My oldest son wants to be a comedian when he grows up. Currently, he’s learning from the best by watching my DVDs of Seinfeld. (If you do not think Seinfeld is the greatest show of all time, sit down, rethink your life, yada, yada, yada, and then we can be friends again.)
Our mother/son humor diet now consists of Jerry Seinfeld’s latest project Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The premise is simple: Jerry calls a fellow comedian, they hop in a car, and go drink coffee. One episode follows Jerry and his Seinfeld co-star Michael Richards (a.k.a., Cosmo Kramer). During one of the more serious moments, Michael leans over and says, “I wish I would have enjoyed doing [the Seinfeld] show more.” Jerry responds, “It wasn’t our jobs to enjoy it. Our job was to make people laugh.”
This exchange reminded me of the clash between our selfish culture and our service-minded Savior. Savoring every moment of our lives is a modern mantra, but can much of what is ingrained in us be reconciled to Christ’s calling? Culture tells us to say “no” to people and events which make us uncomfortable, tired, or bored. Participating in activities that complete us, not deplete us, is preached from talk shows and sometimes the pulpit. We’re told to find our niche, and start saying “yes” to those things which move us, motivate us, or mature us.
There’s nothing wrong any of this advice per se. Saying “no” can be done with a clear conscience even if we’re declining a church commitment. Prioritizing our passions is important. Seeking God’s guidance on which commitments to embrace keeps us healthy, both emotionally and physically. However, service can never be about us. It’s always about others.
Jesus healed, preached, and comforted, and served. He didn’t simply meet people at their level; He stooped to it, and often below it. The King of Kings lowered Himself to a servant’s status for the people for whom He would die.
Nowhere is this example of service more apparent than in John 13. After a meal together, Jesus grabs a towel, kneels, and starts washing the disciples’ feet. Since people often reclined to eat meals and their feet were dusty from the first century roads, servants would wash the master’s feet along with any company who showed up. This custom never reversed itself, until Jesus showed up.
Feet are gross. Feet are dirty. I have friends whose foot phobias require others to wear sneakers in their presence. Perhaps Jesus felt the same way about his disciples’ feet, but the point is not whether He enjoyed washing them. His example is what stands out: we are to get into the grime of other people’s lives and give them the formula to make them clean.
Here is what Jesus’ approach to service can teach us:
It’s not about you. Service can never be about fulfilling our needs or what we hope to glean from it. Service is always about the person at the other end of the foot. When we declare “I went on mission trip to help others, but I ended up being blessed” we’re missing the point. It’s wonderful when someone’s faith grows, but serving must go deeper. It’s not about applause, accolades, or feeling good. It’s always about God and loving our neighbors.
Service and talent aren’t synonymous. God has awarded us with different talents. It’s what makes The Body of Christ strong. I serve on my church’s speaking team because of a God-given talent, so I’m honored to share from His word whenever I’m asked. However, that doesn’t mean I say no to everything else. Commitments and service need to be prayerfully and carefully weighed. You don’t have to do everything, but you certainly can’t do nothing. Ask God to help guide you in your service, talent, and show you where and when to use it.
Stop complaining and start serving. It’s disheartening to hear different generations within churches complaining about the other ones. “I’m sick of them catering to the youth.” “There go the old people complaining about the lack of hymns again.” “This church has forgotten about the senior saints.” “Too bad our church doesn’t prioritize the youth.” Although solutions to this friction are varied (and there may be a morsel of truth in each of those statements), there is one solution: start serving. Volunteer your time in the areas and with the people with whom you disagree. Spend time with those you don’t understand or with the groups that seem the most out of touch. If we’re not active in the Body of Christ, we’ll atrophy. Serving keeps our spiritual muscles strong and creates empathy for others different than us.
Prepare to be uncomfortable. Service forces us into proximity with those who look, live, and act differently than we do. It’s bound to create unnerving situations. We may feel awkward. We will likely encounter prickly people going through rough patches for which we don’t have the answers. That’s okay. We can meet their physical and emotional needs. God fills in the rest of the gaps.
It’s not our jobs to save the world, but it is our job to serve it. Thank God He didn’t leave us in the shame of our sin. The least we can do is show that love to others by taking on the duty of our Servant King and washing the feet of our neighbors.
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