When Kay met Rick Warren, she was in love with his best friend. After she was suddenly dumped during their courtship, Rick decided to take Kay out on the town. It went well, and on their second date eight days later, he asked for her hand in marriage. She said, "Yes." Since making the decision to become a purpose driven wife, Kay has encountered a number of surprises during her lifetime walking with God.
In 2002, Kay Warren, wife of Pastor Rick Warren, became, in her words, "seriously disturbed" by the suffering of the millions infected with HIV&AIDS. When their plight wouldn't leave her mind, she decided to do something about it. Through the PEACE Plan, she is now challenging the worldwide church to take on not just AIDS, but the global giants of spiritual darkness, lack of servant leaders, poverty, disease, and ignorance. Her recent book, Say Yes to God (Zondervan), addresses how each of us can find an area of compassionate service. Here's what she shared with Today's Christian Woman about the power of serving within your giftedness and passions.
Serving often gets a bad rap—as though God is going to call us to serve him in the worst possible way. But you seem so passionate about it. Why?
KAY: My parents always modeled giving your life away and living passionately for Jesus. But when I became an adult I had two life-changing experiences.
When I was 26, I was terrified and overly insecure on the way to speak at a women's event. I cried and thought, God should have picked somebody else. I don't like who I am.
To distract myself, I turned on the radio and heard the song "Ordinary People" by Danniebelle Hall, which is based in John 6 where the little boy gives Jesus his lunch, and Jesus makes a miracle out of it.
At that moment I knew God had chosen me to be average. He could have made me smarter, prettier, more talented. And I prayed, God, I feel like I have so little to give you, but would you take my life, break it, multiply it, and make a miracle out of my nothingness?
And he did. Which moved me into the next pivotal moment.
Which was the HIV&AIDS ministry?
Yes. I read an article that said 12 million children were orphaned in Africa due to AIDS. I tried to cover my face and peek through my fingers at just the text so I wouldn't have to look at the photos of skeletal men, women, and babies with bloated bellies. I threw the magazine down, but for days all I could see were those pictures. I vividly imagined the cries of those children. For the next month I felt as though God was haunting me.
Not a pleasant feeling!
Not at all. My choice was to pretend what I'd learned didn't exist or jump off the precipice into an unknown future by saying, "Yes, God, I'll do something about that." Rick and I were planning to travel the globe in our empty-nest years to encourage pastors and missionaries. But instead, God turned my world upside down, and I'm so grateful.
Being in partnership with the God of the universe is terrifying and exhilarating. It's the highest high. It's what I live for. I know why I'm here.
That's a great context in which to put service. What else motivates you?
I go to Matthew 25 over and over: "When you did it to one of the least of these… you were doing it to me!" (v. 40). Jesus gets to the heart of service, to the no-excuses level in our souls.
We don't seem to get that the best way to demonstrate our love for Jesus is to love other people.
We think it's about performance, but at the end of the day, if it isn't a way to say, "Jesus, I love you," then we've missed the mark.
How can each of us find that passion and sense of mission?
Determine your spiritual gift, because God will gift you to accomplish the mission he calls you to (Ephesians 4:11-16). Also take into account what stage of life you're in. My kids suffered because I did too much ministry work and wore too many hats when they were young. Every season of life has both limitations and joys that are present only in that season, and we need to understand the limitations and joy in each of those seasons.
After we've found that passion, what steps should we take to make it a reality?
Some people respond emotionally and jump right in and start doing, which is understandable. They don't hold back. They jump in with all their hearts.
But my best suggestion is before you start doing, get educated. Read. Talk to experts. Get on the Internet. Learn from those who have been doing it longer. Glean wisdom and learn from their mistakes.
And then experiment. Keep trying something different, and you'll eventually find a way that fits your abilities. Then hone it so that you're the best-equipped servant you can be.
How can we avoid discouragement when the reality of the work sinks in?
You can't. We experience amazing exhilaration when we partner with God, but we're still in a broken world and things (and people) don't work perfectly.
1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV) says that we don't lose heart because we know our labor is not in vain. Keep going. Your labor isn't wasted. So hold on.
That's difficult to do sometimes.
Yes, but Hebrews 12:2 reminds us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. An eternal perspective takes the long view of what happens to us each day. If you lose that long view, you'll become bitter and cynical. Jesus did what he did because he knew the incredible joy at the end. And that's true for us. You may not get all the acclaim and recognition that's commensurate with the amount of labor and work you put into it, and somebody else may either tear down or take credit for what you've built. But God has noticed, and there is joy ahead.
How can we approach service and outreach as a spiritual discipline?
I pray constantly, "God, may my passion not be for myself but for others." The discipline is to take that passion and turn it outward, so that all that energy and desire for justice, rightness, wholeness, and healing is turned toward others. It requires a deliberate turning of my thoughts, emotions, and focus off of myself to someone else.
Colossians 1:15 says that "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God." So every day my job as a follower of Jesus is to make this invisible God visible. That's what the church is. It's a fellowship of people who together make God visible in the world. And that's how service, passion, evangelism, and the gospel all come together.
You don't have to travel around the world to get your hands dirty, to get your heart broken, to be the hands and feet of Jesus. You have plenty of ways to serve in your own community. But go around the world, if at all possible, because you'll cry and your heart will be shattered. Nothing will be the same. You'll be different, and so much better for it.