Small children in Sunday School classes are taught about serving others. Sermons have been preached, books have been written, and seminars have been offered on how to serve others.
And yet too often, we see serving as a way to gain something for ourselves, as a way to be noticed. College students participate in service learning because it is part of their grade. Community leaders participate in service as a way to add to resumes.
Does that sound as odd to you as it does to me?
A few years ago, our church began to reach out to our community. We live in a very economically diverse rural area, with both moderate wealth and extreme poverty within just a few miles of each other. During that time, one of the passages that came to mean a lot to me was Isaiah 58.
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
(Isaiah 58:6-7, ESV)
God has been teaching me that when we serve, just so we can have something to post on Facebook, or to build our resume, or to hold up as an example of how good we are, we are not serving others the way He intends. We are making someone else our “project,” rather than seeing him/her through God’s eyes – His child, part of His creation, a fellow journeyman and woman in this world.
Writing this, I realize that I need to repent of my own selfish motives in this area. I have taken the easy way out too many times. I let others do the “dirty” work of serving those who are different or difficult to deal with. I prefer to donate something, handle the administration and publicity, and rally the troops rather than actually serving others.
I don’t have to wonder what Jesus would do, because the truth of God’s Word has already told me – Jesus had dinner with sinners, He healed lepers and the outcast, and He fed the 5,000 – twice! He talked with, laughed with, and ate with those society had cast away. He didn’t just have the disciples do these things – Jesus, God in flesh, walked among those who would otherwise have gone unnoticed by their society. He was the living, breathing embodiment of Isaiah 58.
This goes against our modern culture – even against what fellow Christians seem to be doing. Building a platform is the goal of many in ministry. It is rare to find someone who is genuinely concerned only about the needs of others. We want our churches to be known in our communities, we want to be the “cool” evangelicals with lots of style and pizzazz – but in doing so, we often fall far from God’s original design for His church:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:42-45, ESV).
We have a men’s class at our church that amazes me with how seriously they take these words to distribute to those who have a need. They don’t want recognition for what they do, so they always work anonymously, using middle-men to help them out. When a family in our church goes through a difficult time – divorce, medical bills, death – these men give very generously out of their own pockets to make sure that these families have whatever they need. Not only do they give their money, but they give their time, expertise, and wisdom. They have helped sell houses, navigated tax seasons, sorted out business during messy divorces, fixed cars, and lent an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on.
They are a picture of the church being the Church.
I long to be like that – to see a need and do my best to find a way to meet it. We don’t have to search for ways to serve others. As we walk out our door each day – whether we work in an office, teach school, or stay at home with little ones – we come across people who need a kind word, a hand to hold, or someone to lift them up among the difficulties of this life.
I may not have a lot of money, but I can give of what I do have – my possessions, my talent, and my time. There are more ways to fulfill God’s command to serve (and that’s what it is, a command) than I can list. All I have to do is open my eyes and look around.
Here is a challenge for you: Would you take some time this week to find one person you can serve, one need you can meet? It doesn’t have to be some grand gesture. You don’t need to sell your house and move to Africa. (But who knows? Maybe you will!)
- Begin with prayer. Ask God to clearly show you who needs you this week. He will.
- Consider what resources you have to give. Do you have a professional service that you could offer? Do you have some time you could carve out of your schedule? Could you give of your money or possessions? The possibilities are as diverse as we are. Consider putting this list on paper, committing your resources to God’s use. After all, He gave them to you.
- Be ready and attentive. Once you have asked God to show you the needs, be ready to respond when He calls on you.
It is very popular right now to build a ministry platform in the name of service. While I do believe that these big opportunities are helping people, and I certainly believe that many of them are done with a right heart and motive, I wonder about a Christian culture that serves to be noticed. The greatest acts of service I see are the ones that are done in isolation – the service we perform each day to care for our families, acts of kindness between strangers, or giving of our resources to help someone who has none.
So while there is a place for grand gestures of service, please don’t become discouraged in the small acts that God is calling you to today. This is the place of service He has given you. Today is the appointed time. You are His vessel. He can use you greatly. Are you ready to go and do as He calls?