My grandson loves video games. If given the opportunity, he'll stay up all night and forget to eat, hoping to get to the next level. After all, who isn't perpetually optimistic when it comes to careening a motorcycle between cars on an iPhone or facing down Bowser in the final castle of a Mario game?
In her book Reality Is Broken, Jane McGonigal contends that thousands are being drawn to the world of video games by the intoxicating experience of achieving victory against all odds. Bored with real life, they join forces online to triumph over imaginary enemies. They work for hours alongside comrades and allies, not for money, but for the joy of solving problems, grasping new concepts, and saving the virtual world from those who seek to destroy it.
Perhaps we could learn from the gaming world when it comes to the way we think of and approach service. We call people to faith in Christ and then ask them to sit docilely through church "services." We recruit them to usher or work in the nursery, but are we really challenging people to use their unique abilities in service? Are we urging them to take up the cross to follow Jesus down the path of self-sacrifice?
Frankly, many Christians are flat-out bored.
Yet when we were woven together in our mother's wombs (Psalm 139:13), God prepared good works, in advance, for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). We were created to serve. It is our reason for being. Just like you were specially designed with DNA that would result in the color of your skin, eyes, and hair, God has given you a job to do. Your service in the world is a natural outflow of the Creator's good work within you.
Frederick Buechner says, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Your place of service should be a place of gladness. There is no greater thrill than to work hard in the places of the world's deepest hunger—to give of ourselves in a cause that is bigger than us with an effort that stretches us and brings out our best.
I've seen churches come alive when they finally get outside their walls and participate in acts of service. I saw parishioners at a church in Florida join forces to build a mission house for Habitat for Missionaries. They worked hard and then fasted and prayed that the house would sell. The epic pleasure on their faces when the pastor announced the house had sold in the first five minutes was palpable and would rival the face of any virtual game victor!
My daughter, who has been in the church for 27 years, claims that her most profound church experience was when she sang and danced in praise with women at a homeless shelter. It was in that place, where battered women praised God in the midst of their pain, that she experienced the presence of God most powerfully.
Recently my friend Adam left his lucrative job on the commodities trading floor to build affordable housing in a metropolitan city. He becomes animated with passion as he talks about the history of housing discrimination in America. His wife told him, "Your heart has been broken for the people living in poverty in Chicago. You think about it all the time, you dream about it, how to fight it, how to solve it." Adam has caught the service bug and will never be the same.
Michael Chitwood, who organizes marathon runners for World Vision throughout the US and in Africa told me, "I was afraid God was going to call me to a way of life that I couldn't live up to. If I obeyed I would be miserable. If I didn't obey I'd be miserable. What I didn't understand was that God would indeed break my heart, but I would never want to go back to the way things were."
So what is it for you? What do you care about? What breaks your heart? What makes your blood boil? What would you stay up all night to do? Your deep gladness will erupt when you choose to obey, to go to the broken places of the world to do the good works created in advance for you to do.