The remnant dust from the dry Mexican ground on my sandals reminded me of the heat, hard work, and intense schedule of my week-long mission trip. Typically, such discomforts trigger the question, “Why am I doing this?” But in Monterrey, Mexico, God’s majesty in the surrounding mountains and the faces of the orphans provided the answer. Yet in the day to day and ordinary ministry to our brothers and sisters in Christ, aging parents, young children, coworkers, neighbors, or the community at large, the question resurfaces. Particularly when my efforts are unnoticed or costly to my selfish agenda, the honest question, “why am I doing this?” plagues my heart.
Or in those times when my attempts to serve someone fail because of my stupidity or impatience or some other humbling reason: like the time I put dish detergent for the sink into the dishwasher of my friend in an attempt to help clear her sink of dishes while babysitting. Or today when I returned my elderly neighbor’s recycling up her steep driveway thinking the recycling truck had already emptied it.
When I realized my error, I then dragged her bin back down and across the street and retrieved our bin to meet at the bottom of our driveway. Then I understood why they use trucks to lift the bins. No easy dump and return. I had to lay my bin down and her bin down and lift it little by little using my hands to help things along. It was mostly paper thankfully until I got to the bottom where milk cartons and cat food containers rested. I was grateful at least that it was early morning and not too many people were witnessing this fiasco. Then along comes a neighbor and his wife walking on the sidewalk who stop and ask. Couldn’t they have just smiled politely and moved along? And then I realize I am going to have to explain to my husband why our recycling is mostly full two weeks before they come again. So much for anonymous failures.
These examples fall in the category of “Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished;” a category I have filled throughout a lifetime. In these moments when hands and feet are immersed in the mess of someone else, I need to remind myself why I am expending time, money, and energy on work that does not immediately and directly benefit me which is my default reason for doing anything. Seven biblical reasons have helped correct my tendency toward selfishness and revive a proper motivation to serve God and His people.
We serve because…..
OBEDIENCE: God tells us to serve.
LOGIC: It is the reasonable response to God’s mercy and grace.
GRATITUDE: We are grateful for what God has given and done for us.
REPRESENTATION: We reflect the heart of God to the world.
DESIGN: Our lives align with God’s plan for us.
GROWTH: Serving helps us grow in faith.
REWARD: God promises reward for service.
Serving is a matter of obedience. We are commanded to serve God. “But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul (Josh. 22:5 emphasis added). God, through his word, commands us. God, who spoke the mountains into existence, commands us to serve.
We are also commanded to serve people. “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13). God is the Ultimate Authority and in reality our Supreme Lord and Master, and if he is Lord in our hearts, we need no other reason but that he tells us to serve.
Yet, I hesitate to begin with this reason as if it was most important. Perhaps it is since God is who he is. He is God. And we are who we are, his creatures. For this reason, I should obey and serve. Obey is something I should do. This is the noise in my head and my will rebels at this thought. I think it is the word, should. It feels like a club or a whip. Should implies that I am not currently good enough to God; that he wants something more. It seems to contradict that my standing before God is solely and completely on the ground of the Cross of Jesus Christ who was already beaten and died in my place. Or maybe it is the word, obey. The word, obey, calls to mind images of a tyrant demanding compliance or an impersonal authority figure who will inflict harm for failures.
Whether these ideas are merely my distortions or widely held notions about obedience, the Bible paints a different emphasis. Overwhelmingly the word obedience is a relational concept. In the NIV translation, the word obedience is rarely translated without the word walk, as in “walking in obedience.” Other translations repeatedly convey the idea of obedience by using the phrase “walk in all his ways.” Contrary to the idea of God as an impersonal tyrant, walking in obedience is a rich relational term.
WALKING IN OBEDIENCE
Walking with another person always involves talking with them. God has spoken the big commands, the all-we-need-to-know commands, in his word. A walk through the Bible will result in much clarity about how to live. Yet, walking in obedience conveys the idea that each of us will need to daily listen for our specific marching orders. God in his word says to “love one another” (Jn. 13:34). Does that mean today I take my neighbor’s recycling and garbage cans back up her driveway and call a friend who is hurting? Yes, today it did. Does it mean we show up to the job which we may or may not enjoy to provide for a family? Does it mean to feed, clothe, read to, and discipline our children? God’s command to love has a million different expressions in each of our lives and we must walk closely with him to listen and obey.
Walking is also continuous. When we obey God for today, we are not done. Life and choices about what to do and how to serve are ever new and evolving. What it looks like to serve in each daily situation requires God’s regular input. After the recycling truck drove by, I had to once again choose what serving my neighbor entailed: leaving her recycling in her bin because she did not quite fill it up or make it right by emptying her bin into ours. Life is not static and neither is our obedient serving.
Walking in obedience to God is also dependent. When walking alone, we choose our path. Walking with God requires following his steps, his direction when we might want to go a different way. It requires keeping our eyes on him, remaining flexible and quick to turn when God’s direction changes.
Thus, one reason to serve is out of obedience to God. But we must be careful to understand biblical obedience is relational walking with him. We do not want to denigrate God to a caricature of his true reality as a distant, harsh tyrant; but to understand that even though he is God and all that word entails, he has revealed himself as He who wants to be with us to help and guide us and to walk with him in our service. Like a teenager however who forgets the basis for any command as the depth of a parent’s love, my heart still often rebels. Sometimes, the very thought of what I am supposed to do stimulates a desire not to do it. In that resolute willfulness, God graciously gives more reasons to serve and persuades that a lifestyle of serving is reasonable.
(Next post: More reasons to serve: Logic, Gratitude and Representation of God)