My conversation with my friend Faith the other day led me to reread a chapter in "Death by Suburb." Seriously, if you live in the burbs, you should read this book. If you don't, then read it so you can know where we're coming from. The chapter I revisited is titled "Shirker Service." Call me ignorant, but I didn't know the definition of "shirk" until I looked it up. To shirk, means to avoid or neglect (a duty or responsibility.) Goetz opens the chapter referencing an article by some wildlife scientist who came up with the "shirker bull" concept.
"The shirker bull is a male elk that is able to grow very large antlers because it 'shirks his biological duty by
choosing not to participate in the rut.' The rut is the annual fall ritual when deer and elk males square off
against one another to determine sexual dominance and sire the next generation. The shirker bull, most
likely a loner, avoids fighting other males, and thus pours all of his caloric energy into growing exceptionally
Goetz goes on to say that many Christians have the same "shirker" tendencies. (Just get ready, I'll probably use that word a lot now that I know what it means.) We get hyped up on religious experiences (new book, new church, new Bible study), and start to detach from the suffering of the world. Kinda like the Christian bubble idea. We get so self-focused and think: I want to make my life count. I want to make a difference with my life. Not a bad thought - but the motivation is wrong. Our focus should be on the pursuit of simple obedience rather than significance. We are called to obey, regardless of the outcome. And if we shirk our responsibility to love and serve the suffering, then we are putting all our energy into our "antlers" or pride.
Josh recently told me about an African minister, Celestan, who survived the genocide in Rwanda. His family was killed, and he was left with literally nothing. By God's grace, he met a Christian missionary who provided for and poured into him. After trusting Christ, Celestan felt that God was calling him to go to seminary. He didn't know how he would pay for tuition, but the missionary encouraged him to trust God. An elderly widow back in the US heard Celestan's story and felt burdened to send money for his education. Every month she would collect cans and turn them in for cash. And every month Celestan had just enough money to get by. This widow died right after Celestan graduated from the seminary. He never even got to meet her.
Pretty cool story, right? After I heard it, I thought to myself, "I want to be like that widow. I want to be making a difference in somebody's life like that. " But really, it wasn't just that I wanted to give money to help somebody somewhere. What I really wanted was to be the person in somebody's story who gets the glory. I mean, didn't you think well of the widow? If I'm really honest, I want to give money to someone who's gonna turn out successful! In any aspect of service, I want to know that all the time and effort and energy I poured into it would be making a difference. But Geotz is suggesting that we should be expending ourselves, with no thought of results, because that's what we're called to do.
Growing up, I always remember hearing, "Well, if just ONE person comes to know Jesus, then this was all worth it." Then, on a high school mission trip to England, one of the missionaries put a different spin on it: "We are called to obey. Our job is to share not to save. So even if no one trusts Christ this trip, then this was all still worth it." And now I can see that he's right.
Some of Goetz's closing thoughts from this chapter: "What we enjoy, after being released from the need for significance and success, is the sweetness of the obedience. Finding one's purpose comes not from the results of service but from the act of obedience."