The Beauty of Service

Some of you reading this might know that I went on a mission’s trip this summer to Denver, CO with Youthworks.
It was a wonderful experience where God worked in amazing ways. The community was blessed. I was blessed.

A beautiful moment was at the end of the trip when we had a foot-washing ceremony. The group leaders washed the students’ feet. If you don’t know what a foot-washing ceremony is, it’s based on the love, service, and duty Jesus performed toward his disciples out of humility.

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.'” – John 13:12-17 (NIV)

After serving a community with a group of my peers for a week, I got a chance to experience the feeling of being served myself.

A lot of the students had been crying this last evening, knowing they would be leaving people they had come to love as siblings in Christ as they served beside them. Or maybe there was more to it, that I couldn’t understand. Maybe it had been a life-changing week for them. Either way, the mission’s trip had certainly blessed all of us, and it was soon time to leave it all behind.

I was one of the ones who sat there and didn’t cry. It takes a lot to make me cry in front of people.

But as soon as my leader bent down to wash my feet, tears streamed down my cheeks. Even as I write this I’m reminded of that sweet moment, and I’m almost crying. Yes, it was a sweet moment, because my heart was touched by my leader’s gentle spirit as she washed my feet.

When Jesus washed his disciples feet, He was symbolizing what He would soon do for the world on the cross. Jesus descended to wash our feet, in that He descended to the earth to die for our sins and give us the new, good life. He showed sweet humility and deep compassion toward us, when we did not pay attention. He gave us a chance to wash the dirt of our sins away, when we committed them carelessly. The Lord poured out Himself for us, so we would be empowered by His Holy Spirit to live a life poured out for others.

We can’t truly love if we don’t receive love. And love is the most important thing, more important than the doing.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Without the love and humility from my leader, I would have felt nothing. I cried that night, because deep inside, I felt my leader’s willing selflessness as she washed my feet. I felt what the community must have felt when my group reached out to them. I felt what we all should feel when we think of Jesus’ enormous sacrifice for us, that offers us life–the overflowing, supernatural life that pours out into the lives of others.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45

 

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Abigail the Intelligent

I flipped the thin, floury matzo over in the pan. My thoughts wandered over the writings of Moses, which the wise servant, Uri, had read aloud to me and the other servants last night. Though I wasn’t a servant to any master myself, I cherished the words, knowing I was a servant of God. “Love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.”

That I resolved to do with all my might.

Shira was singing gently to the Lord as she swept the ashes of the fire back into the pit. It cheered me to know my dear servant loved God as I did, that together we could do what was right, we could love and forgive, we could choose honor in the midst of my husband, Nabal’s, depravity.

But Nabal himself—oh, had I spent long hours thinking and praying for him, at one moment loving him as the Lord showed mercy on the repenting slaves who escaped Egypt, and at the next moment hating him as the Lord showed wrath on stubborn Pharaoh with the crashing reunion of the Red Sea.

I noticed the flatbread was burning, so I quickly turned it over. Shira and I glanced at each other, and she laughed at me.

“Mistress Abigail, you’ve burnt the matzo again.”

Her sweet laughter shook me until I almost wanted to cry. I hadn’t realized how stiff and nervous I’d been.

When Shira saw that I did not laugh, she said, “I’m sorry, mistress, I didn’t mean any harm. I should hold my tongue next time.”

“No, Shira, you’re all right,” I said quietly. I watched the half-burnt matzo sizzle in the pan, intent to keep the other side from burning as well.

“May I ask what you are thinking about, mistress?” she asked, as she continued to sweep, sweep in the rustling, breathing rhythm of broom against floor.

“Nabal.” I flipped the cooked matzo onto a platter abruptly. “That fool gets drunk every night in our chambers. I don’t look forward to when he comes back from the sheep shearing.” My eyes brimmed with tears. “But, God help me, I’ll shall continue to love him in hopes that one day he will repent and turn to the Lord.”

Shira paused beside me and laid a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, mistress, it must be so hard for you. If I dare say this, Master Nabal doesn’t think things through. I’m just glad David and his men are around to protect the sheep from thieves, when Nabal developed no plan to do that. He and his men are so good to us.”

“Yes,” I murmured. “Thank the Lord for David.”

 

***

As Shira and I were washing the dishes by the stream, Uri, the servant whom I held gratitude for reading the Scriptures to me, approached me with concern. “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out I the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them.”

He looked earnestly at me. “Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”

I set the dishes aside and sprang to my feet. Shira followed after me as I sprinted to the kitchen.

“Servants!” I called, banging on a pot in an attempt to get them all to come. One by one my servants came to me.

“Please listen and be quick to obey,” I begged, “for it is Nabal and many of our lives that are in danger.”

Their attention was rapt. And so I assigned them orders to collect two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, about sixty pounds of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins, and two hundred cakes of pressed figs.

If this doesn’t put some sense in the man, I thought, then I don’t know what will.

I called for the donkeys. The servants helped me pack the abundant food on their saddles.

Turning to the male servants, I said, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.”

Holding the reins of the donkeys, the servants trekked off on a mountain path.

“Shira,” I said, “Please stay here to attend to the household, and do whatever Nabal tells you to when he comes home.”

“Yes, Mistress.” She smiled. “And no, I won’t say a word to him about what you’ve done.”

I attempted a feeble smile in return.

***

I rode my favorite donkey down a mountain path, uneasy at every turn. Would he grant my request, or slay me at his first glance at me, simply because I was the wife of such a beast?

“Dear Lord,” I prayed. “Let this man listen to me, please. Don’t let him turn against Nabal and me and the rest of the household. Please, Lord, have favor on me; grant us mercy, though we don’t deserve it.”

As I entered a mountain ravine, I saw David and his men coming down to me from the opposite side. I also saw my own servants hidden with the donkeys burdened with gifts behind some trees.

I had never actually seen David before, only having heard about him from the servants, but it wasn’t hard to tell which one among his men he was. He was in the front of his men with the strong stature of a great leader and a quiver of arrows at his side. Yet there was a kindness in his dark eyes, and he rode slowly toward me on his donkey, as if to try not to scare me.

Hurriedly, I stepped down from my donkey and rushed to bow before him so my face touched the ground. “Pardon your servant, my lord,” I pleaded, “and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him.”

Trying to contain the resentment inside me, I drew a deep breath. “And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal.”

I ushered the servants forward. They led the donkeys to David, revealing the abundant supply of food that could nourish David and his men.

“And let this gift,” I said, “which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you.”

I closed my eyes, still on my knees before this great leader. Tears dripped down my cheeks, as I clung to the only hope of survival I had for Nabal as well as Uri and the other male servants. “Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live.”

Remembering what I heard about King Saul chasing down David in order to kill him and keep him from the throne, I continued, feverish, yearning, hoping with all my might that this leader would somehow have the humility to listen to the little wife of Nabal.

“Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life,” I went on, “the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling.” I was confident of this, for wherever David went he was known to defeat his enemies, and he did so in the name of the Lord.

I continued, growing earnest and hopeful, “When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”

Finally, I looked up at David, who was smiling triumphantly at me from his donkey. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.”

I shivered at the thought, but when I met his kind, dark eyes, I was filled with awe.

David stepped down from his donkey and accept the gifts my servants had brought to him. “Go home in peace,” he said. “I have heard your words and have granted your request.”

Relieved, I returned home, only to find Nabal enjoying a fine feast and laughing hysterically. He was obviously drunk. One way, I supposed, to clear his mind of the callousness he had shown toward David and his men.

“You served him the Passover lamb?” I asked Shira, eyeing the half-eaten lamb at the center of the table.

Shira shrugged innocently. “You told me to do whatever he told me to, mistress.”

I would have to wait to deliver my husband the news of the Lord’s mercy till the morning.

***

Nabal awoke still at the table where he had gorged himself with food and drank too much wine.

“My lord,” I said to him, “David son of Jesse has decided not to destroy you and your male servants. He has shown mercy on you. And also, my lord, I delivered him many good gifts so that I might save your life.”

Instead of being thankful for the Lord’s goodness, Nabal looked at me until his eyes seemed to be staring into nothing, and his whole body froze.

Ten days later, I bent to listen to my husband’s heart. There was an unfathomable silence.

My heart pounded. “Nabal,” I whispered, but I knew it was the Lord’s doing. In part, I was saddened to see what the Lord saw: he would never repent. And yet I knew, too, that such a stubborn heart was no use to the Lord and had no point to continue living a life pleasing oneself instead of the Lord, who was the only One worthy of praise.

But what do I do now? I wept with Shira, for we had little means of living anymore. Woman weren’t allowed to work in the fields. Though I had servants who continue the sheep shearing, I felt a sense of directionless without a husband to care for. And now, I saw with despair, I had no hope of ever having children to raise. “Oh, Lord,” I prayed, “what is there for me now?”

Hours later, servants of David arrived at my house. One said to me, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”

I was astonished at this statement. Would David show further mercy on me? His kindness, his godliness, his manliness—he was exactly who I needed after suffering with Nabal for so many years.

Overwhelmed with joy, I bowed before the messenger. “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.”

And with that, I, Shira, and four other female servants of mine went with the messengers to David.

When he saw me, his eyes lit up with an unspeakable joy, and I looked at him closely for the first time. A man of God. I had never dreamed the Lord would grant me so much favor. David threw his arms around me, and Shira laughed sweetly. This time her laughter resonated inside of me; it did not go away.

(Based on 1 Samuel 25. Much of the dialogue taken directly from 1 Samuel 25.)

 

Ripples of Life

Water—
awake, alive
Tremulous, shining like the sun.

Vast—
Empty, yet full
Breathing, living redemption.

A lake that blazes;
Hopeful, joyful, beckoning
You to drink
Or to swim
Or to wade.

Freedom—
Broken, soaking the dryness,
Floating—everything;
Everything floating.

Unending grace,
A face of opportunity,
Little waves—changing, yet unchanging,
Always the same.

Ripples of life—
Stillness,
The quiet energy of water
Saving and saving,
The openness of mercy;
Don’t wait.

The lake calls out—
Raging, breaking silence,
Peace and wholeness
Washing over the stains
Of your iron shards of hate.

The lake awaits;
A shimmering dance—an endless expanse
Don’t wait—
It’s your last chance.

Jesus, the Ark

Sometimes when I study the Old Testament, I’ll ask myself, “What does Jesus have to do with this?” Whenever I do that, the Bible stories can suddenly relate to my own life more directly.

I realized today that the well-known story of Noah and the ark also reveals the truth and redeeming power of Jesus. The fact that Noah built the ark is a testament to his faith—a faith that trusted in a God that does the impossible.

“It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

 

Without Noah’s faith, God would not have saved Noah’s life and the lives of his family. Without our faith in Jesus, God will not save our lives.

Faith—the key. Jesus—the keyhole. We need both to unlock the door that leads to God’s presence, His love, and His will that sets our lives into a place of eternal security.

Noah worked on the ark for many long, laborious years, believing a flood would come when everyone around him mocked him for it. Are we willing to spend our lives doing God’s will despite what others may think of us?

I know it’s impossible for me to please Him. I can’t do anything beautiful or perfect when inside I’m weak. I’m sinful. The only way we can accomplish anything worthy of praise is by trusting in the power of the One who is above all praise. He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, Jesus, who is mighty to rescue us from the great floods of bitterness and pride we’ve poured into our lives. Without His death on the cross, our selfishness would cling to us like dirty rags. Without His life we would live in ignorance or misery, and either way we’d end up eternally condemned. But thanks to God, with Jesus’ death on the cross we can put to death our selfish desires! With His resurrection we can truly live free in the knowledge that the God of the universe cleanses us from every ugly thing we’ve said or done or thought.

God loves us beyond measure and offers us true forgiveness through Christ. True peace. Hope—forever and ever.

Jesus is the ark, who protects us from the waves and holds us above the deep waters. Too many people refuse to get in the ark because they don’t believe the flood of God’s wrath could ever destroy them, or they don’t believe the ark is mighty enough to keep them safe. On the other side, too many people actually do step into the ark, only later to jump back in the water, preferring to hitch a ride on a whale instead. But the whale doesn’t care about you and will only swim deep in the water to drown you.

Inside the ark you can still feel the rage of the sea about you. It’s not because of God’s wrath that you are beaten, yet not destroyed. You are beaten because of the sin of the people around you, who are drowning every day. Yet you are not destroyed because the ark keeps you eternally safe.

The old story of Noah has everything to do with Jesus. Without the faith to step into the ark, you’ll end up drowning. But if you take that leap of faith into the ark, one day the waters will recede, and you’ll hit dry ground again.

A Purpose Worth Writing For

When I first discovered my passion for writing, I was a ten-year-old fifth-grader at a meeting with my parents. And I was bored. Funny how creativity springs from boredom—a phenomenon my mom pressed on me at a young age. “Oh, you’re bored?” she’d say. “That’s good! Now you can be creative!” We still have a sign on the wall with a list of things to do if you’re bored.
Now, over the years, I’ve finished two novels by myself and one with a friend… and, yes, I’ve started plenty that I’ve never finished. I spend my free time typing away at the computer (if I have free time), and if I could choose one thing to do all day it would be to write.
But why? Why do I spend hours on words, on ideas, on characters woven into stories that no one might ever read? Why do I care?
I started because I was bored. I continued because it was fun. And to this day I never want to stop—yet for a different reason altogether.
When I began thinking of ideas for my next novel a few years back, at first I had no thought of weaving God into the story. It was just about a Viking slave girl escaping her fate of serving her master in the after-life. But God had a different plan than I did. Since that first spark of inspiration (which I got the idea from an actual phenomenon I read about in history), the story has gone through several shapes and forms. While the book still has that first spark of inspiration, it is not all about her escape anymore. Now it is all about this girl’s redemption. Writing is still delightful to me—in fact, it is all the more satisfying, because I have filled the pages with depth, with meaning, and, as my character, Sigrid discovers in my book, “a reason to live.”
I am writing for a purpose. And without my purpose, I don’t know if I would be motivated to write at all. While I would have gladly written for no reason when I was younger, this Purpose has now consumed me, and I want it to reflect in everything I do.
Stories have the power to speak truth. Jesus doesn’t merely declare, “I’m going to find you if you get lost; your small amount of faith will grow if you trust in Me, and the true believers in Me are the ones who love even their enemies” —rather, he told stories of lost sheep that were found, mustard seeds that produced a harvest, and foreigners who were kinder than fellow countrymen to illustrate his points. While God’s Word is undeniably first and foremost, as believers we have that same Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ had, and, therefore, I believe God wants to use writers in remarkable ways to portray the truth. By trusting in Him and praying for guidance, masterpieces can be created—that, through the compelling words, can transform people’s lives.
I have grown closer to God as I’ve written this book. Sometimes I wonder if it is because of my book that I am growing closer to Him, or if it’s because of Him that my book is filled with Himself. Maybe it’s both. Whatever the case, I am amazed that God has shown Himself to Me through stories, and I hope my stories reflect Christ’s truth to the world.
Because that is a purpose worth writing for.