Uncomfortably Serving God

No person can know his own inner motives.

He may be kind because kindness brings him pleasure.

He may be wise because wisdom is music to his soul.

He may become a martyr burned in fire because his nature is to defy, his nature is to be fire.

When can you know that your motives are sincere? Only when it is not within your nature to do this thing.

And how do you know that it is not within your nature? Only when you travel two opposite paths at once.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Real Motives”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

This is exactly how I can tell God is working in my life; by how uncomfortable He makes me. I’ve always found it very interesting that some Christians “confirm” the wishes of the Holy Spirit in their decision making process by how much “peace” they feel after praying about a decision. Their peaceful emotional state somehow tells them that they’ve made a decision (regardless of the situation) that is in accordance to the will of God. And yet we see from Rabbi Freeman’s statement above, that people can feel “at peace” with various decisions or actions, not because their motives are pure and perhaps not even because what they are doing lines up with God’s wishes, but just because those decisions and actions are “natural” for that person.

You could argue, probably successfully, that God created us with natures that allow us to serve Him within the activities associated with our natures, but that seems somehow limiting, especially when the needs of the world are so great and so varied.

Here’s an example.

I hate going to hospitals. They kind of creep me out (I think I’ve mentioned this somewhere before). So it’s not easy for me to go to a hospital and visit a sick person. And yet, it’s a commandment of Jesus that we visit the sick. It’s far easier for me to obey the commandment to feed the hungry, because I have no emotional resistance to donating a bunch of canned goods to my local food bank. But would I volunteer to work the kitchen at my local homeless shelter once a week? Gee, I dunno.

And that’s my point. Not that we have to make ourselves serve God only in ways that trigger our discomfort, but we also need to keep in mind that those uncomfortable opportunities God plops directly in our paths to help people, are the very ones we need to do if we want to be called disciples of Jesus (as opposed to “believers” whose only fruit is to “believe”). That makes serving God a lot less approachable for many of us. I’ve heard Christians praying to Jesus to help them be more like him and wondered what would happen if God really gave them the opportunity to do so. I’m sure some people would rise to the occasion, but how many others, when it actually happened to them, would say something like, “Hey wait! This isn’t what I had in mind!”

Sure. We all want to serve God. We just want to serve Him our way and to be really cool and comfortable while doing so.

Uh-huh. Let me know how that works out for you.

Here’s another perspective:

Teshuvas B’tzeil Hachochmah suggests that our Gemara is a proof to Gaon Chida’s position. The Mishnah teaches that one who made an erech vow while wealthy and before fulfilling his vow lost his wealth remains obligated to fulfill his vow as someone who is wealthy and he is not appraised by the kohen as one who vowed when poor whose obligation is discounted in accordance with his means. Tosafos Yom Tov asserts that they will take from the person what he has towards his vow and the remaining amount will remain a debt that he will fulfill when he acquires the necessary funds. The question is how they could collect from him only part of his obligation if it may turn out that he will never have the necessary funds to pay off this debt. If that were to happen he will have never fulfilled his pledge and there was no reason to have taken funds from him in the first place. It must be that even partial fulfillment is considered fulfillment of the mitzvah and that is why they will collect from him what they can even though they may never collect the remainder.

Daf Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Fulfilling only part of a mitzvah”
Arachin 17

OK, all that might be difficult to understand, so let me boil it down a bit. If you decided to serve God out of your strengths, such as having a lot of money, and something should happen unexpectedly to make that service a lot more difficult, are you still obligated to fulfill your commitment to God? After all, you said you’d do it and presumably, you made a commitment. Are you absolved of your commitment because you misunderstood how God wanted you to satisfy the requirements of the task or because you realized that you didn’t have enough money in your bank account to cover costs?

The Rabbinic sages debate the matter and conclude that you only have to do the best you can. If you promised to donate $1,000 to the food bank but you only have $500, then you pay the $500 and it’s as if you paid the full amount. If you promised to pray for the sick each morning without fail for the next week, but you woke up late for work two days out of seven and had to rush off without praying, then praying for the sick for only five days fulfills your promise.

Gee, you can see why Jesus said this.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. –Matthew 5:33-37 (ESV)

Of course, that doesn’t cover those unanticipated “requests” from God to serve Him that you never saw coming across the horizon. What about those areas when you want to serve God as a “prayer warrior” for an hour each day just after lunch, but instead, on your commute into work, He wants you to help a mother trying to get her sick baby to the doctor’s office by changing her flat tire? The answer is you do the best you can, and if you can’t change a flat tire, you use your cell to call your brother-in-law who works for a tow truck company to drive over and help out.

You do the best you can, which doesn’t have to be perfect. You do the best you can, even though you are really uncomfortable doing it. You do the best you can, even though sometimes God asks you to do things that make you want to crawl out of your skin.

At least you know that when you’ve served God under those conditions, it wasn’t because you were serving yourself.

4 thoughts on “Uncomfortably Serving God”

  1. Thanks Jim, I am learning to do the best I can! It is a real freedom compared to the way that I used to be. Darlene

  2. Hey, Darlene!

    Long time, no see. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope you and Stan are doing OK. Tell him I said, “hi”. 🙂

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