Ah, "Becoming a Fair Lady in Deed". This could turn out to be a pretty dull post, do you not think? We have all sat through books and speakers full of helpful advice on acting with kindness, keeping a pleasant tongue in your head, and cleaning up the spilled milk even when your dog can do a better job as mopper. How many of us have heard about going the extra mile for our brother and being a good Samaritan? Exactly. So I shall attempt not to dwell on the acts of service themselves, but more on the heart attitude prompting the service. You may notice a theme nesting in this blog, that the "heart of the matter is the matter of the heart" as a pastor friend would say. Yes, one cannot step in any good direction if the heart is pulling one back, so here the spotlight shall fall, or at least that is my hope.
A good introductory question, then, is, "What is a heart of service?" As with all verbose writers, I have to start by describing what it is not. There are two traps awaiting prisoners when it comes to the realm of service. One is the outlook of a sniveling servant, the other of pompous self-deprecation.
Let's examine the first pseudo-servant. Here we meet Ella*, a girl surpassingly meek, excruciatingly mousy, and furiously busy. She rarely graces the world with a smile because a look of agitation has long since settled on her face. She never complains but neither does she contribute any positive thought to her acquaintances. "Happily useful" is how she describes herself but others would more likely call her wretched. Yet she can get things done, and done well. So she acts like a victim, but she cleaned the church floor without being asked and without leaving a speck! Well, now. What does Scripture say about someone with this kind of servility? For one, Romans 7:6 explains we serve with joy, in the Spirit:
"But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the way of the written code."
No moping around this verse! But the next one, 2 Corinthians 9:12 and, is even more direct about the correct attitude of service.
"For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God."
So we really ought to be happy when we serve, and thankful, because we serve the Lord's people in the name of our Father. It puts scrubbing dishes in a different light, do you not think? Ella's grimacing heart makes Christian service impossible because Christians serve with joy.
Then let's saunter over to the other pseudo-servant. Enter Emma*, a pretty, engaging, comfortable young woman who flits about doing this and that to serve others. Everyone likes her, and she likes everyone else. Perfectly polished, she does not find it beneath her to dirty her prim hands in a crowd. She serves well and enjoys it to boot - that is, when there are enough eyes in the room. You guessed it, Emma is our "look at how well I washed the pot-providence dishes" servant. We all know this kind; oh, please, we have all been this kind! Emma finds it a joy to serve and share when people are watching, but look out if she feels slighted by not receiving praise! A public "thank you" is all she wants because that is what she deserves, right? Where would all these people be without her? In her head runs a frenzied list of the messy kitchens, crying babies, undecorated sanctuaries, etc., had it not been for her. The list is frenzied because she remembers every little thing she ever did for anyone else, and stores in her heart the names of those who did not give Emma her due. This is not a happy heart, either, is it? At least with Ella we knew her agony, but Emma is the volcano waiting to explode! Scripture speaks of pompous service rather harshly, while upholding humility as the gift most to be sought. Ephesians 6:5-7 and Matthew 23:12 deal the death blow to Emma's way of thinking:
"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free."
"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
And then we have that perfect example of Jesus, humbling Himself through becoming a man, leading a life of poverty, washing the feet of those who would betray Him, and finally dying the ignominious death of crucifixion. This is to what we should aspire. This is a heart of service.
So, what is the true heart of service? It is one of joyful captivity, contented slavery, worshipful homage. Joyful captivity takes away all distaste from service, no matter how distasteful it may be. It rejoices in the position of servitude, it wants for no other. Contented slavery excludes grumbling and complaining, leaving in their place a quiet, peaceful longing to be used. Worshipful homage brings forth a servant who feels it an honor to serve. He is completely overwhelmed with awe for his King and sees it as a mercy to wipe the floor after His footsteps. Little does he seek for a word of praise. Why should he be praised when His King is here? He knows he is safe and privileged where he stands because his King is Christ, the God Almighty. This servant grasps how great his Master is, but even more amazing, beholds what that Master did for him. The King rescued the worthless wretch. How could this wretch now not serve with his whole heart, with everything he has, with surpassing joy? That is the true heart of service. When we live for our King and only our King, when we live in the light of What has been done for us, when we see just how much we can never pay back, service then becomes a blessing - a means to praise, not be praised. Then we will be able to go the extra mile and wipe away the spilled milk - because the King wiped away our tears.
And that concludes this series.
*Ella, you know, Cinderella? And then Emma is inspired by Austen's heroine. If you have no idea what I am talking about, don't worry.