Each January, I choose a word that I want to focus on for the year. And inevitably, the Lord chooses another word that he knows I need more.
Last year’s word was “charitable” and it’s still remaking me. I considered choosing it again, but when I jotted down this word, I knew immediately it was the one.
I knew it was my word for 2017 because I immediately chafed when I wrote it down. I mentally justified my current attitude and actions. I assured myself I was plenty available. As available as a busy person can be.
Yet my defensiveness revealed my deep struggle. I like things to go the way I plan them. I don’t like interruptions, no matter what the source. I like accomplishing the things I set out to do.
This desire was highlighted in a show I was recently watching. One of the characters talked about keeping a two-column journal when she was a child. Each morning, she was to write on one side how she expected the day to be. On the other side, in the evening, she was to write how the day actually was.
As soon as I heard about this exercise I realized my struggle: a perfect day for me would have both columns look identical.
Even as I write this, I’m ashamed to admit it. Aside from having no sense of adventure, I know that wanting both columns to match is nothing to boast about. It assumes that I know best what is for my life. And that my plans are really the best for me. And more importantly, that my plans are the best for God’s kingdom.
Annie Keary, a 19th century writer, viewed the interruptions and impediments to her work as sent by God to keep her from being selfish. She found that the most important work she could do for God was often some minor random thing that was thrown into her day. That “trifling haphazard thing,” as she called it, was often the best thing she could offer God.
Annie Keary knew what it meant to be available.
I do not.
I rarely see the interruptions to my work as anything more than frustrations and annoyances. While I know that God sovereignly governs my day, in the moment all I can see are the things I’m not getting done.
A friend of my husband once said, “the most important ability in the Christian life is availability.” Availability means setting aside my agenda, what’s convenient for me, what I want to do, to embrace God’s plans and direction. Even when I do not understand God’s plans or know where they are taking me.
If I want to be used by God, I need to be available. Throughout Scripture, God uses people who are available. Abraham was available to God when he went out not knowing where he was going. Moses was on his way somewhere else when he turned aside to see the burning bush. The disciples dropped everything they were doing to follow Jesus and be available to him. They were all willing to let go of their agenda and embrace God’s.
To be honest, I don’t know exactly how to do this. Much of my activity involves doing something for God. Accomplishing something. Being available requires that I take the focus off DOING something for God and see that my primary goal is BEING something for God.
This is a hard lesson for me. I started this post over a week ago, sure it would be finished well in advance of my deadline. But an unexpected illness derailed my week and I got little accomplished. As I lay in bed, resenting this unwelcome interruption, I realized God was teaching me to be available. My illness made no sense to me and I wanted to get on with what I was planning to do.
But being available isn’t about being productive. It’s about submitting to what God brings across my path and asking him what to do next. It’s being willing to set aside my plans and to change my course.
Being available is being led where I would not choose to go because I trust the One who is leading me.
As I have been praying about what availability looks like, I have been drawn to two accounts in Luke 10. The first is the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The priest and the Levite saw the man who had been attacked by robbers on the side of the road, but they were too busy doing something for God to stop. So they passed by on the other side to avoid him altogether. In their minds, God needed their service more than this man needed their help. The Samaritan was going somewhere as well but he was willing to lay aside what he was doing and attend to what God put in front of him.
As I read this, I wondered how many wounded people God has put in front of me whom I’ve scarcely noticed in my preoccupation with serving God my way.
The account of Mary and Martha follows in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus and his disciples went to the home of Martha and she welcomed them in. Martha wanted to serve Jesus and the disciples.
Yet when things didn’t go as planned, Martha felt the weight of what was undone. She needed others to cooperate with her. And she wanted the Lord to rebuke her sister who wasn’t helping. Martha wanted to DO something for God. But Martha didn’t ask Jesus what he wanted her to do. She assumed that she knew.
Mary wanted to BE something for God. She didn’t come with their own agenda but was waiting to hear God’s agenda. Mary listened. She waited. She was available. Perhaps Mary didn’t accomplish as much as Martha, but she saw that letting God do things IN her was more important than her doing things FOR God.
God doesn’t need my frenzied effort to accomplish his kingdom purposes. Or my insistence that ministry go according to my plan. He simply needs me to be available to him. And he will do the rest.
After all, this life is about his kingdom and not mine.
May his kingdom come.