March 2012 - Vol. 58.

.Spiritual Servants
by Jon Wilson

As Christians, we are conscious of the call to be servants. Many of us make ourselves available for Christian service, whether in our community, church, or another grouping. We take seriously the call to put others before ourselves, and to allow the Lord to use us in our everyday lives. At the same time, we encounter some real challenges. We are busy, and we often feel as though we are struggling to keep our heads above water. Some of us feel burned out, some of us are a little cynical. Some of us just have never been asked to do anything. Others of us don’t enjoy our service; we would like to find something more fulfilling, but don’t know how. It can be easy to feel stuck, not knowing how to move forward in the area of service. I would like to suggest a few different perspectives that might help in this area. 

One fruitful way to consider our service is to think about it spiritually. We need to make sure that our service is spiritual, not just physical or natural. What do I mean by spiritual? I simply mean trying to see things as God sees them, to get his perspective on things. If you think about it, this is the opposite of what we often think about when we hear the word “spiritual.” Our “spiritual” thinking can be ethereal, floating on clouds, separated from real life. But if a spiritual perspective is an attempt to gain the Lord’s perspective, spiritual vision is more real, more grounded in reality, than our everyday natural vision. 

“When I run, I feel his pleasure”
I like to try to think spiritually about things like gardening, hiking, or running. These very physical activities, but how does God see them? Why did he create us to do these things? Are there spiritual lessons we learn from them? I think of Eric Liddell in the movie Chariots of Fire, a missionary and athlete, who said: “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” God is involved in our everyday, mundane lives, and he orders our steps even when we are walking the halls at school, the office, or home.

We can focus the same lens on our service. Our service is often very human, concrete, physical, but we need to keep God intimately involved in what we are doing. If we lose a spiritual perspective, our service will lose its meaning. As we serve our Master, we need to keep our eyes fixed on him.

As we work to be spiritual servants, we also need to ensure that we are rightly motivated for service. First and foremost, we should be motivated by the love of God in Christ. Our Christian life always needs to begin with God’s love. We do not initiate our relationship with the Lord. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is in light of this reality that we offer our service as an expression of joy and gratitude to him.

We should also be motivated by love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our service benefits our brothers and sisters. It is an expression of love and care for one another. Furthermore, serving one another and serving with one another also strengthens our relationships and can bring great joy. I experienced this recently, when I was given responsibility to organize a large and complex event in our community. I don’t naturally like organizing events, but to my surprise I actually ended up enjoying this task. As I thought about it afterwards, I realized it was because I was working with other people to get it to happen. It was the joy of our relationships that made the service a blessing for me.

We are also motivated in our service by our desire to follow in Christ’s footsteps. We long to be joined to Christ, who is the true servant. Philippians 2:1-11 speaks about having the same mindset as the Lord Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not grasp equality with God, but emptied himself, taking on the very nature of a servant.” There is no higher call than the call to imitate Jesus Christ.

Fulfillment versus usefulness
How might a spiritual perspective help us in addressing some of the challenges many of us face in the area of service? Let’s look at a few specific issues. When we talk about finding fulfillment in our service, we will likely find some different points of view.  Should we be looking simply to serve where we are needed, or should we strive to find service that is in accord with our gifts and that is fulfilling for us? I think we need to find a balance here; it is both/and. There are always things that need to be done. I don’t teach my kids to set the table because they are gifted at it; it is just something that needs to get done. (And menial service can be fun when we have a good attitude and serve with brothers and sisters!) But, particularly with major services, we should be attentive to what  we think God may have gifted us for, and be attentive to what we enjoy. This requires initiative, courage, a willingness to fail, and an open communication with the people in leadership. If we ignore our gifts and passions when we come to our service, we will find ourselves building pretty grim communities.

It is worth pointing out that when we are doing something we enjoy and are gifted at, the fear of failure can be greater, since it matters to us how our service turns out. This is part of our service to one another: we carry this fear and try things anyway, use the gifts God has given us. And when we are being served, we often have to be attentive to this: critical comments, unsolicited advice and input are often unnecessary and unhelpful. Let’s be grateful and honoring of those who are serving in our midst.

What about the area of busyness? Yes, most of us are  busy; yes, our lives are full. But rather than dwell on this, it is perhaps more important to take on a spiritual perspective and ask ourselves, are we busy doing the right things? Is our time filled with what the Lord wants us to be doing? It might be useful to contrast busyness with fullness of life. Christ came that we may have life to the full, not just that we may be busy. Do we experience the many activities in our lives as contributing to the kind of fullness that comes from Christ? If not, we may need to reevaluate some of our commitments.

Our goal should be an intentional, examined life and schedule. We should strive as much as possible to make conscious choices to do the things we are doing. We should evaluate our various commitments, seeking input from brothers and sisters that know us well. And when we are confident that we are doing our best with our time, we can be at peace, and own our busyness. These are things we are choosing for and that we believe in.

I recently found myself starting to dread another day and week of my busy schedule. Finally, I stepped back and thought, “Why am I dreading these things?” I realized that part of my problem was that I was thinking too much about all that was coming up on my schedule, thinking too far ahead. I began making a conscious effort not to think ahead more than was necessary, but to enjoy each thing as it came. I find I am more able to find the Lord in each service if I am not constantly looking ahead to the next thing.

A place to serve
Let’s look at one final challenge many of us face in our service – that  of finding a place to serve. It can be difficult to find the right kind of service, in terms of time commitment, gifts required, and the needs of our community. This is a shared responsibility, between the community leaders and each member. While our leaders must strive to help all members engage productively in service, each of us must also take responsibility for our own service. This calls for patience, experimentation, and a willingness to step out and try new things. It is helpful to remember that we need to take the Lord’s work seriously, but not take ourselves too seriously.

If you are struggling to find a place to serve, it can be very helpful to talk about this with a pastoral worker or your men’s or women’s group. The people who know us best may have some good insight into what we might be able to take on as our service. It is also worth saying that some service does not yet exist. We may need to invent it! Let’s be open to direction from the Lord as we try to creatively engage in service for him.

In conclusion, we should consider the wisdom found in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15. 

The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;  his righteousness endures for ever." He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. Under the test of this service, you will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others; while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
Here we see that the call to serve is a gift from God. God calls us to serve, God equips us to serve, God gives us the resources to serve, and God blesses us through our service. Our service blesses everyone around us as well. Let us embrace this gift of grace, and experience the joy God has for us in our service. Let us be spiritual servants, boldly confronting the things that hold us back from service and taking risks in order to advance the kingdom of God.

[Jon Wilson is a coordinator of Word of Life, a community of the Sword of the Spirit, and a member of Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He and his wife, Melody and their five children live in Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA.] 

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