As a Christian businessman, there has been a pressing question that has been dying to get out of my head over the last few weeks: where do I draw the line between service to God and His people, and protecting and providing for my family? My business works with a lot of very small, low, to no-budget businesses and startups, plus I serve a lot at my church. Neither these businesses, nor my church, have a lot of money to pay me and they often ask that I work for free, on commission, or at a very discounted rate. My heart longs to help everyone I come across, but this desire often leaves my own family in jeopardy. We do without so that I can help others succeed, even thrive.
I don’t tell this story to make myself look like a martyred hero. On the contrary, I tell this story to point out that I often loathe myself for this. At the end of the day, I go to bed more times than not feeling abused, taken advantage of, misunderstood, forgotten, even betrayed. It seems like anytime I open up my heart, there is a horde of people ready and willing to steal every ounce of what I have inside. It leaves me exhausted, frustrated, and mad.
Two observations or thoughts come to mind after reading my own words. First, as I Christian, is it not my job to sacrifice for the good of others? How dare I complain – I should rejoice! Second thought: I am tired of being taken advantage of. I want to work for my gain and my family’s profit, rather than giving everything I have to undeserving, ungrateful strangers.
The above paragraph represents the bigger, real issue that I face. I leave myself with two choices: hate myself for not being a “good” Christian, or hate myself for letting others walk all over my God-given skills and talents at the sake of my family and my future. What if there is a third option that I, and so many of us, have failed to see? What if there was really no conflict between serving others and following my own dreams? What if I could love myself for what I do, instead of being racked with guilt no matter what path I choose?
Two truths come out of the realization that I have a third option. First, when I step back and think, the only people who have truly benefited from my services are those that pay full price. They were faced with the actual cost and sacrifice of making sound business decisions, and they understand the value that I bring to their business. Thus, they’re more willing, eager, and ready to take my advice, skills, and expertise and use them to move their goals forward. Second, it is at these moments that I feel the most pride and sense of accomplishment. My passion is helping move people forward, and being able to do that, while also knowing that I am providing for my family and paving the way for our own dreams, is an indescribable feeling.
Is there sacrifice for me with the third option? Sure. It takes a great amount of time, energy, and heart to provide a path that helps others reach their goals. I work long hours, get little sleep, and almost no “free time.” But, it is also at those moments that the sacrifices don’t matter so much. I am in my element, doing what God created me to do.
This is the lesson of all my above ramblings: We often think that our service to God is only found in horrible suffering, strife, and self-sacrifice. Sometimes, this is the case, and I think every Christian must walk through such moments if they’re truly following Christ. But, at the root of all that, God gave each of us a unique calling, complete with the passions and skills to fulfill that calling. Does He sometimes ask us to leave our comfort zone? Yes, but generally it is to increase the skills and passions He gave us, not ignore them.
If we really want to live in faith, it is not about finding the path that makes us most miserable. It is about finding the path that brings us the most joy. This may be an entirely different path than you ever imagined possible. But don’t look to your suffering as proof of your faith. Instead, look to your joy. It is this, your joy and love, that will change the world. Or at least the people around you.