A few days ago I decided to go on a run after my shift at work ended. I haven’t been able to run as much as I have desired for about a month, since I started my job at an architecture firm. As such, I felt frustrated as I began running and quickly noticed fatigue set in within the first quarter mile. My feet felt heavy and my lungs labored for each breath.
I ran on the dirt and gravel path that lines the waterway in Redmond for about fifteen minutes, and then decided to turn around and run back. By this time I had settled into a steady pace and was feeling better about my exercise.
Right as I turned around and continued running, I remembered that I had passed a few runners going the opposite direction. I remembered the intense looks on their sweaty faces, and that’s when I thought, ‘These other people who are running are certainly working hard just as I am. And I would like it if they were to encourage me, but they are hardly looking at me. What if I encouraged them instead? I’m sure they would like that.’
After running back for a few minutes I saw a rather large man to my left huffing and puffing as he jogged on another path further from the water in the opposite direction. I veered to my left, running across the grass that separated the paths, then smiled at him and said, “Good job!” as I held out my hand for a high-five. He looked up at me and quickly smiled, then returned the high-five and continued to run past me. Several minutes later I saw a girl who looked my age running on the main path toward me, about one hundred meters away. She slowed to a walking pace, evidently exhausted. Knowing that I feel upset with myself whenever I walk in the middle of a run, I smiled at her as we closed the distance between ourselves and said again, “Good job,” once more holding out my hand for a high-five. Her expression changed from one of frustration to one of glee, and she also returned my gesture. After I returned to the locker room in the basement of the office building, I no longer felt frustrated, but encouraged.
These small gestures are a hint at something that I have long known about but just recently started acting on. I am finding that there are few times in my life when I feel more joy than when I serve people. This word “serve” has gained a negative connotation in American culture. It has become a term used almost for employment and forced labor against a person’s will. As such, many people wince and think of ways to defend themselves from having to serve other people.
However, service is meant to be a source of joy.
In a culture where money and self-satisfaction reign supreme, this may seem like a foreign concept. How can serving another person bring me happiness? Outside of a job, isn’t the point of service doing something without expecting anything in return? Thoughts like these can make us grumble about serving others and avoid positions in which we act on it.
I feel this way frequently when I am asked to help out. After I moved into my parents’ house in December, the youth pastor at my old church invited me to have lunch with him. While there, he expressed his longing for more young men to help lead the middle school boys in the church, and asked me if I would like to help the student ministry as a middle school leader. Immediately I thought, ‘I can’t do that.’ But after considering his proposition for a few minutes, I agreed to help. I didn’t think I would enjoy spending Sunday afternoons with middle school kids, but after a few weeks of leading the youth group boys I felt a growing attachment to them. I didn’t get to know them very well before moving away to live near my job, but I am glad I spent that time each Sunday afternoon playing games and talking about their lives and the Bible with those boys.
Putting in time as a youth leader changed my attitude toward service. I am confident that I played a positive role in those kids’ lives, short as my time was with them. And if I could make an impact on them after just a few weeks, how much more of an impact could a faithful man have who stayed with them for years, watching them grow into high school students and into adults? I can answer this question, having grown from a sixth grade child into a senior in high school attending that same church’s youth gatherings weekly: the men who led that ministry made me a much better man now than I would be without the time I spent with them.
You see, service isn’t about us. It isn’t about what we get from it. And it isn’t meant to be that way. At the same time, service is meant to bring us joy and fulfillment. It is meant to leave us more satisfied than before we gave it. That’s a paradox, because when we serve we give what we have freely, yet we gain more joy than we would have if we had not served.
Jesus made this clear. He told his disciples as they quarreled about prestige, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
We may feel reluctant to respond to Jesus’ lesson as He instructed. But Jesus practiced what He preached: during His entire life He served the people around Him, culminating in Him sacrificing His life for the lives of all other people. Yet instead of holding a grudge for His mission, the author of Hebrews tells us that, “for the joy set before Him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus felt joy as He gave up every part of His life for the sake of bringing people into His kingdom. We can have this same fulfillment and joy when we serve other people and meet their needs.
I spent yesterday afternoon with my grandpa, cousin and great-aunt. I am close to the first two, but haven’t spent much time with my great-aunt. All I remembered from past years is that she sometimes has a crass mouth. However, she told the three of us about her passion for taking into her home and feeding people who otherwise have no friends with which to visit. She said she does this frequently, especially when her kids bring over friends. According to her, it is common to see eight or more people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities in her house. This moved me deep in my heart. I share this passion with her: I desire to share any space I inhabit and any food I have with other people who may have no space to live and no food to eat and no friends with whom they can commune.
I have much to learn about serving, and far grow in my attitude toward it, but I have seen the power it holds to make people prosper, both the giver and the recipient. I will even say that living as a servant is vital to living satisfied. The potential that servants hold to bring God’s restoration to the world is unimaginable, yet we fear living in unrelenting servitude because of what it will cost us. Let us think about and remind each other what living as a servant will bring us instead and steadily feel our motivation increase to give ourselves as a living sacrifice to the people around us.
What are your experiences, thoughts and struggles with serving other people? Share in the comments!