Why Do You Serve?

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.

It Disarms Us

Quote

“Let this be your life: Ponder Him; be pervaded with Him; point to Him. The more you know of Him, the more you admire the fullness of His beauty, the more you will reflect Him. O that there would be thousands of irresistible reflections of the beauty of Jesus. May it be said of such reflections, ‘It disarms us. It takes away our arguments.'” – John Piper

Lessons Part 3: God Can Do The Impossible

Alright. I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything, but how many of you thought I would actually even get to the third part in this series? I certainly didn’t. But here I am. So beep beep.

The third lesson I’ve learned since coming to Santa Cruz is this: the God of the impossible can do what you think is impossible – instead of changing your circumstances, He can change you.

So often I doubt God’s ability to do the truly impossible. I don’t think that atheist will ever come to saving faith. I don’t think that Christian will ever be brought to repentance. I don’t think that hope will ever become a reality. I don’t think that relationship will ever be reconciled. I really really doubt God’s power. And I think one reason I doubt God’s power is because I am usually looking to God to change circumstances. I know that’s what I did when I moved here. But that isn’t always the most impossible thing God could do…it’s just the most impossible thing I want Him to do. Because I don’t want Him to do what I think is truly impossible and actually change me. I often can’t even fathom that, I think it’s so impossible. So I settle for being upset at God for not doing what I want, i.e. changing my circumstances so I don’t have to change.

Okay so some of you might be confused. What happened to me that was so bad? You may be thinking, “I thought you decided to move to Santa Cruz, did it, and you’ve been living a normal life there ever since? Did someone die? Did you die? What is wrong with you?”

And I wouldn’t blame you.

Nothing bad did really happen to me. Except a few surprises that I didn’t expect (hence why I call them surprises).

  • Surprise #1: When I decided to move up here, I had no love interest. A week later, to my surprise, someone came into the picture. I moved and he started pursuing me and I started finding comfort in the thought of getting my old life back if things with this person worked out. I could move back down to L.A. and act as if this whole Santa Cruz thing had never happened.
  • Surprise #2: My new job wasn’t much of a change of pace. I was hoping for a slower paced job after being an RD at TMC, but I soon realized that wasn’t going to be the case. It was just a different kind of fast paced.
  • Surprise #3: It turns out I missed my friends a whole lot more than I thought I would. I honestly didn’t think it would be that big of a deal because a lot of my friends were already moving away or would be within the next year or so of my move but then I actually moved and all the sudden had no friends. I remember waking up from a nap one night after my first week at the church and realizing I couldn’t just reach for the phone and call Esther to go grab dinner and tears just started pouring down my cheeks. I was totally alone and the reality of it was much more sad than the concept had been.
  • Surprise #4: Living in Santa Cruz is expensive and I couldn’t afford to have my own perfectly decorated apartment and stay in it all the time like I had been able to do at TMC. The homebody in me was dying a slow, painful death.
  • Surprise #5: I began working with two young guys (who are wonderful, btw) and, much like a first year of marriage can have a lot of issues to deal with, we had our fair share of issues to work through in our first year working together. It turns out I’m a fairly outspoken, independent, proud young woman who doesn’t like to be told what to do. Surprise!
  • Surprise #6: Things didn’t work out with Surprise #1. My brilliant escape plan was foiled. And my pride wouldn’t let me give up and leave a few months into it. So I was trapped here.

All of this combined together to make me a very unhappy creature with my new circumstances. I rarely admitted that to anyone because of the aforementioned pride of wanting to thrive in my new job & city, but I begged God to change everything. Bring my friends here. Change my relationship status so I could move somewhere else with a decent excuse. Change the guys I work with. Make my circumstances bearable for me.

And in the midst of it I literally didn’t even want to pray that God would make me content, let alone happy (no wonder I was miserable!). I didn’t want to go at the pace I was going in my job, I didn’t want to love and sacrifice for my coworkers, I didn’t want to make new friends, and I most certainly did not want to stay single!

You know that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” stuff? I didn’t want any part of it.

But surprise, surprise…God didn’t want to do what I wanted. He wanted to do something bigger. He wanted to change me (which was so painful at times!) He wanted to teach me to love and enjoy the guys I get to work with. He wanted to open my eyes to the way I mistreated and disrespected men. He wanted me to get to experience being cared for and supported by a church body, especially when I’m weak. He wanted me to stop being so strong and independent. He wanted to make me happy in Him instead of looking to a husband for escape. He wanted me to learn all the lessons I am writing about. In short, He wanted to free me & make me happy with an imperfect life. That sounds useful, when I think about it that way.

So I am looking back on nearly a year and a half here and I am amazed that my circumstances haven’t changed but I am happy. I literally did not think this was possible. I thought I could only be happy if I got what I wanted. But not a single friend has moved here. I am still working at the same place, in the same position, with the same people. I am still single. And yet everything has changed and I am so thankful to be here, I’m so thankful for every part of it.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

– Psalm 23:6

Lessons Part 2: Suffering Poorly Makes You Miserable

It was almost a year ago that my pastor stopped me in the middle of a big church-wide event to ask how I was doing. It wasn’t the kind of, “How’s it going” comment you say in passing. It was a real, heartfelt question, “How are you?”

I answered him honestly. I was barely holding it together. My cousin Kenny had left Santa Cruz leaving me with no friends. I had just been hurt fairly deeply by another good friend which resulted in a drastic change in our friendship. And I had just said goodbye to two of my best friends in the world who were leaving for Lebanon to pursue full time missions. I blamed it all on God. He was the one that led me here. He was the one that convicted me allow my friend to get close enough to hurt me. He was the one that was taking my friends to the mission field. I felt like He had failed me. I had done nothing but follow Him…and this was what I got in return.

In short, I was mad at God.

My pastor saw through my tears and could tell that growing behind the tears in my eyes was anger. He asked, “So, how long do you want to be miserable for? Or when are you going to turn to God and let Him comfort you?”

In a sense I knew he was right, but I just felt like I couldn’t not be mad. God had failed me. He let me down. I was reeling from the pain of losing so much and I didn’t even know how to begin to let God comfort me because I felt like it was all His fault.

A year later, all I can say is that suffering poorly makes you miserable.

You see, a few years ago I went through a break up that pretty much devastated me. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it. But the week of the break up I heard a message on James 1 (from a friend who was in a preaching class, of all places) and it became my goal to let the trial have it’s perfect result. Through the trial that was that heartbreak, I filled up the pages of 6 journals with prayers. I could barely get enough time with God. I needed Him. I learned what the gospel was in new and fresh ways. I grew in my love for the church. I pressed into God…and found He was reliable. He could uphold me through one of the darkest seasons I’ve weathered. I think, by God’s grace alone, I suffered well during that season.

That is not what I’ve done with this season of loneliness in Santa Cruz. I think I just hit a point where my heart hurt too much. It didn’t seem worth it to love anyone anymore. My tactic this time has been more akin to what C.S. Lewis describes in his book, Four Loves:

“Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

I’ve wrapped my heart with hobbies, luxuries, and I’ve avoided getting entangled. I’ve been afraid to become real, true friends with people here for fear that I will only end up being hurt in the end, weather by relational circumstances, or by distance, or by our respective callings. I’m afraid that if I dig roots, they will only be uprooted and I don’t know that I can bare that any longer. So instead I’ve locked myself in a loveless casket of selfishness. And those little hobbies and luxuries have kept God at bay, as well (hence my previous post).

And you know what? I’ve been miserable. I’ve been miserable to be around (just ask Brandon & Jared!) I’ve been vicious & defensive. I’ve been selfish & thoughtless. I’ve taken much more than I’ve given. I’ve been lonely. I’ve been a bad friend & example of Christlike love. I’ve settled for cheap pleasures that fade quickly. I’ve been greedy. I’ve been insecure & self-focused. That’s the core of my heart for the past year.

Yuck.

All I have to show for it is a year I wish I could take back. I wish I was closer to God now as a result. I wish I had a list of answered prayer to look to to increase my faith. I wish I had journals full of dependence on Christ. I wish I had been learning and growing this whole time, and I had passed that along to the girls I’ve been meeting with. I wish my understanding and love for the gospel was deeper, instead of having to relearn it. I wish I was coming out of this trial being so thankful for it, instead of just regretting the way I’ve chosen to handle it.

I am thankful in a sense, because God hasn’t let this time be wasted, but at the same time I know I could have benefited so much more from it if I had submitted to God’s will and if I had let Him uphold me instead of trying to do it myself, if I had run to Him instead of away from Him.

But, I didn’t. So let my failure be a lesson to you. Don’t waste your suffering. Don’t make your life miserable. Let Christ uphold you. It’s so much better than trying to do it on your own.

Or if you’re like me and you’re looking back on a suffering that you did everything in your power to waste, remember Christ. He is your life. He is your righteousness. Your life (including your failure, your wasted suffering, your anger & pride) is hidden in Him, by Him, for Him. There is no condemnation for you because Christ faced it on your behalf. Stop wallowing in your failure & worship Him for the good news of the gospel.

“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.”

– Psalm 103:1-14