My wife and I love getting time around our dinner table with our kiddos, students and other people in our city and our church. Recently, we have been having our kids (Caleb, who is 5, and Ella, who is 2) set the table with napkins and silverware for whoever will be eating. I don’t know if you have ever had toddlers set the table, but it doesn’t always look the way you want. The napkins might be crumbled up before they make it to the table. The silverware might end up on the floor. And we rarely trust them with drinks, but when we do, all bets are off.
However, we aren’t actually after having a perfectly set table. What we are really after is the type of people that Caleb and Ella are becoming as they learn to set the table. We want them to learn the significance of responsibility. We want them to learn teamwork. We want them to learn the joy of serving others. We want them to learn to listen and obey. All of this takes place as they set the table.
But honestly, sometimes I forget all that and I get way too focused on how the table looks. Maybe it’s because we are having some special company, or maybe I just want a tidy table, but sometimes I get on them and lose my patience about how they are setting the table.
I wonder if this ever happens to you? Many of us forget what we are really trying to accomplish because our focus has been drawn to having a perfectly set table instead of developing the people that God has given us responsibility to love and care for. What do I mean? How often are you and I running around, stressed out and short tempered, before the doors open for our midweek gathering? How often do you miss talking to people because you are having to “finish getting things ready?” We miss what we are actually trying to accomplish for something that is fleeting and less significant.
What do you really want for your students? Would you rather have a perfectly executed event? Or would you rather have servant leaders who are learning more about how to love and live like Jesus?
Here’s the thing. If you and I spend all of our time trying to pull off perfect events (a perfectly set table) and we don’t focus on developing the people that God has placed around us, then no one will actually enjoy sitting at the table. Why? Because they were really only a means to an end, with the end being the table. What if instead, the means was the table, and the end was flourishing relationships that take place as we journey together through the work that God places in front of us? What if the type of person sitting at the table is far more important than how the table looks?
Next time you have the opportunity to prepare a table for others to sit and receive, take a moment to look around at who is next to you and ask, “who might God be forming them to be and how can I encourage them in that process?” It’s never been about the table. It has always been about what God does with those who sit around it.