When we think about serving, we typically think about what we offer others.
But we should also see service as learning. Serving others allows us to develop and refine leadership and relationship skills that maximize our personal growth. Working alongside others allows us to gain new perspectives and learn from the experiences and wisdom of people whose diverse lives can inform our thinking.
Serving others requires humility. Jesus, who was God in human form, repeatedly chose the role of a servant. He came to earth and took the form of a human, washed the feet of His disciples, switched places with people in lowly positions, and intervened on behalf of powerless people.
When we serve, it’s easy to see ourselves as saviors. But when we humble ourselves, we understand that everyone else is just as important as we are. We lay aside our agendas so we can elevate the people we serve. When we treat people as though they are as important or more important than ourselves, we dignify those we serve and demonstrate true humility.
Avoid complacency, inaction, and self-centered actions.
Don’t use your status to demean others or gossip.
Use your position wisely: your words, your influence, your resources. Every God-given gift is bestowed to enable us to do good in the world.
Intentionality fosters relationships. Take time to serve by sharing a meal, playing cards, or taking a walk. Get to know the people you serve. Look into their eyes. Learn their names. Ask about their lives. Listen for the subtext beneath their words. Is the person you’re talking to lonely? In pain? Needing comfort? Fearful? The gift of listening can greatly impact someone’s life.
Taking time to listen also enlarges our capacity for compassion and our knowledge of how to care for those who are hurting. Listening increases our empathy and sensitivity to others and can powerfully change both them and us.
Care, Even When It Costs
When we open our hearts to help, we may be asked to change our agendas or step out of our comfort zones. But service is marked by willingness to put others’ needs before our own.
This can be as simple as tea with a lonely friend or picking up groceries for a busy caregiver. It might mean giving up a round of golf to help paint a widow’s house or taking your granddaughter with you for a visit to a nursing home. It could even be as humble as cleaning for a friend whose body is wracked by pain.
Solution or Support?
Listening to people talk about their heartaches can be draining. Our natural response is to try to fix problems or to distance ourselves from things we can’t fix.
Our job isn’t always to bring a solution to a problem. Sometimes our job is to listen and provide support. This means trusting God and letting go of control. Our greatest service may be stepping back and allowing Him to work through others.
God is responsible for changing people’s lives, not us. We’re called to love people where they are and listen for God’s call to serve. This is not an excuse to sit and wait for someone else to help. When the Spirit moves, we should confidently move forward.
The Good Samaritan
It would have been easy for the Good Samaritan to look at his enemy’s problems as too big or complicated for him to get involved. After all, he was on a business trip and had places to go and things to do. But instead, he stepped in, did what he could, found a place for the Samaritan to stay, and people who could care for him. The Samaritan didn’t try to create peace between the two communities or address local crime rates. He saw a need he was able to address, and he did something about it. The Samaritan took responsibility for his enemy’s problems because he saw them as God saw them; the Samaritan believed it was his responsibility to go the extra mile—even when it was costly and inconvenient.
Be Willing to Be Served
We create opportunities for the flow of mutual respect and growth when we allow ourselves to be served. Allowing others to serve us (accepting coffee, a meal, prayer, hospitality, hugs, or gifts of gratitude) tells people serving us that they have value, dignity, and that we engage equally. Accepting places us on level ground.
Jesus allowed others to serve Him. He also quieted Martha’s worries when she was more caught up in the act of serving than the heart of serving. On the other hand, Jesus defended a woman who spent a year’s wages on perfume to wash his feet in an outrageously sacrificial act of devotion.
- Be content to be interrupted and disrupted.
- Make space for someone else’s unique personhood, value, and worth, and learn to see them through God’s eyes.
Most of all, if we desire to serve, we must first live by Jesus’ words:
“Whoever finds their life will lose it,
and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” — Matthew 10:39