Mother Theresa was born in Serbia, but is known world wide for her charitable work. In 1952 the first Home for the Dying was opened in space made available by the City of Calcutta. For more than 45 years, Mother Teresa comforted the poor, the dying, and the unwanted around the world. In 1979, she received the Nobel Peace Prize. In receiving this award, Mother Teresa revolutionized the award ceremony. She insisted on a departure from the ceremonial banquet and asked that the funds, $6,000, be donated to the poor in Calcutta. This money would permit her to feed hundreds for a year.
Henri Nouwen was a priest and academic. He taught at several prestigious universities and spoke at places all over the world. I remember reading about what he did in 1986. He moved to the L'Arche Daybreak community in Toronto. L'Arche is an international network of communities founded by Jean Vanier, where people with developmental disabilities and their friends live together. For a while, he focused his ministry on one man, Adam Arnett (1961-1996). Adam never spoke a word, and needed a lot of help and Henri, world renowned author and speaker, spent his time serving this man.
My brother and sister-in-law attend Calvary Temple. I met them there once and discovered pastor Barber, who could perhaps be called Manitoba’s pastor, folding bulletins in preparation for the next morning’s service.
Are these people exceptional? Rick Warren, in “The Purpose Driven Life” points out to us that a life of service is not an exception, but is exactly what we have been created for. We were shaped for serving God.
There are many things on earth which consume resources, but as they consume resources, they also contribute something. For example, an engine consumes gas, but contributes power. Or we could think of a cow, which eats grass, but contributes milk, meat and fertilizer.
Because of the Manitoba Hydro policy of charging commercial outfits the cost of electricity at peak usage, I have heard of a ski hill that keeps the lights on the ski slope on all summer. They are charged all year for the cost of power used during the winter months and since they are charged anyway, they keep the lights on, for no purpose. It seems silly to consume resources and contribute nothing, but before we become too critical, we should probably look at ourselves. Many times, we are the worst offenders. We burn gas for no purpose, we eat more than we need to and don’t work according to what we have eaten. We come to church to hear good singing and are well fed with messages, but hardly become involved in service.
We were not created to consume and not contribute. The Bible says that we have been created to contribute something. We were shaped to serve. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Jesus has given us a great example of service and has called us to serve as He did. Jesus provided a moving example of servanthood which is recorded in John 13:1-17. Jesus sat down to an evening meal with his disciples. They ate the meal together and in the middle of the meal, Jesus got up from eating and began to wash the disciples feet. Coming as it did in the middle of the meal, His action was deliberate and intended to be an acted parable. When he had finished washing their feet, he said to them, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
Although a footwashing service is a great symbol, like all symbols, we need to be careful that the symbol does not overtake the meaning. The point of this acted parable is to challenge us, His disciples, to a life of servanthood.
In the Luke 22 account of this supper, there is a record of a dispute between the disciples about who was greatest among them. Is it possible that Jesus was responding to these attitudes and demonstrating what true greatness was? We continue the little games of competition and one-upmanship today and once again we need to learn from Jesus that in God’s world, as William Barclay said, “There is only one kind of greatness, and that is the greatness of service.”
Deborah Douglas writes, “For many years, I have attended midweek communion at St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico. One thing I love is the hand-lettered sign that hangs over the only door into the sanctuary: SERVANT'S ENTRANCE. There isn't any way in or out of that church except through the service door.
Following the call of God and the example of Jesus, we are invited to be servants.
Romans 12:1 makes that invitation when it says, “So then, my brothers and sisters, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.”
Today is Pentecost, the day we remember that God’s Spirit has come to indwell every believer and to empower each believer to do God’s work on earth until Christ returns. This gives us a great opportunity to think about how we can serve with Spirit empowered service.
Throughout the Bible, we read about service done in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah 61:1,2, there is a prophecy of the coming servant of the Lord, who would work in the power of the Spirit. Jesus claimed that verse for himself when he quoted it in
Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” In Joel 2:29, there is a prophecy about the coming of the Spirit on all men and women. Peter quoted this verse on the day of Pentecost to indicate that the promised Spirit had now come to empower God’s people for works of service. Apart from the Spirit, we will not be able to effectively do God’s work.
There are two ways in which the Spirit empowers our service.
Every person who is a follower of Christ has some gift from the Spirit which they are to use in service. I Corinthians 12:7 says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
Recently someone left me a note asking “How do we find God’s call on our life?” The answer to this question is to discover how God has uniquely made us. Warren uses the acronym SHAPE to help us discover how God has created us for the service that will be particular to us. SHAPE stands for Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality and Experiences. It is in these different things that we find how God has made us uniquely to offer what we have to serve Him. The Spirit has given each believer gifts which are those things we are able to do effectively. But our shape is more than spiritual gifts. God has also given us a heart. Warren defines heart as “desires, hopes, interests, ambitions, dreams and affections.” Each of us has unique things about which we become passionate. These passions for good have been put in us by God and they will help us know where we should serve. Every person on earth has also been given certain abilities and aptitudes. It is interesting how one person can take up a musical instrument and be able to play with hardly a lesson and another takes lessons for years and still struggles. These are the different abilities we have been given and we should not ignore them as we try to discern our Spirit given shape for ministry. Our personality is also unique and given to us by God. One person is outgoing and another a good listener. We should be involved in ministry in a way that fits our personality. Furthermore, we all have different experiences - family, educational, vocational, spiritual, ministry and painful experiences. All of these represent the way God has shaped us and as we discover who we are and realize that we are uniquely made, we will find how we can serve with the strengths God has given us.
However, the gifts of the Spirit are gifts, never possessions. They were given to us to give away. Therefore it is our responsibility to discover our gift and serve God with it.
The way to discover our shape is to become involved. As we start serving in different ministries, we will find some things that we are able to do well and other things that are best left for others. When we offer God what is natural to us and learn to serve in our strengths, we will find that we will discover how to serve in the power of the Spirit in the areas matching our shape. Warren suggests, “You are the only person on earth who can use your abilities.”
But the temptation we often face is to offer ourselves only in the area of our strength or our giftedness. If we do this, we miss half of what it means to be a servant. Warren says, “We think that God only wants to use our strengths, but he also wants to use our weaknesses for his glory.” The Bible has much to say about serving in our weakness. Here also, we see the Spirit of God at work.
I love II Corinthians 4:7 which says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” When we realize that we are not perfect, that we can’t do everything and when we then offer ourselves to God as servants, it is amazing what He will do in and through even our weaknesses by the power of His Spirit.
As we think about weaknesses, we need to be careful to understand what that means. Weaknesses are things that we cannot change, they are not sins that we need to gain victory over. In the areas in which we are weak, there is a powerful opportunity to allow the Spirit of God to take what we cannot do and use it for His glory.
Paul had a lot of opportunity to discover what it meant to serve in weakness. He was a man of considerable ability. He was a great leader, scholar, teacher and politician. He served God out of these strengths and the Spirit was able to do mighty things through His strengths. But Paul also understood what weakness was and was willing to offer God his weaknesses so that God’s power would be demonstrated through His weaknesses. In II Corinthians 13:4 he says, “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you.” When he experienced the “thorn in the flesh” whatever that illness was, he knew that he would not be able to serve God out of strength, but would have to serve out of weakness. In being willing to do so, he discovered, as He said in II Corinthians 12:9, “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Warren says, “God loves to use weak people.” Just listen to the testimony of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11:32-34, “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”
The Spirit of God is amazing. He gifts us with strength to serve Him and he empowers even our weaknesses to bring Him glory.
All that remains then is for us to offer ourselves up for service and the key to being servants is the attitude we have. What are the attitudes of servants? Please take note of eight words which describe servant attitudes. Servants are:
Philippians 2:4 puts it well, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
I like the phrase, service is “not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.” The distinction is significant. Some people look at service as putting ourselves down. True service, as Philippians 2:4 puts it is not even thinking about ourselves, it is thinking about the other person, thinking about what they need and how we can meet that need. Warren says, “Self denial is the core of servanthood.”
I Corinthians 4:2 speaks about “those who have been given a trust.” That also defines what it means to be a servant, it is being a steward. It is tempting sometimes to think that we own a ministry or a church. It is easy to treat others as if they need to accomplish what we want so that we will look good. It is not our ministry, our service, our church. We are stewards, we are those who are under another and that other is God.
Servants are also focused. It is amazing when you talk to church people how often they become defensive, jealous and critical about the work of other churches or other servants. They compare themselves with others and then feel either superior or intimidated. A true servant is focused on his own work and does not compete with others in the ministry. If you simply look for what to do and do it, but not cling to that, rather be willing to step aside in order to do something else focusing on what is yours to do at the moment, you have begun to understand what true servanthood is all about. Galatians 5:26 tells us, “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
Henri Nouwen said, “In order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others… thus we become free to be compassionate.”
Warren says, “Every week, churches and other organizations must improvise because volunteers didn’t prepare, didn’t show up, or didn’t even call to say they weren’t coming.” Servants are faithful, they can be counted on, they finish the task they have been given with joy.
We may have heard about Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He was a great preacher of the past who was well known, powerful and effective. He wrote many works which are still available and was greatly used of God in revival. Has anyone ever heard of John Spurgeon? We don’t know John Spurgeon, who was Charles Spurgeon’s father, yet he was a faithful pastor for many years, no limelight, no glory, as his son received, but a faithful man in all that he had been given to do.
Matthew 25:23 encourages us to look for one particular reward in our service. It encourages us to work towards the word of the master, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” Will we be faithful in service?
Servants also maintain a low profile. There are so many passages in the Bible that talk about humility. Matthew 6:1 encourages us in our service, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Howard Hendricks writes, “I was ministering in Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. We had a Thursday morning father-son breakfast at six-thirty. It was to be over by quarter of eight. There were many people from the military, quite a few people from various government offices, some craftsmen, labourers of various kind--really quite a mix.
After I had finished speaking and the meeting was dismissed, I looked over to my right, and there was Senator Mark Hatfield, stacking chairs and picking up napkins that had fallen on the floor. Ladies and gentlemen, if you are impressed that you are a United States senator, you don't stack chairs and pick up napkins. If you are impressed that you are God's gift to the body of Christ as the great preacher of this age, you don't stoop to serve. If you are impressed that, really, you are the greatest thing that ever happened to your local church, you do not serve. You live to be served.”
Another perspective on servanthood is the way in which we look at our service. Servants think of ministry as an opportunity, not an obligation. Psalm 100:2 says, “Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing.”
When Carla and I attended the Northern Missionary Training Camp which was run by Northern Canada Evangelical Mission, one of the lines that we were encouraged to adopt was “I shall be glad to.” To any request, we were taught to be willing servants by responding with this phrase.
A servant is also devoted. There are many things which can distract us from our service.
We can become distracted by pleasure or some project of ours. Paul councils in II Timothy 2:4, “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.” In other words, a servant is devoted.
We can become discouraged in our service. We can begin to question the value of it or become discouraged because we don’t feel we do it well or because we compare ourselves with others and realize that we will never be great. Once again, Scripture encourages devoted service in such passages as Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Fred Craddock, in an address to ministers, caught the practical implications of dedication. "To give my life for Christ appears glorious," he said. "To pour myself out for others ... to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom--I'll do it. I'm ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory.
"We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table--'Here's my life, Lord. I'm giving it all.'
"But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbour kid's troubles instead of saying, 'Get lost.' Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.
"Usually giving our life to Christ isn't glorious. It's done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it's harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul."
That is why being a servant also means being dedicated. Colossians 3:23 encourages this when it says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,”
So we are called to service, empowered for service and invited to take up the attitudes of a servant. As with all that God does, there is a great encouragement when we submit to being servants - God rewards us. I Corinthians 15:58 promises, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
The labor is not in vain now in this life. One of the great rewards of service is the joy it brings. Sometimes when I feel down, if I do something for someone else, that restores my equilibrium and gives me joy again. Even Karl Menninger, the [late] psychiatrist, when asked what someone should do who feels on the verge of a nervous breakdown answered "Lock your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need and do something for him."
The labour of service is also not in vain because of the eternal reward. I Corinthians 3:12-14 promises, “Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, …each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, … If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward.”
I invite you to respond to God’s invitation to be a servant.