphy’s Law is powerfully at work through various circumstances, ordinances, personalities and attitudes from the get go so we are frustrated from the get go.
Murphy showed up at the very first outreach I did with Steve at the Cincinnati Vineyard. They were hosting a free carwash (that actually was free—back in the day when that was novel) at Jenny’s Sports Bar on Route 42. I jumped in with both feet and started working hard. I got hot enough that spring day to shed my t-shirt (not nearly as terrifying an image 25 years ago) as I pressed into washing fenders, hoods and bumpers. As we began to clean up I started looking for my white t-shirt, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I finally wandered over to the rag pile and there it was. Someone had used it to polish brake dust from at least a dozen rims. I wrung it out and considered this reward for my labor. Later though 2 stories circulated that made me realize that I would gladly give my shirt every time we served to see God’s love revealed like that.
That experience helped me realize that to deal with Mr. Murphy and not give up we must be both hard and soft. We must be hard to keep serving for the long haul. Hard to the outreach realities of circumstances, ordinances, personalities and attitudes that Murphy employs. Dealing with Murphy requires that we develop a callous over the part of our heart that wants to be right, wants to be in control, wants to look good and most of all be successful. The bad news is that callous is developed the way all good callouses are – through repeatedly being pressed down, pushed on, rubbed and scraped. In a deep sense we need to become hard to the awkward feelings of being foolish, unappreciated and embarrassed. I believe this sacrifice is a pleasing fragrance to our God. If we can grow hard, develop this ability to embrace Murphy, we can enjoy a long season of loving our community into relationship with Jesus.
We must also stay soft. Soft to the voices of those we are serving and those we are serving with. The breath of fresh air for me in this discipline of reaching out in service is the stories that capture a moment in the transformation process. Make time to listen every time you are serving. Whether it is a debrief over food after an event with your co-laborers or stopping your “kindness” to listen to one of the people you are working so hard to reach. Their stories are the catalog of the Holy Spirit’s work in and through you, in a tangible way, the very coming of His kingdom. Don’t be distracted by your work and miss this sweet fruit. As these stories are shared, they create energy for us to continue to reach out.