Volunteer: One who offers himself for any service or undertaking.
For those who call themselves Christians, there’s something missing in that dictionary definition. For those whose identity includes being Reformed, it’s incomplete. A volunteer is not simply someone who offers him- or herself for a service, but someone who does so for a reason—a high and holy reason. The service, whatever it might be, is done for God.
As he begins his conclusion of the monumental sermon we usually call the letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering” (Rom. 12:1, The Message).
That is truly what a volunteer is—a Christian volunteer, that is. And so a word to us all—to those who give months of their time to international service or domestic relief work and to those who give moments of their time to incidental service or daily relief work: Let the way you use every tick of the clock be a gift to God.
Over a century ago, a medical doctor in Kansas City was filled with a deep love for Scripture. He studied it avidly and applied it devoutly. But his life seemed devoid of fruit. A visiting missionary asked him once, “What is the Holy Spirit to you?” He gave the textbook answer about the Spirit being the third Person in the Trinity, Teacher, Comforter, Guide.
Repeating the question, the missionary probed further: “But what is the Spirit to you?” “I have no personal relationship with him,” the doctor admitted. “I could get along quite well without him.”
Knowing that about himself bothered him greatly. Then one Sunday he heard a sermon on Romans 12:1. The preacher said, “God gives you the privilege and the indescribable honor of presenting your bodies to the Holy Spirit to be his dwelling place on earth.”
At that moment, the doctor said later, he spoke to the Spirit: “Just now I give you this body of mine, from my head to my feet. I give you my hands, my limbs, my eyes and lips, my brain. All that I am I hand over to you for you to live in it the life you please. You may send this body to Africa, or lay it on a bed with cancer. . . . It is your body from this moment on. Help yourself to it.”
I wonder what would happen if more and more of us said to the God of our lives, “Help yourself to it.” While this does not mean volunteering for everything, it suggests a real change in attitude. The next time a position on a committee or a council opens up, we would say of ourselves to God, “Help yourself to it” and see what God does.
The next time an opportunity to help someone arises we would breathe the prayer “Help yourself to me, Lord” and see what God chooses to do. And when disaster strikes and we have the time and the gifts to assist, we would pray, “If you need me, help yourself.” What a difference it would make in the world—and in us!
Each of us, I suppose, has some kind of alter-ego. We act a certain way in one place and a different way in another. God’s call, Paul says, is to develop, with God’s help, a kind of altar-ego. We need to place ourselves on the altar, not as an offering to be consumed in smoke but as an offering so consumed by love for God that whatever the cost in money, time, or effort, we say to God, “Help yourself to it.”