Summary: How do we maintain a servant’s heart when those we serve are often unappreciative or critical?
This morning I’d like to talk about an activity which is part of our daily lives, one which occupies much of our time. It applies to us in our roles as parents, as husbands and wives, as friends, and as church members. It involves our occupations, whether we are employees, or homemakers, or business owners. The activity I’m talking about is serving others. Now, when you hear sermons on servanthood, it’s usually presented as something pertaining specifically to the church, something which should characterize our relationships with one another as followers of Christ. And that’s true. As believers, we are part of a body, a community. And we are called to serve one another, following the example of Christ. The most dramatic example of this occurs in the gospel of Matthew, where the Lord humbled himself and washed the feet of his disciples. Afterward, he told them this:
"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." -- Matthew 13:14-15
Later, Christ again emphasized the importance of mutual servanthood among his people:
"Jesus called them together and said, ’You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’" -- Matthew 20:25-28
But when you think about it, most of us spend a large part of every day serving all kinds of people.
A mother preparing supper isn’t just cooking spaghetti; she’s serving her family. A father helping with homework is serving his children. Shoveling your neighbor’s driveway is serving. Helping someone in the church to paint their garage is serving. A doctor treating patients is serving them. Even occupations which involve little direct contact with people are really service occupations. I used to be a computer programmer for a company that sold medical systems to hospitals. And even though I wasn’t personally caring for sick people, I knew that my work was serving them, because the programs I wrote supported the doctors, and nurses, and hospital administrators who did treat them. And then there are the little things we do every day for other people, the courtesies and small favors. Holding the door for someone who’s carrying an armload of packages. Watching someone’s children for a couple of hours. I could go on giving examples, but you get the point. There is really very little of our time that doesn’t involve serving someone, somehow. Think about it for a moment. Think about your routine, the work you do, the people you encounter as you go through the week. Whom have you been serving, just as a regular part of your daily life? Isn’t most of your time taken up in doing things that benefit other people?
Why emphasize this point? Because usually, when the topic of serving is addressed, it’s in the form of a command. The minister is trying to convince people that serving is something we ought to do. And that’s certainly true. We need to be challenged. We need to be exhorted to serve as Christ did, by willingly making sacrifices, and suffering inconveniences, and relinquishing our rights. But we’ll have a deeper understanding of the issue if we recognize that we are already serving other people a great deal of the time, either directly or indirectly. And so, when we talk about servanthood, we’re not just dealing with one narrow slice of the Christian life. We’re talking about something that affects almost everything we do. Then the question becomes, not just whether we’re serving, but how, and why.
The difficulty we face is that much of the service we perform, we find unrewarding. Whether we’re talking about work, or family, or church life; when we try to serve others, we often end up becoming frustrated and discouraged. But why? Didn’t Jesus command us to do this? And didn’t He say that his purpose in coming was to give us abundant life? So wouldn’t we naturally expect that by obeying his commands (such as the command to serve), we would experience satisfaction and fulfillment? Why then, does serving others frequently prove unsatisfactory and unfulfilling?
Well, as usual, the glitch in the process is people. We get discouraged, because the people we are trying to serve often don’t respond as we would hope or expect. They don’t seem to appreciate our hard work and sacrifice. They may ignore what we’ve done for them, or take it for granted, or worse yet, they may even criticize us! "How dare they!" we say to ourselves (and to anyone else who will listen). "After all I’ve done!" It’s discouraging when we do our best to help someone out; perhaps even making a personal sacrifice in order to do it, and instead of gratitude, we hear grumbling, and complaining, and fault-finding. When this happens, we get hurt, and then we get angry, and then if we’re not careful, we get bitter. I expect that most of us here have experienced this. Every parent; every parent of a teen-ager, especially, knows what I’m talking about. As the saying goes, "no good deed ever goes unpunished." The author of Psalm 123 knew this feeling: