Photo from “The Passion of Christ”
Ever since 1996, I have been trying to teach the members in our church the importance of servanthood. This entails serving God with humility and constantly checking our motives for doing what we do.
A lot of times when we examine our hearts, we have to confess that our motives are tainted. The interesting thing about this is that we do not discover this until something happens that brings it out. I have seen how busyness, bitterness, and barrenness (spiritually) do an incredible job of surfacing the ugliness of our hearts.
It is in these moments when we come to the conclusion that our true motive for service has been driven by personal gain, glory and glamour, we need to repent and refocus. Who in the world would sign up for being a “servant of God” if we knew it was going to be this hard? Either we have to be really sadistic or we have a good grasp of the Gospel message.
It is always the people who grasp the latter that will work through some of the issues that surface when it comes to serving God. The Gospel calls us to die to ourselves so that Christ can live in us (Gal 2:20). But how often is it God who is dead in our lives and we constantly squirm to preserve ourselves and to be exalted.
This is why I am wondering if God sends trials and difficulties our way in order to refine us and help us to see the poison that we consistently swallow – pride and pretension are a deadly combination.
Margaret Manning who worked with Ravi Zacharias and his ministry, wrote an article called, “Inglorious Service” which really captured a lot of my thoughts on this issue of learning how to serve God is humility and brokenness.
Many times over the years, I have heard it taught in church sermons, Sunday school classes, or bible studies that Christians are called to a life of service. In theory, I understand this calling and I certainly spend a good deal of my time writing about service, and holding up the example of Jesus as the preeminent Servant of all.
Yet most of us, if we are honest, are averse to service of any kind that asks more of us than we are willing to give. We measure out our service, as we would our sugar and cream for coffee. Moreover, we become resentful and bitter when we are asked time and again to serve in ways that do not make us feel very important. We feel our personal self-worth is assaulted when we are asked to take a background role or put aside our own plans and goals. We feel oppressed and mistreated when we do not receive the desired commendation or appreciation for what we have sacrificed or given up.
I’m not sure where or when I began to associate glory or glamour with service, but somehow and somewhere I began to believe that service actually was a pathway to glory – personal glory and advancement in this life. I believed that my service to ‘earthly masters’ would, in the end, come to advantage for me. But real service is never glamorous. Nor is there a guaranteed ‘pay off.’ There is no glamour in Jesus’ exhortation to service… Indeed, Jesus tells his followers that ‘whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it’ (Mark 8:35).
The call to lose one’s life is the call to service, and not to glory, or gain, or greatness. We serve not for reward, fame, or privilege, but because we love the one who so perfectly served us. Following in the pattern of Jesus, as his disciples, means that our lives will be offered up in sacrifice for others – without any guarantee or promise of reward or glamour for doing so in this life. The call to follow Jesus and to serve him as Master and Lord is the call to lose my life for his sake and for the sake of the gospel.
And yet, in losing one’s life there is the promise of finding it anew. In freely choosing to offer oneself in service to God, just as Jesus offered himself in service, we have the opportunity to find our true lives in Christ. It is the opportunity to gain the reward of knowing Jesus and finding in him that which is life indeed. James Loder suggests that service offers us the opportunity for true self-understanding. He writes, ‘Christian self-understanding drives toward the goal of giving love sacrificially with integrity after the pattern of Christ. This means the willing breaking of one’s wholeness potential for the sake of another, a free choice that has nothing to do with oppression because it is an act of integrity and everything to do with Christ’s free choice to go to the cross as an act of love.’ The laying down of our lives provides the opportunity for others to walk over us, across us, and through us to the One who first laid down his life for us.
It is particularly fitting during the Season of Lent, a season that is directed towards sacrifice and service, to wrestle with our understanding of this call on our lives. Who do we really serve? Do we serve in order to receive tangible reward or commendation? Or do we live with the tension, as Christ surely did, that service will often lead to greater and greater loss, perhaps in the areas we most desire gain? The call to serve is a high calling and a hard calling, but it is the call for every Christ-follower. It is a call that asks for our very lives offered on behalf of others, and in losing our lives we will find them saved. The call of service is indeed one that promises salvation – not in the way of reward or glory – but in the unexpected discovery of wholeness and new life in Christ along the way.
With every new season of selecting new leaders in our church, we always have to address these issues. We have to constantly challenge the leaders (old and new) to re-evaluate their calling. It is really an invitation to die to self and be alive in Christ. As we always do a cost-benefit analysis, may the scales tip to the side of laying down our lives to the One that has laid down everything for us. There is just no comparison.