Loving to Serve
True service does not come from our want to be a good person and do the right thing. It is a way of life that overflows from our deepest desire to serve and not be served. Pastor Josh shares more about his heart behind serving.
I was asked once to define my ministry using just one word. A great challenge for anyone, especially someone like me who identifies himself as a writer. The answer came quicker than I expected.
The one word that best describes my ministry is "Love."
I desperately want people to know God's love for them. Seeing someone struggle to embrace the fullness of how much God loves them hurts my heart something awful. At the same time, watching someone experience the peace that comes only from our Father's love fills me with unmatched joy.
There are numerous ways people can come to know God's love, whether it's for themselves or as an honest demonstration for others. All are meaningful. All are reflections of who God is. And all are extremely personal.
For me, service is one of the most powerful and personally fulfilling ways to show my love for God and for others.
Admittedly, I don't have great confidence in teaching people about God's love. Or even talking about it all that well. But I'm more than comfortable moving furniture, carrying groceries, or opening a door to shout that someone matters–to me and to God.
Through acts of service, I feel closer to God and I feel closer to people.
What's more, serving others is available to everyone. Sure, it requires effort. And yes, it even demands some courage. And yet the discipline of true service leads to true freedom. I owe much of what I'm about to share on service to Richard Foster and his spiritual disciplines.
"Freedom comes not from the absence of restraint, but from the presence of discipline." – Richard Foster
The Greatest Example of Service
Perhaps the greatest example of service took place as Jesus gathered His disciples together for a Passover meal just before He would be betrayed and handed over to the Romans for execution. It's what we now call The Last Supper.
An argument broke out among the disciples. They were having trouble deciding who was the greatest (Luke 22:24).
What's important to point out here is that whenever there is trouble determining who is the greatest, ultimately there is unspoken debate over who is the least. Most of us know we'll never be the greatest. And that's acceptable, but only if we don't become the least.
Here the disciples are at a holy feast, feet caked in mud. They knew that someone needed to wash their feet. The problem they faced was that the only people who washed feet were considered the least, the lowest, the unimportant. Not one of the disciples wanted to be considered the least.
"For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves." – Luke 22:27
Then Jesus "... got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist." (John 13:4)
With a towel and a basin of water, Jesus redefined greatness.
In a moment of great humility and honor, Jesus abolished the idea of a pecking order while introducing an authority of the heart, not of a hierarchy. "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet," Jesus said. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:14)
Jesus settled the disciples' dispute: "...whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:27)
What Does it Mean to Truly Serve?
For us to serve like Christ, we have to understand what it means to truly serve. If not, we can fall into a self-righteousness that looks like service but smells like something else entirely. Here is a list of seven ways we can recognize true service:
True service comes from an overflowing relationship with Christ. Only with a full heart can we even begin to be attentive to the needs of others before our own. This comes through prayer. It comes by surrounding yourself with genuine Christian community. And it comes through regular worship.
Big or small, do it all. Whether you stop to chat with your neighbor or you're working on a plan to feed thousands of starving people in a far-off land, both kinds of service have the same value.
Dare to be ordinary. We live in a day and age when it seems like everything and everyone is vying for the spotlight. Are you willing to pick up that pile of trash on the side of road with the very real possibility that no one will ever know it was you?
Delight only in the service. It's okay to be driven by goals. They oftentimes help give us direction. And yet if we become too concerned with results and fall short of expectations, bitterness will creep into our hearts. Be free of results defining your pursuit to serve.
Choose to be a servant. When we choose to serve, we're still in charge. When we choose to be a servant, we give up the right to be in charge. As a result, we become available and vulnerable. The fear that we will be taken advantage of is justified. That is exactly what may happen. But who can hurt someone who has freely chosen to be stepped on?
Wait in silence. Self-righteous service demands the opportunity to help. Veiled in good intentions, this type of service places your wants before someone else's needs. Instead, discipline yourself to listen with empathy and patience before acting. This gives you the freedom to withhold service just as much as perform it.
Care for others. True service builds community. It quietly goes about caring for the needs of others, whether they be friend or enemy. It draws us closer. It binds us together. And it heals our wounds. Before long we come to find that we have the ability to spring into action and spontaneously meet the needs of anyone.
These are just some of ways you can discipline yourself to experience true service. There are plenty more. Collectively each of these actions are more than a list of things we do or a code of ethics by which we hold ourselves accountable. They are the ways you and I can make service a way of life.