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Few would admit it, but what most people want is a comfortable relationship with Jesus. We want answered prayers, help through troubled times, and comfort in crisis. Oh, and spending eternity in Heaven while escaping Hell, we want that too. Those are the comfortable benefits making Jesus so desirable to us, after all. Here’s where it gets a little uncomfortable. Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time talking up those benefits. He spent most of His time warning of trials and persecution, and giving stern warnings to those seeking to live a comfortable “religious” life.

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His harshest words were reserved for people just like us… those who were trying please God through comfortable and often self-serving platitudes. Comfortable Christianity is synonymous with Pharisaical living.

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I was recently out walking in the early morning hours and got caught in a torrential downpour about three quarters of a mile from my house. The rain was coming down so hard I could barely see, and the drops were thudding against me in a way that had exhausted me by the time I reached the front porch. After getting dried off and into a fresh set of clothes, I was reminded again of the plight of the homeless. How many times have they endured such storms but had no place to find suitable shelter? How long did it take for their only set of clothes to dry before they could once again move about comfortably?

Every day we take so many things for granted. We are blessed beyond measure yet always find something about which to complain. We get hungry and we grab something out of the cupboards to eat; we get thirsty and pour a glass of clean water from the faucet. When we are wet, we dry off with towels and change into a different set of clothing; when we are cold we turn up the heat and put on a sweatshirt or a jacket. All of these simple everyday things we do, we take for granted. We don’t give them a second thought because they are simply a part of the fabric of our lives.

What if there were no cupboards of food and no running water? What if there were no towels, no change of clothes and no heat? According to a 2007 study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, this is a reality for over 3 million people in the United States of America alone. Perhaps even more startling is the fact that 39% of the homeless in America are children. Worldwide, the United Nations estimates that nearly 100 million people are homeless; worse still, up to 600 million live in makeshift shelters that threaten their health or even their life.

Despite our obvious blessings, we all find much too complain about every day. We complain that we have nothing to wear or that there’s nothing to eat. Our greed and self-centeredness has blinded us to the reality in which we live. We have plenty to wear and eat, but our appetite for both food and possessions is insatiable. We have more than most in the world, but it is not enough for us; we must have more. It appears it is not enough to have our needs provided for; we have the audacity to complain that what we have isn’t good enough because it isn’t exactly what we want.

As followers of Christ, we need to be content with whatever God has given us (Philippians 4:11-13). We also need to be generous and care for those in need (Deuteronomy 15:9-11, 1 Timothy 6:17-19). Jesus instructed us to provide shelter for the homeless (Matthew 25:31-41). This is not the job of the government; it’s the job of the church. If we as a body cannot house the homeless and look after the poor, then we are not following Christ. We build grand luxurious buildings for us to gather on weekends but we look the other way when we see someone sleeping on the street. We serve lavish meals to build community with one another but we can’t spare a piece of bread for the starving children on our streets and around the world. As for those big buildings and large meals, we usually find some reason to complain about those as well.

Picture what God sees when He looks at His Church, particularly in the Western world. He sees a people who have been blessed like none other, yet have become fat, lazy and apathetic to the needs of the lost and the poor. Christ did not die so we might lead happy, healthy and comfortable lives. He died to rescue us from our sin and asks only that we serve Him in return. Apparently, that was too much to ask. We must all repent of our selfishness and greed, and for taking His blessings for granted. Beyond that we must do something to care for the poor and homeless. Working together we can eliminate this suffering from the world; we only lack the will. I have turned away for too many years and suspect you have done the same. No longer can we feign either ignorance or innocence. We have no more excuses and no right to complain.

Last week we talked about not waiting around for the perfect moment to start serving Christ (see, “Life is Not a Bus Stop”). There is a flip side to this coin as well: we must be prepared to serve. If you want to help the homeless, it’s rarely a good or effective idea to head downtown and simply start handing out hotel keys. You need to understand the environment and the mentality of those you wish to serve. Jesus told us to be shrewd (Matthew 10:16) in our dealings with the world, so we need to be wise in our decisions, and utilize the gifts with which we have been entrusted.

As with any venture in life, you must prepare for success before you can achieve it. Achievement rarely falls into your lap, but rather is the result of diligence and hard work. In the above scenario, before you start a ministry to the homeless, you need to study everything you can lay your hands on that pertains to homelessness. You need to understand the psychology of the citizens of the streets and learn the rules that govern them. Pray, study, pray, read, pray; prepare your heart, mind and body for the work that lies ahead of you. Volunteer at a shelter in your city or in several cities. The point is if you are not actively engaged in the ministry for which you are gifted, you need to be preparing for the road ahead. Success comes to the diligent, and if you will prepare well, you will find great joy once your ministry begins. The goal is to glorify Christ by using the gifts He has given us. We would do well to become well versed in their usage. Someone with the gift of music doesn’t one day pick up an instrument and begin to play flawless works. No, they practice for hours on end, day in and day out. They are honing their gift, just as we all must do, regardless of what our gifts may be.

It can be easy to become discouraged during this time of sowing or practicing. It’s also easy to become frustrated when we are involved in active ministry but we aren’t seeing any tangible results. These feelings are natural. We want to glorify our King; we want to be out in the battle. It really becomes a matter of attitude. Are we seeking to glorify God or ourselves? If we truly have Christ in mind, we will patiently and positively bide our time, diligently preparing ourselves for the moment we will find ourselves thrust onto the front lines. By keeping our talents sharpened and our focus always on Jesus, we will be prepared at any moment for whatever may come our way. Remember, ministry happens every day in the interactions you have with others. Pray and study, then actively seek to apply what you have learned to your own life and in service to others. Those without Christ are always watching us, watching our attitudes. Stay positive and ready to serve Jesus at all times.

Finally, whether you are in a sowing or reaping phase, whether you are practicing or executing, do it with excellence. You represent the King and Creator of the universe. Do no shoddy work for Jesus. Remember what He gave up for you; certainly we can give no less in return! God rewards the diligent. Today’s frustration is tomorrow’s joy and triumph. Keep moving regardless of where you are in life. Take action, and do so with excellence. Read the book of Proverbs and see all the wonderful wisdom contained in that book as it pertains to diligence and work. God has uniquely gifted you for service, not for discouragement. If you will hone and use your gifts unabashedly for Him, He will use you to glorify Himself. In so doing, you will find the peace and the joy you have been seeking.

Don’t wait for divine intervention; identify and learn how to use your gifts so that you might be prepared at any moment to be the very hands and feet of God. Remember to stay focused and maintain a positive attitude when nothing seems to be working. In all you do, do it with excellence. God has supplied you with gifts for His service; He expects us to learn to use them well. God will reward those who passionately seek to serve Him. Prepare to serve, and then serve well.