Volunteering as a spiritual discipline
by Elroy Miller
I believe the virtues of volunteering one’s efforts on behalf of another are deeply embedded in our spirit. Genesis 1:31 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was good.”
God designed us for relationship with God and with each other. Intrinsic to our biological, relational and spiritual nature is the desire to engage in behavior with each other that has meaning for both giver and receiver. Something happens to us when we purposefully interact with the intent to worship God and to respond to the needs of others.
Dallas Willard writes in his 1998 book The Divine Conspiracy that the Beatitudes “…are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the [God’s] kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope” (p 106).
Even modern science is researching the personal and relational benefits of engaging in altruistic behavior. We are learning that the human body is designed to feel better when engaged in purposeful caring interaction with each other.
For example, new mothers who purposefully love their new born babies actually feel “oxytocin,” a hormone that fosters bonding between mothers/babies. More recently, neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Siegel coined the term mindsight “…to describe our human capacity to understand our lives with more clarity, integrate the brain, and enhance our relationships with others.”
The Apostle Paul in Romans was ahead of modern day neuroscience’s learning curve when he challenges people of faith in chapter 12 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (verses 1-2).
Life in the Spirit means that we purposefully use our God-given gifts to enrich God’s church and others in need, to practice hospitality, and as much as possible, live at peace with each other (v. 6, 13 and 18).
During the early 20th century and after World War II, Mennonite Church leaders created incredible opportunities for lay members of the church to engage in Christ-centered living, service and peacemaking.
Individuals over the years have been challenged to participate in:
- Sunday school programs, summer camps, MYF and lay church leadership.
- Advocacy services and care for individuals with disability and mental health challenges.
- Local church mission outreach and around the world.
- Service with Mennonite Disaster Service and Mennonite Central Committee to all kinds of disasters and to victims of war, famine, disease and disaster around the world.
- Gift and Thrift and other fund raising programs in the Mennonite church.
- Support and advocacy for victims of human trafficking, engagement in conflict reconciliation and many others.
These mission and service efforts created enormous opportunities and life changing experiences for youth and laity in our congregations. These efforts have embodied Paul’s urging that we be transformed by the “renewing of the mind” into loving behaviors for others. James writes in chapter 2:26 that “…as the body without the spirit is dead, so is faith without deeds…” May we be called to and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make volunteering a spiritual discipline.