We North Americans take pride in many things—our cars, our achievements, our kids’ accomplishments, our careers, our jam-packed schedules. This quest to impress has also infiltrated churches. People who are already too busy take on too many assignments, wearing themselves out in an attempt to garner the Father’s favor. In our zeal to do good, we forget that things and activities have no eternal value in and of themselves. So if God isn’t impressed by our “successes,” what does wow Him?
The answer is remarkably simple and incredibly difficult at the same time: If we want to please God, we must follow the example of Jesus, the “dearly loved son” of God who brought His Heavenly Father “great joy.” Jesus’ every action was aimed at pointing people toward the Father. As the Apostle Paul writes in the book of Philippians, Christ “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,” but instead “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.”
This call on Christ’s life extends to us today. And as we pattern our service on Jesus’ example—one rooted in love and humility, relevant to those being served, fueled by revelation, and motivated by the desire to change lives—we too can make God proud.
Loving...to the very end
As people walked the roads of ancient Israel, the sun blazing down on them and the breeze blowing dust into their sandals, their feet became sweaty and smelly. This made foot-washing a necessity. No civilized person would sit down to eat with dirty feet. Yet the unenviable task of washing the guest’s feet was given to the lowliest slave in a home. That’s why it created such a stir when Jesus pushed Himself away from the table and began to wash the feet of His disciples. As John 13:1 explains, Jesus “knew that His hour had come to leave this world and return to His Father. He had loved His disciples during His ministry on earth, and now He loved them to the very end.”
This show of Christ’s love and humility is all the more amazing when we remember that one of the brothers around the table was Judas Iscariot. Judas was on the cusp of betraying Jesus, and both of them knew it. But despite this imminent treachery, which would ultimately lead to His death, Jesus washed Judas’ feet. In doing so, Jesus demonstrated that His love was not conditional or based upon the response of those He served. He was willing to humble Himself to everyone, even His betrayer.
In His example, we see that service to others isn’t motivated by a perceived outcome or the reactions of others, but in recognition of the love and selflessness Christ demonstrated when He served each of us.
Healing—it’s not just skin deep
When Jesus ministered, He stopped what He was doing—whether preaching or walking or praying—to spend time with people and learn of their specific needs. To those suffering with a physical ailment, He was the Great Physician. To the intellectual, He was the Master Teacher. For those who were broken in spirit, He was the Gentle Counselor. And to the man or woman wracked by doubt, He brought assurance and calm. Christ’s outreach was always personal, holistic, and relevant.
We may not know where to start in serving our friends, neighbours, or communities. Maybe we could begin by giving them our time, rather than racing to meet what we assume are their needs. In doing so, we might find ourselves amazed at how honest others can be in revealing their true yearnings and vulnerabilities, showing us how to serve them with relevance and sensitivity.
Jesus also offered people the truth. He willingly, and gently, spoke to people about their brokenness, sin, and need for repentance and change. Just look at His interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. He understood that at the heart of humanity was a broken relationship with God that needed to be restored. Even while He addressed people’s physical maladies, He pointed them to new life, revealing His identity as Saviour. We, too, can attend to others more holistically by offering the truth of Jesus to those around us and leading them to meet an essential need in their lives.
Walking with people as they experience suffering can be exhausting. Even Jesus wasn’t immune to this weariness—He was, after all, human. Throughout the Gospels, we often see Jesus retreat from public life to commune with God. These times of prayer, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines helped Him refocus on His priorities and purpose, and were essential in preparing Him to serve those He would encounter in the coming days. He returned rested and ready to serve a new wave of people with a new set of needs.
Similarly, when we take time to retreat and reflect, God cultivates within us a readiness to serve. As we encounter God, we remember that it is His power that enables us to love and serve those in our lives. It is His Spirit that reinvigorates our souls, cleansing them of impurity and inspiring them to prioritize our lives according to His will, not our own.
These indelible words
People have been talking about service for centuries. Here are a few snippets from what they’ve been saying.
nor will the desert heat or
the sun beat upon them.
He who has compassion on
them will guide them
and lead them beside
springs of water.
Stepping back also keeps us from allowing busyness to consume our lives. For many, keeping a hectic schedule is a sign of prestige and importance. But if we’re always running at top speed, we simply can’t attend to the needs of a neighbor who’s just locked herself out of her house or a co-worker who needs to talk. When we make time to slow down, we gain perspective and become more able to address people’s needs.
In Mark 10, we read about a man named Bartimaeus, blind and begging by the side of the road. Upon hearing that Jesus is in the vicinity, Bartimaues begins to shout. We can imagine him calling, from the depths of his stomach and with the veins popping in his neck, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd tells him to be quiet. But he takes another deep breath and shouts even louder, “SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!”
Hearing the cries, Jesus goes to Bartimaeus and asks what He can do for him. Bartimaeus responds, “Rabbi, I want to see.” As Mark records, not only is the blind man’s sight restored, but his spiritual eyes are opened as well. His encounter with Christ is transformative, stirring in him the desire to take the most important step of all: to “follow Jesus down the road.”
In the same way, our acts of service should point others to our Master and the coming of His upside-down Kingdom. We are filled with hope that people will experience Jesus through our actions and ultimately turn their lives over to Him. This is what differentiates our service as Christ-followers from that of the rest of the world.
But we don’t serve only to bring transformation in others. Even more so, we are motivated by the brokenness that we see in ourselves. Service provides an opportunity to invite the Spirit to work within us. Thus, it is a means of bringing about change within ourselves, making us not the “givers” in the interaction but fellow recipients with those we serve.
Daddy, can I help?
A few months ago, the weather was bad, the kids wanted out of the house, and their mother was going crazy. I had a few things to do at the church, so I took the two oldest, Zach and Mya, with me for the afternoon.
While the kids played, I began working my way through the list of things I wanted to accomplish. As I was sweeping, Mya (she’s 5) came running up to me with a bright beaming smile and pure heart and said, “Daddy, can I help?” So we swept the floor together. I pulled out the mop, and she repeated, “Daddy, can I help?” So we mopped together. I then began setting up the chairs, and although she could not possibly lift even one by herself, Mya once again asked, “Daddy, can I help?” So we lifted and set up chairs together.
Mya’s eagerness to serve that day was a perfect imitation of Christ’s example. So often, we can feel obligated to serve or guilty if we don’t. But like Mya, we really ought to be running to God with wide smiles and ready hearts, asking, “Daddy, can I help?” When we do, God proudly smiles back and says, “That is my dearly loved child, who brings me great joy!”