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When You Feel Shaken

This past year, God has shaken many things I put my hope in, in particular my ministry. For the past five years, I devoted myself to serving my neighborhood through fitness nights, pancake breakfasts, pot lucks, investigative Bible studies, and mentoring groups women. Caring for my neighbors became my whole life.

My service became my identity, and when people came to faith and started filling the pews next to me at church, I nearly burst at the seams with pride. Look how fruitful my life is! Look how blessed I am in neighborhood ministry!

After that prideful Sunday morning, God began shaking me to the core to sift out all the things that gave me life outside of just Him. Neighbors moved away. New believers were plugged into other Bible studies and didn’t need me anymore. Nobody called me. Nobody needed me. I sat in my living room and felt that desolation that comes from a life built on sinking sand.

Ministry is right and good, but these past few months I’ve realized that serving others isn’t what makes me valuable, special, or important. It doesn’t change God’s opinion of me or His favor towards me. A life of service wasn’t making me more blessed or more godly.

It was actually exhausting me and embittering me.

Learning that God takes great delight in me—whether I serve Him or not; whether I’m productive or not; and whether I’m needed by others or not—just because He made me and I belong to Him has been the greatest faith challenge this year. God had to take away my ministry for me to learn it.

Do I really believe it? Do I really believe that I’ve saved by grace and not by works? If I did, I wouldn’t scurry around so much, trying to prove myself to God and others. If I really believed it, I would rest in the security of being and not doing.

As a wife, mother, and community member, think I will be learning this lesson for the rest of my life. My husband reminded me just the other day that Jesus did “exactly what the Father has commanded [him]” (John 14:31). That simple truth reminds me that I can take my specific, daily marching orders from God and do exactly what He asks. No more and no less. When I remember that Jesus gives us a “light and easy yoke,” then something must be wrong if I’m exhausting myself in ministry.

I’m so thankful that God sometimes shakes out all those things that I attempt to find security in apart from Him. I’m so thankful that God has me on a journey of freedom and authentic selfhood. Then, I can think about specific instructions for ministry based on an overflow of God’s spirit. I can serve honestly, without using service to form an identity. Then, I find I’m peaceful, humble, and full of joy rather than prideful, exhausted, and embittered.

Heather Holleman

About the Author

When she's not crafting novels, Heather Holleman teaches writing at Penn State. Heather blogs daily at Live with Flair. She and her husband, Ashley, also direct the grad and faculty ministry at Penn State. She has two daughters.