My wife and I attend a small group Bible study on Sunday evenings with a few other couples from our church. We’re studying through the Rick Warren book The Purpose Driven Life. Last night, the topic of conversation was service/ministry. And an interesting point of conversation centered on why is being a servant so difficult - what makes it hard. Let's face it, for most of us service is hard. There are those special people that we all know who seem to revel in meeting the needs of those around them, standing in the gap before it's even called upon, and truly loving every moment of it. I am so appreciative of those people - but they are a rare breed. Most of us struggle with the servant heart. Why is that?
Our discussion brought up two, and I've been thinking of a third reason why service is not natural to most of us. First, it is inconvenient. What does service mean? Usually, it means going the extra mile, performing the unheralded task, taking the hand of the homeless guy on the street, etc. If you’re like me, you live in a hectic world where you always have something else you need to be doing, or want to be doing. It’s a whole lot more convenient for me to justify to myself that my plans are more important, more urgent, more of a need that must be met. But it’s rarely the truth. The truth is I don’t want to be bothered. I want to get out of the parking lot quickly, instead of taking the time to talk to a brother who has been going through a rough time and I know will want to talk for a half hour. I want to get my son home and in bed before he gets fussy, instead of hanging around to put up chairs and tables and take out the trash. I want to get my lunch and get back to my office, instead of stopping and getting lunch for the homeless man on the corner next to the sandwich shop.
A second factor that makes service difficult is fear. The unknown is everyone’s biggest fear, and there are aspects of service that hold that unknown quantity. You consider stepping in to help a sister in her family’s time of need – but exactly how much is this going to cost in terms of time and money? You consider stopping and offering help to someone looking for work – but can you trust that person? Am I putting myself at risk physically, financially or with time constraints? Anytime we take up a ministry we are opening ourselves up to the unknown, this holds us back from meeting the needs that need to be met.
Finally, we live in a society that programs us with the desire to be served – not be servants. Look around at the images of success and power – it is the people who are being served, not doing the serving. I think one of the basic hindrances to service is that we view it as a sign of weakness. Aren’t people who take time to open up to the people around them showing vulnerability? Can’t we pay someone to perform the ‘menial tasks’? Isn’t the person who helps the homeless gullible? I mean, come on – I’ve paid my dues, I work hard, and I take care of my family and myself. I deserve a little more of the being served and a little less of the service. That is the attitude of our communities. But that is not the attitude of a servant.
But these reasons didn’t seem to stop Jesus. Was it convenient for him to touch a leper? Or how about the unknown that was involved – should there not have been some apprehension in serving someone with such a disease? What about the classic example of Jesus washing his apostles feet – if Jesus had commanded those apostles to serve Him, would they not have jumped at the opportunity? Was there ever a time when the service of Jesus seemed to be convenient for Him? Was there ever a time when he refused to meet a need out of fear? Was there ever a time when he put His own needs above those of those He was here to serve? And yet we do.
I tend to choose what is easy for me. Hmmm, sounds like self-centeredness, huh? Oh, no – I can list off all the wonderful “service projects” that I get involved with (occasionally). But it’s funny how those projects tend to “fit-in” to my plans. I’m the leader, or it involves a group of friends, or any number of other situations when the “service” is right for me. Selfishness is the foundation of each of these reasons not to be a servant – I choose my convenience; I want my security; I desire to have others serve me. But there is no selfishness in Christ:
4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
To be a servant our attitude should be that of Christ Jesus – if we model ourselves upon him – the self-centeredness falls away – and what is left is the heart to meet needs…the heart of a servant.