The phone rang as I threw back the covers to fall into bed. I tried not to sound annoyed as I answered, but I was exhausted—late night conversation was the last thing on my mind.
"Hi Kathy, it's Skye. I just got out of the Inter-Varsity Bible study. We have a new student from China who asked if there was a mature Christian woman who could mentor her. We thought of you. Would you be willing to meet with her?"
My first thought was, "No! I can't do one more thing." I was already juggling a large project at work, a leadership role at church, and a speaking ministry. A month earlier I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Stress was the biggest enemy of the muscle pain and fatigue I battled daily. It was critical that I budget my time and energy wisely.
Ministry has always been a priority for me, but I've learned not to give a hasty answer to requests. I told Skye I would pray for God's direction, and agreed to meet with Mei one time to determine the level of commitment needed. If it was more than I could give, I offered to match her with someone else.
The next morning, refreshed from a good night's rest, I took time to read Scripture and pray before heading to work. I laughed out loud as I read an excerpt from Leonard Sweet's A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Café. His family had the practice of keeping an empty chair at the Sunday dinner table, "a reminder that no matter how many were already present, there was always room and food enough for one more." He asked, "What will it take to get us to make room … for one more person in our hearts?"
Sensing God's direction, I met with Mei several times, and made myself available by phone when she had issues of life, love, and faith to discuss. I prayed with her over difficult decisions, and encouraged her to trust God with the outcomes. She married and left the area a year later; by then, I was sad to see her go. I thanked God for prompting me to make room in my heart for her.
Now that I am retired, there are even more requests of service to sort through. I've learned that just because a need is presented doesn't mean the voice of God is calling. When you're faced with more requests than time, here are some guidelines to help us choose the best and say no to the rest:
1. Clarify what is expected. If Mei had wanted to meet weekly, that would have been more time than I could give.
2. Pray for discernment. God has promised to give us wisdom if we ask for it (James 1:5).
3. Bounce the idea off friends who will give honest feedback.
4. Ask yourself if the request is a good match for your spiritual gifts. Not sure what your gifts are? Read 1 Corinthians 12. Ask your friends or pastor for feedback. Complete a Spiritual Gifts Inventory online.
5. Consider if the ministry fits within your personal mission statement or purpose. If you feel called to women's ministry, working with Children's Church might not be for you.
6. Pay attention to your gut instinct. While we shouldn't base any decisions—ministry or otherwise—solely on our feelings, sometimes God prompts us with them.
7. Keep in mind that sometimes "no" is an appropriate response. Ministry burnout is not God's plan.
8. Let your "yes" be "yes" and your "no" be "no." You do not have to give five air-tight reasons to justify your answer—especially if it's "no."
9. Give yourself permission to change your mind. I once responded to a plea for nursery volunteers, but after serving three Sundays, withdrew my offer when bouncing babies triggered fibromyalgia pain.
10. Encourage the person recruiting volunteers. Thank them for considering you. Pray with them right then, asking God to provide the perfect match for their ministry.
As believers, we are called to serve. Let us make room in our hearts and at our tables for others, but let's choose wisely, lest we miss the blessing of God's best and burn out on the rest.
Kathy Ptaszek is a speaker and freelance writer living in Michigan. Connect with her at HolyGroundAllAround.com.