Last week I was asked a very thought provoking question. Someone wrote to me and asked me to explain why I serve. This is what I replied with (with a few revisions, just for the blog). It’s my attempt at an open an honest answer, including the sin and ugly thoughts that motivate me at times. Since I haven’t posted a blog in awhile, I thought I’d post the answer here. Enjoy.
Okay, so here’s my answer. If you have any follow up questions, feel free. But this is good for me to think through and write out. So I’m glad you’re asking.
I guess that I am not naturally really a servant. At all. My freshman year of college I really did not like my roommate. She wasn’t popular and was annoying to me but wanted to hang out with me all the time and just cramped my style and didn’t help out my popularity. So I told my R.A. that I would rather not come back to school than room with her again. Thankfully my R.A. saw that as an opportunity to help me grow, denied my request to switch roommates, and told me to start reading Philippians 2 every day for the rest of the year. I guess that was the beginning of it for me. If you read the passage, you’ll see what I mean. You can’t escape that Christ was a servant.
Earlier I said that my motives are mixed. I really crave and love acceptance, and one way I find that is through serving people. I also really value hard work and independence, so my tendency is to give and serve as opposed to receive or ask others for help and appear “weak.” I’m also a slight perfectionist, so whatever I do I want to do well, so sometimes I go over the top in serving because my reputation or name is on the line and really I’m in it for my glory and fame, not God’s. I also happen to work for a church where serving is required as part of my job description, so we can throw duty in there with the motives too.
The flip side of that is I’m sensitive and I think have a sensitivity to the needs of others, especially hurting people. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved making people feel special, and serving is one way I’ve found to do that. I do actually think it’s better to give than to receive and as I’ve gained faith and trust in Christ, I’m able to trust Him for the energy, or the resources, or the honor I think I need but am giving up to serve other people. And, I really believe that when I work I work for the Lord and not for man, so I want to do work for the church well because of that.
Over the years God has transformed my mind, by His grace, to equate serving with greatness. THE King, our King, the greatest human being to ever live…He was a servant. He seemed to just look for ways to humble Himself, to make Himself low, to serve instead of be served, to give instead of receive from others, and even though He despised the shame (Heb. 12:2) He just kept looking to the reward. So, I consider that the reward waiting for me is better than what I give up in power or success or honor here on earth. And I think greatness is found in serving, in being like the King.
I also just read Scripture and see it all over Scripture. I know you said not to say just because the Bible tells me so, but seriously, it does. It’s all over:
“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant,” (Matthew 20:26)
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:10-11)
“He who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 7:22)
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.” (Ephesians 6:5-8 ESV)
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,” (Philippians 2:3-9)
“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8)
“For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:15-19)
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)
And this one is the kicker…”So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)
Finally, I think God has also put a lot of people in my life who are really incredible servants. I’ve come to really admire that quality in others. I never really used to notice it, honestly. But my senior year of college I remember seeing that my friend Laura was this incredible servant – she would come in and make my bed for me if it was unmade, that’s the biggest one that sticks out – and I remember asking her how she even thought to serve other people. So she told me to start watching. I realized that the more I was consumed with other people and their needs, the less I thought about myself. Then I started noticing it more in other people when they would serve me, instead of just taking it for granted. Like my mom for instance. She’s probably the greatest servant I’ve ever known. Just puts other people’s needs in front of her own day in and day out – and I think it makes her beautiful. Really truly beautiful. Or my best friend Esther. One day I was in over my head cleaning out an old apartment, I was exhausted and overwhelmed, and she invited me over for dinner. Made the most delicious eggs & homemade brioche I’ve ever eaten to this day, and then she and her husband came over and helped me clean my apartment. We actually laughed and played and had a good time. I felt so blessed and relieved and thankful for them in that moment. Or, we used to live next door and if I went away for the weekend she would leave a little gift bag with a water, and a pack of gum, and a CD for me to listen to. It was just so thoughtful it made me love her. Or my old boss Jared, no matter how mad I got at him, no matter how he treated me, no matter how frustrated I was with the long hours that came with our ministry, I knew that when push came to shove he would always take the hit for me. Whether it meant he would wake up earlier so I could sleep on a trip, or give up his weekend to study because I was having a meltdown and needed to talk through something, or take on an added responsibility to protect me from having to do more – he would always be the one to outsacrifice me. And it made me so incredibly loyal to him. It was amazing to have someone willing to sacrifice for me in that way. So anyways, I started wanting to be like that because I found it such an attractive quality in other people. I just have come to love that about people and want to be the same way in return – both to them and to others.
The truth is, the more we look out for each other and serve each other, the more free we become to stop looking out for ourselves and the more happy it makes us. It’s like throwing a birthday party. I may want a birthday party because I want to feel special on my birthday, and so I could throw a birthday party for myself. But, what would actually make me happier because I would feel more special is if I had a friend who cared so much they wanted to throw a party for me. Then, all that thought, time, money and energy I would have spent throwing my own party is freed up to be able to throw a party for someone else! As Christians, this is always true for us because God is always taking care of us and looking out for us, regardless of whether other people are looking out for us or not. That’s why we can serve even in relationships with the most selfish human beings. We don’t have to be concerned with looking out for ourselves first and foremost. We’re free to sacrifice and bless other people for their benefit because God will provide for our every need – whether it’s money, time, energy, resources, strength, words, or wisdom.
That sounds great in theory, but a lot of times I’m just mad at myself for overcommitting. Or I’m grouchy because I get treated like a servant, or full of self-pity because I don’t think people recognize what I do or are taking advantage of me, or stressed out because I have so much to get done, or angry because people are asking me to do things I don’t have time for and can’t they see everything else I have on my plate?! or self-righteous because I think I’m doing more than other people. It doesn’t feel very beautiful 99.9% of the time.
But when it’s all said and done it really comes down to that I believe I will get a reward in heaven for serving Christ & His people. So I’m willing to fight through all the mess of my own sin and messed up motives to keep living the way I believe Christ has called His people to.