CONSISTENT WITH OUR DESIGN
Not only do we potentially represent and bring praise to God when we serve, but we live according to our Maker’s design. The various gifts and roles that God has given through the Spirit are “to prepare God’s people for works of service…” (Eph. 4:12) The idea that we were designed for service is reiterated in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (NLT, emphasis added). God has skillfully crafted each one of us like a poem or a work of art. The purpose for which we were so designed is bound up in relating to and serving God and people. In that purpose, we find joy and meaning. Even when exhausted from serving, a deep sense of shalom, of wholeness and peace, invades our hearts. All humans, regardless of belief seem to experience joy in serving. This effect is borne out in psychological studies.
“Performing random acts of kindness helps boost your psychological health by activating the release of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain, often referred to as a “helper’s high” This is based on the theory that giving produces endorphins in the brain that mimic a morphine high. Simply being motivated by generosity can benefit you as much as it does those receiving your help.”[i]
The universality of this experience indicates that our nature as image-bearers of God, regardless of whether we acknowledge him or not, thrives when we act like him in serving and giving of ourselves. We may wrestle with knowing the specific work our Master Craftsman has fashioned us for but even in the ambiguity, we experience the adventure of walking with God into various kinds of service. We enjoy a sense of purpose consistent with God’s plan.
This sense of joy and purpose however isn’t constant. Invariably, struggles arise beyond our capabilities when we serve God and people. For example, during the Mexico mission trip, communication in a non-native language presented a formidable barrier to sharing God’s love with the orphans. However, he used the “loaves and fish” I could offer: high school Spanish from many years past, enjoyment of soccer, and a desire to love the children. My faith grew with each encounter as God in each moment of need imparted ideas to convey his delight in them. While cleaning the outside windows of a children’s home, the children returned from school. A little boy climbed onto the couch in front of my wiping and put his face on the glass. I smiled and sprayed the Windex at his face. He giggled then moved to another spot on the couch which I also then sprayed. It quickly became a game of Windex tag while he dodged and I chased with both of us laughing with delight. I realized at that moment that God did not need much more from me than to show up. He would find a way for me to communicate his love to those children. Later that same week after providing repairs on a different children’s home, the schedule provided time to play with the children. My husband and children on the trip found ourselves on the soccer field with four middle school boys. We just stared at each other on the field for a brief moment. Then I said questioningly, “Mundial Copa?” The mission trip took place during the year of the Men’s World Cup Soccer. I was trying to ask if they wanted to play soccer like in the world cup tournament. They giggled but nodded yes. I understood why they giggled later when my son translated that I had said “Cup World.” Then I attempted, “cuatro v. cuatro?” I was trying to say we’ll play four against four. To which they miraculously understood and nodded. We then began to play soccer with them for the next hour. My children, who had the privilege of being well trained in soccer earned their respect. I think they just enjoyed my husband and I’s willingness to run and play with them and could sense our shared enjoyment of the game. I experienced great joy in trying to love and serve that week, but the enduring lesson of growth for me was that God will give us what we need in each moment whenever we try to serve. “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (I Thess. 5:24). When we experience firsthand, God’s empowering service, and his ability which overcomes our limited natural abilities, faith in Him deepens and we grow in maturity.
In addition to growing our faith, God will reward us for ministry. After washing the disciple’s dirty, dust-caked feet, Jesus promised “you will be blessed” (John 13:17) if you do these things. One blessing previously mentioned is the sense of shalom that comes from living consistent with our design to serve. Another blessing is the realization that we have played a role in representing our Father well, resulting in praise to him. We are co-workers with God (1Cor.3:9). To experience his presence and empowering help while serving also feeds our hearts. When we serve others we enjoy the reward of self-forgetfulness. Yes, it is a great blessing to turn my attention away from ourselves and to focus on another person. Some days it is the best lifeline for our sad souls. In the middle of the pandemic where fear and discouragement threatened to overwhelm, God’s Spirit prompted me to call or text at least one other person each day. When I obeyed, such a small act of concern for another personally lifted my spirits.
Although I have listed many rewards for serving, God promises more. Jesus assured, “My father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:26). Paul reminded the Ephesians: “Serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (6:7). To the servants who invest their talents well, the master will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21, 23). In addition to praise and honor from God, we “will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Col. 3:24). What this inheritance will be is not specifically clear. We have a few descriptions. After receiving praise from God, we are told that as a result of our faithfulness “in a few things”, God will “put us in charge of many things.” We are then invited to share in the Master’s happiness (Matt. 25:21, 23). We also know this inheritance, “kept in heaven” for us, will never perish, spoil or fade (1 Pet. 1:4).
When we feel uninspired or weary, when we’ve forgotten the great gifts of forgiveness and every spiritual blessing, and when we’re tempted to give in to selfishness, recalling and reflecting on these biblical reasons can re-energize and once again motivate us to “always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).