A room full of women waited for me to step onto the platform and, as they say, deliver. Deliver something worth listening to, a message that would impact or entertain or at the very least distract them from the concerns they’d left at home in order to attend the retreat.
I’d prepared for weeks. My PowerPoint slides had been triple-checked and edited. I had backups for my backups, should technology fail. I knew my opening lines. And, as often happened with me, I’d jettisoned what I was originally going to say a few days earlier when God redirected me. My prayer partner was miles away, but praying for me at that very moment. The emcee began the speaker introduction she’d written. Go time.
Two life-altering moments emerged that night. Big changes. Both of them in me.
As I sat in the front row, waiting for my final cue to take my place behind the podium, I thanked God for the opportunity to lift His Name before these precious women. I asked Him to make me invisible so He could be better seen without my standing in the way. And I asked that I would be guided every moment by the Holy Spirit.
An impression washed over me so strongly it was almost audible. “Love them,” I sensed God asking of me. I answered with an admittedly defensive sounding, “But Lord, I already do!” What women’s retreat speaker didn’t care about the women she served?
His response altered—and altared—my heart and my role. It rearranged every speaking event from that moment on. He simply said, “Not like I do.”
In His eyes, my effectiveness as a speaker, an author, a leader depended most heavily on the love factor. Was I willing to let Him show me how to love those women like He did, with that kind of depth and intensity and compassion and self-sacrifice? I was willing.
It was as if He said, “That’s all I wanted to know.” My willingness to let Him love more completely through me gave Him permission, if you will, to rearrange my thinking and retool my approach. I was no longer a guest speaker. I was a Christ-follower who loved them intensely and oh by the way had been invited to speak.
But He wasn’t done with me that night. It was the first night of a three-day retreat and early into my first 45-minute presentation, a woman about halfway back started crying, visibly and audibly. Several of her friends gathered around her, so I was assured she wasn’t alone. But she didn’t leave the auditorium. She stayed to listen, despite her non-stop tears.
I didn’t feel compelled to stop and go to her then, making her pain even more obvious to the other attendees. But even as I remained aware of the tear-drenched woman while trying to focus on the others in the room, I determined to go to her immediately after the final amen.
I approached tentatively, unsure if I had offended her or if my words had caused her pain. Her friends opened their circle to include me. They explained that the woman’s husband had died unexpectedly two weeks earlier, but that she’d been encouraged to come to the reunion-like annual women’s retreat anyway. She obeyed, but in a cocoon of grief and tears.
Whatever was on the schedule next was abandoned without a thought. We simply loved on the hurting one. She was noticed. She was not the disruption she assumed. She was the point. Her pain was acknowledged and respected. And we poured out love like ointment from broken alabaster.
No matter what leadership role we’re asked to take—event planner, writer, speaker, pastor, Bible study teacher, small group facilitator—the love factor is the truest and best catalyst for change.
What comes to mind when you consider 1 Corinthians 13:13 in light of your serving? You may have faith that God will speak and that you’ve prepared well. You may have hope that those to whom you minister will be moved, comforted, helped, challenged.
That verse reminds us that three key elements remain or endure in our living for Jesus before others: faith, hope, and love. Then the Apostle Paul adds a line we may never finish processing. “The greatest of these is love.”
Where has that truth been most keenly evident in your life of serving? We will all grow if you’ll share a short snippet of your story in the comments.