What Are You Doing for Others? An MLK Day Message

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“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” asked Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957. Is it just me, or does it seems like people’s most persistent and urgent question now is, “What am I doing for myself?”

What am I doing to grow my career?

What am I doing to improve myself and my life?

What am I doing to fulfill my dreams?

While these questions could intersect with King’s foundational query, they often fall short. Statistically, younger generations (i.e., my age & younger) of Americans are demonstrating less generosity and volunteering less than previous generations did at the same age. The ideal of activism often translates into a Facebook posts rather than real-world application.

Personal finance blogs offer many useful tools and advice for improving one’s finances. But why—what’s your why? Is it comfort, security, freedom, flexibility? It’s all still as meaningless as the 9 to 5 we want to escape, if we don’t have a more compelling purpose.

You don’t have to work out that purpose perfectly right away. It doesn’t have to look like a detailed five- or ten-year plan of how you’ll do good in the world. I think it should look like asking MLK’s question of ourselves on a regular basis, though, because we can’t afford to let it go unanswered.

Thankfully, there are many people of all ages who are activists, advocates, volunteers, and philanthropists. But we all know there aren’t enough. Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution to our society was immeasurable. Yet so much more work remains.

No, you can’t save the world. But you can change the life of one person. Maybe two. Maybe five. Maybe more. The tragedy isn’t that you don’t pull off saving the world. The tragedy is when you don’t even try. It’s not just the people you would’ve helped who miss out; it’s you. You’re missing out on your best possible life, the fulfillment of the most worthwhile dreams.

This past weekend, I was involved with a volunteer appreciation dinner for the adults in our church. We have about 25 people involved in 5 different organizations, serving a range of people in need:

  • Visiting incarcerated youth at detention centers and holding a Bible study.
  • Visiting with and/or mentoring sex-trafficked young women, or those at high risk of being trafficked.
  • Teaching preschool, an after school program, or providing childcare for refugee children.
  • Teaching Bible studies at a nursing home. One group is dedicated entirely to those suffering from dementia.
  • Helping refugees get settled—giving them rides to the SS office or other appointments, helping with paperwork, supplying household items, helping them move, and more.

At the dinner it was beautiful to hear from the volunteers, both about the very valuable, needed work they are doing, and about what they are learning and how they’re growing from it.

I know everyone is busy. We work a lot. We have children in many activities. We have hobbies and side hustles, and television shows to watch and blogs to read. We need to exercise, read, and relax. But what is the goal of all our self-improvement and self-care? At some point we must ask ourselves, for what purpose am I trying to become the best version of myself?

Or, as King put it: “What are you doing for others?”

Jesus also chimed in on this topic: “It is more blessed to give than receive.” (Acts 20:35).

How do you think your life might look different if you asked this question regularly? Have you volunteered? How has it impacted you, and those you helped?

8 Responses to “What Are You Doing for Others? An MLK Day Message”

  1. Megan says :

    This is a good reminder – Jesus was clear that it is far more blessed to give than to receive. Also, when we are “giving” and “doing for others” we must keep in check motive. All too often I fall into the checklist mentality when volunteering my time, not necessarily doing it out of love or compassion but doing it out of duty. Probably the only way to get out of that mentality when trying to serve is just remembering how selfish I am and how little I deserve, yet remember Jesus’ grace given to me, keeping the eternal perspective in the forefront of mind as I go to love others in need.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, it is easy to fall into the obligation or duty approach. I think when the going gets tough, as it will with this types of service, it’s a perfect time to remember God’s love and draw our strength and motivation from that!

  2. Tonya says :

    I’m still trying to figure out how my time can best serve others. Quite honestly I haven’t found the right opportunity yet. Not sure why. But I’m searching, because I do think giving service to the world DOES make us happier in the end.

    • Kalie says :

      I think the search is important–to continually ask that question, because the answer and how you want to serve can change over time.

  3. Connie says :

    Today my husband and I visited two people from our church who are in the hospital. We not only sought to encourage but were encouraged by our visits. I also try to encourage a neighbor who is struggling physically and emotionally. I take walks with her and we frequently invite her over for a meal. I feel like God wants us to hold out a lifeline for her.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s so sweet you were able to visit people in the hospital. I think encouraging and befriending neighbors is also huge, especially those who are struggling in some way. It seems that sense of community is harder to find these days, and you have to go out of your way to make those connections.

  4. Prudence Debtfree says :

    Your church outreach is wonderful! Can I ask what denomination it is? I think that the key is to find a community of people with whom to work at “saving the world” – and it sounds like you’ve got one. That way, it becomes a real part of your lifestyle. I volunteer at my school, but I’m not doing enough. Great, thought-provoking, challenging post – as usual.

    • Kalie says :

      It is wonderful to be a part of this community, and it makes all the difference in the scale of impact, support, and perseverance. It is a non-denominational church, with some of our influences being Brethren and Free Methodist. All these connections have been built by lay people, with some direction from our elders. It’s been cool to see momentum growing this way.

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