Summary: We are each called to serve one another out of the love for the Lord, not the praise of people.
Have this ever happened to you: You went what you thought was out of your way to do something for someone and your efforts went completely unnoticed? They simply took what you’ve done for granted. Have you ever done a good deed and not been thanked or recognized? Worse, have you ever been criticized or treated badly because of your efforts to serve? Not only are those on the receiving end of your efforts ungrateful, but they actually complain about the job you’ve done? How does that make you feel? I bet I can guess.
Psalm 123 is a song about service and servanthood. It tells us how to serve God, but not by giving us a list of possible jobs and tasks that we could do in the church or community. Other passages in the Bible do that for us quite well. And so could the deacons’ board or trustee board or any church board if you dare to ask! You may wish you hadn’t! This psalm tells us how to serve God in another way. It talks about our attitude in serving. This isn’t a what psalm; this is who and a how psalm. Psalm 123 is much less interested in how we serve than in our attitude while we serve. And it begins by telling us who we serve.
Service is always a part of discipleship
“To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens” is how Psalm 123 begins. It begins by looking upward to God. As disciples of Jesus, this how we always begin—or at least how we should always begin. This lifting up of our eyes is a reminder of what kind of relationship we have with God. Psalm 123 continues: “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.” We do not enjoy a relationship of equals here. As it says in Ecclesiastes 5: 2 says: “For God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few.”
In other words, God is our Lord. And as it says, this means He is our Master. We are here to serve Him, not vice-versa. This isn’t easy for everyone to swallow. First of all, we like to be our own masters. We like to manage our own lives. Second, there are also lots of people who like barking orders at other people—they have a position of some authority and they use it to belittle others and to build themselves up. People who have these attitudes—which can be any one of us any day of the week—can bring them into a relationship with God. So when it comes to God, there are times when we all feel like, first, that He should give us what we want—which, if He did, would help us manage our own lives—and second, that we can somehow order Him around like we are His boss and master and not the reverse. Just because Scripture says “ask and it will be given you” doesn’t mean God is there to give us whatever we want and when we want it. It shouldn’t instill in us a feeling of entitlement. Whenever it does, we need to be brought up short to realize that this is the opposite of what the situation really is. God is our Master and Lord.
This brings us to the first truth of servanthood—because God is our Master, we are His servants. We are here to serve Him and this means putting our own wants and desires aside in order to live a life pleasing to God. Servanthood is a living a life on behalf of others besides me to the glory of God. Paul says in Romans 12: 1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [reasonable] worship [service].” The word for worship can also be translated service. Service and worship are the same—we serve as we worship and we worship as we serve. As long as we are following Jesus as his disciples, we follow as servants.
Verse two of Psalm 123 also reminds us that in all the ways we serve God we rely upon God. We are told that “our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.” When we pray these words we’re not praying for forgiveness. We’re praying that God would enable us to serve. We’re praying that God would help us be the servants He calls us to be. We aren’t able to serve God out of our own strength. These words are a recognition of that we rely upon God for life itself; and if we rely upon God for our very life certainly we rely upon Him for strength to carry out whatever tasks He calls us to do.