I sat in Bible study one morning listening to the guest speaker deliver her message. She was wired much like me: achievement-driven, independent, high-energy. She talked about her need for affirmation and her struggle to find her identity in Christ. I had given the same talk many times myself.
I soaked up her words and thought about all my accomplishments . . . the triumphs I clung to that had never helped me reach the level of success I desired. Then I heard God whisper, Elizabeth, what if you never cultivate a large ministry? What if you never build an impressive platform? What if your dreams never come to fruition? Will loving the people right in front of you be enough?
I paused. Tears welled up in my eyes.
What if this is all there is? I thought to myself. Is this enough?
I pictured my husband, quiet and steadfast. Selfless and patient. Introvert to my extrovert, calm to my crazy. I thought of my three older kids: their unique talents, personalities, and gifts. Gosh, they are such perfect gifts from God, redeeming my own dysfunctional childhood; proof that God makes beauty from ashes. Then I envisioned my two littles . . . the two we adopted through foster care. The best things and the hardest things we’ve ever done. I also thought of the friends God had gifted to me. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude.
If I never accomplished another thing in my life, would loving these people—and anyone else God brought into my life—be enough?
YES! Without a doubt, YES!
Many of you are thinking, Of course! Is that even a question to ponder? And yet, consider these popular hashtags trending on social media:
These evoke messages of independence, power, and strength. Our culture shouts them to young girls and women both outside and inside the Church. Forget the fact that Scripture tells us to, “Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Today it’s more accepted to gain followers and friends than to actually love people. Loving people is no longer celebrated. Following others is what we worship.
In an attempt to empower women, our culture tells us that:
The problem with this message is that it is not gospel. It is opinion touted as fact, and many in the Church are gobbling it up like bread at the Last Supper.
A friend of mine recently read a Christian book promoting such propaganda—a book on the New York Times Best Seller list. After finishing the book my friend posted on social media, “Reading this [book] and wondering (not for the first time) what it means that I don’t have any big dreams or goals for my life. I want to raise kind kids, Jesus-loving kids, and be a little light in my little corner of the world. Is that normal? (I’m being real here because most people I know dream a lot bigger.)”
My honest friend feels like she is in the minority because she is not starting a nonprofit, a small business, a podcast, or a blog. She is not writing a book or building a well in a third-world country. She is packing lunches, running carpool, helping with homework, saying prayers, and volunteering in her community.
Jesus spent three years pouring into twelve men: He spent time with them, taught them, discipled them, and loved them like family. Jesus knew that our salvation testimony would not stem from fancy rhetoric or the number of service hours we could clock in, but how we loved people. That’s why He said, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7)
Did Jesus help others? Yes. Did He heal the sick, help the poor, and love the rejected? Absolutely! But did He deeply invest in hundreds or thousands? No.
So why have we made it our mission to do so?
On a recent date night my husband said to me, “Most people don’t influence thousands. Most people influence a few. Think about the people who influenced us.” He was referring to five couples who taught our Sunday school class during the first five years of our marriage. They invited us over for dinner while they juggled careers and kids and sports. They prayed for us and with us. They modeled a Christ-centered marriage. They weren’t concerned about maintaining a brand or building a platform; they loved the people God had put right in front of them—and we were the beneficiaries.
Is loving people enough? Our world tells us no. Our world tells us we must make a name for ourselves, gain followers, create a lasting legacy, leave our mark. But Jesus tells us loving people is all there is.
MySpace was replaced by Facebook, which will one day be replaced by something else. Businesses go bankrupt. Nonprofits come and go. But loving people will impact generations. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
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Elizabeth Oates is an author, blogger, and speaker who earned her B.A. from Baylor University and an M.A. from Dallas Theological Seminary. She’s the author of three books, including Mending Broken Branches: When God Reclaims Your Dysfunctional Family Tree (2018). She lives in Waco, Texas with her husband and their five children — three biological and two they adopted through foster care. Connect with Elizabeth at www.elizabethoates.com.