Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Two Very Different Approaches to Serving

By Charlotte Lowrie

Serving—some call it one of the essential Christian disciplines. It is a discipline, but, for me, serving is a high privilege. Jesus set the example for serving in virtually everything that He did while on earth. But perhaps the best known and most quoted example is from John 13. In this passage, Jesus and his disciples share their last meal together. During the meal, Jesus quietly leaves the table, fills a basin with water, ties a towel around His waist, and washes and dries the disciples’ feet.

When all of the dusty feet were washed and dried, Jesus asked his disciples, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” Clearly, Peter, who objected to the Lord washing his feet, didn’t understand. For Peter, washing the guests' feet was a job for the servants—far too demeaning a service for the Teacher.

So Jesus explained. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet. I have set for you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:12-15 NIV)

Choose an Approach

Recently I had several opportunities to serve. I was excited. It didn’t matter what the service was, I was anxious to serve, and I jumped in with both feet. But while serving, I realized there are two very different approaches to serving.

One approach to serving is motivated from a natural desire to be helpful and to give to others. Another approach to serving is as if we are serving the Lord Himself.

Obviously, there is a significant difference between the two approaches.

The innate desire to be helpful is instinctive for many people. In this approach, we offer our time, compassion, and help to those who are in need. But this approach falls short of the standard that Jesus set for us. Paul describes this approach in Colossians 3:23-24. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ that you are serving.”

Serving as if we are serving the Lord Himself not only helps others, but, most important, it brings the light of the Lord into the lives of those we serve. Rather than serving in our limited human compassion, we bring the Lord to others via His work through us. And that changes everything.

Lead or Follow?

But the second approach is harder for several reasons. To serve in this way, we have to be in fellowship with the Lord moment by moment, committing the work to Him and seeking His inspiration and revelation.

It’s also more challenging because we have to give up on assuming that we “know how” to do the task. And this is a biggie! Whether our service is a project for the church, bathing a sick family member, or bringing food to a family, we take pride in thinking that we know how to do the work. And because we know how, we can jump in and do the task quickly and efficiently.

But in the process of hunkering down and getting the work done, we crowd out the Lord. In short, we lead rather than follow the Lord. The result of our service is a practical, lackluster exercise in “doing good.”

Sure the work gets done, but the experience is empty of divine richness and rightness.

Last week, I barreled through the service opportunities as if I were trying to prove myself to the Lord, or worse, as if I were adding a few “good works” to some mental score card.

But the Lord already knows what I can do under my own power. He wanted to show me what He could do through me under His power. And there is no score card—there is only minute-by-minute following Him. I also realized that if I don’t bring the Lord with me in the service, how will others see Him? Jesus told us to let our light shine. And dedicating our service to Him allows His light to burn brightly to those we serve.

This point is critically important because time is short. Whether you realize that your life is as brief as a noon-time shadow, or you sense the nearness of His second coming, our work is to bring His light to all of those whom we serve. Paul emphasized this in Colossians 4:5: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”

Jesus concluded His explanation to the disciples by saying, “I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:16-17)

Not only will you be blessed, but those whom you serve will also be blessed.

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