As the bus flew by, the tiny bulbs across the sign lit up to spell out a message to the world. “I am unavailable.” A wall was thrown up between the driver and every pedestrian in need for countless miles. You could almost sense the driver’s frustration, as he avoided eye contact with anyone that looked like they may need a lift. He was done dealing with people. It didn’t matter how many more walking about town were in need of a ride. A frazzled mother with a tantrum-taken child and tired feet. An old widow struggling to carry her groceries across the street. An elderly fellow that walked with a sharp limp and struggled to steady himself with a cane. With the push of a button, that driver told all that would look to him for help, “Leave me alone!” “Don’t even approach me!” “Don’t bother me!” “I deal with your kind ALL day. Just let me have a moment of peace!”
No one can fault the bus driver for needing a break. He’s been pouring himself out all day long for people that don’t appreciate him. He’s been yelled at. He’s been ignored. He’s been taken advantage of. He’s driven great distances for people that didn’t show. He’s been stiffed. He’s had children whining and crying in his ear. He’s picked the wad of gum off the back of the bus seat. He’s been nauseated by the odors of people that don’t clean themselves properly. He’s been scolded by people that had to wait for him, but waited patiently while those same people dawdled on his watch. He’s washed vomit from the aisles…
All of that, and every bit of it met with no gratitude or thankfulness.
I couldn’t help but think as that bus drove past with its sign glowing and its driver glowering, that “Not in service” meant more than “I’m off duty.” It was a reflection of a heart. Maybe not the drivers. Maybe mine. Maybe yours. That bright LED display might just as well have said, “Moving without purpose” or “Wandering Aimlessly” or “Refusing to Fulfill Purpose.” A bus was designed to carry people in need; a driver was hired to use the bus to carry people in need… but no people in need were being carried. Not because there is a shortage of people in need… but because one bus driver was tired. Without realizing it, he was sabotaging his own purpose. He has become so worn down and wearied that he closes the door and throws up a wall to all those he initially set out to help. A bus full of empty seats, driving through a sea of people with its driver looking straight ahead, its door locked and its sign blazing its statement loud and clear.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve been called to a task… a life… a ministry that has taken every bit of you. Maybe you’ve poured yourself out to fulfill the mission that God set before you until there is nothing left…
A teacher that can’t bear another student’s question.
A doctor that can’t look at another sick child.
A Pastor that can hardly bring himself to church to face his brutal congregation.
A cashier that can’t bear another customer.
A soldier that can’t fight another battle.
A marathon champion that can’t run another race.
A writer that can’t pen another chapter.
Everything that can be given has been given and the sign has gone up.
“Not in Service.”
Our hearts begin to wander… While the sign keeps people away from us, our wounded spirit finds comfort in the imaginations of an easier life. “If only I could get away from this, I’d….” and while we wander aimlessly in our hearts… in our minds… our purpose becomes skewed and we find ourselves less and less convinced of the calling God made so clear to us in days gone by. The heart grows cold toward everybody and everything that demands your help. The sign goes up sooner and sooner every day, until you hardly ever take it down. Eventually, something new is made clear in your mind… It becomes obvious to you that there is only one purpose for your existence in this world.
For ME to survive.
It comes with a sudden clarity, and you realize, there is nothing more important…
I can’t stay an extra hour to finish the job… I need a “balance” of work and leisure to survive.
I can’t go help the widow lady on my day off. I need that time to recuperate.
I can’t go to church tonight… I need to spend time with my family.
I can’t pay my tithes… I need to pay the bills.
I can’t make that call to encourage a sister…. she’ll talk for hours and I have things to do.
I can’t pray for others… I need prayer myself.
I can’t minister to others… I need ministered to.
I can’t…. because I need…
You fill in the blanks. What it leads to, is a heart that says, “This is not the life God intended for me. There must be something better.” And while we may walk away from everything we were once so thoroughly convinced of… a calling… a ministry… an anointing… God looks down and cries out for His people. While our hearts close up to the needs around us and our sign banners across through our actions, “Not in Service”, and we’re busy crying about the weight being required of us, God looks across a sea of faces in need….
Someone needs to answer their question, so they can understand how real I am!
Someone needs to show the unlovable patience and love so I can reveal Myself to them!
Someone needs to give that struggling single mother $20 so I can show her I provide!
Someone needs to preach this morning because the backslider’s heart is prepared to receive!
Someone needs to teach the Sunday School class because I’m trying to build a foundation in the hearts of the children!
Someone needs to sing that special because some of my people are hurting!
Someone needs to give up an hour of their free time to listen to this broken sister.
Someone needs to fast so I can work a miracle in an impossible situation!
God knows we are limited creatures… He knows we can only give what we have… He knows that life is full of challenges and struggles. He knows we need a periodic relief from the pressures of whatever life He has chosen for us… But no matter how hard it gets, don’t leave the sign up. When the break is over and the demands start stacking up again, don’t give into the urge to hide behind that sign. Trust that God will give you the strength and the anointing you will need to accomplish whatever task is before you, and get back to work.
Can’t face another day? Get up and face God first.
Can’t look at another person in need? Ask God to help you meet the need.
Can’t preach another sermon? Sing another song? Teach another lesson? Seek God for HIS strength, and HIS anointing.
We can never do this work alone anyway. We are crazy to believe we could do this without His help… The haze of a weary heart will often convince us that He is not there, and He is not willing to help. How easily we are persuaded out of what God has spoken to us in times of sweet prayer! God does not put something on our heart that is impossible to achieve if we rely on Him! When things get hard God “must intend for us to have it easier.” Such false mentalities will only succeed in crumbling ministries. A ministry on our own strength will only ruin us.
God has given you a purpose… It’s not survival… It is to give of yourself in whatever capacity is possible. It’s challenging… it’s difficult… It’s taxing on the body, the mind and the heart… It’s losing to win Christ… It’s decreasing so Christ is increasing… It’s giving until there is nothing left, and then giving more. It’s being spent for others…
It requires a sign of surrender…. A sign that reads
Becky Nichols, 2010