A Servant’s Heart
Luke 12:35-44, 48b
What a great church huh? Too often that’s the attitude we’ve been conditioned with in our lives. It’s the way we approach restaurants we eat at, stores where we shop, the services we pay for and sometimes it even impacts the expectations we bring to church. Every television ad we see, every commercial on the radio we hear, every newspaper ad or billboard we read tells us this life is about us. Life is more hectic, more demanding and more difficult than it’s ever been and you deserve to have your needs and expectations met.
And then we come to church and hear a completely different message. For Jesus said, "Whoever wants to save their lives will lose it. Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." Matthew 16:25 Jesus gave us a radically different example. Jesus didn’t come to live for himself and expect others to meet his needs or do his bidding. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve. Jesus didn’t come to receive glory but to glorify the Father. Jesus, the King of the universe, the Savior of the world, intentionally chose to become a lowly servant. Serving goes to the very heart of Jesus. You can’t get to know and understand Jesus until you first understand that at the heart, Jesus came to serve others. His service went all the way to the cross. And he called those around him to become servants with him. So every time we serve, it connects us to the heart of God while also connecting us to Jesus. Every day Jesus calls all of us to be servants.
In our Scripture today, Jesus reminded the disciples that the very thing that they should be doing when He comes back is serving. Jesus didn’t say, "When I come back I want to catch you hunting or fishing." Or "When I come back I want to catch you watching tv, or gardening or knittng" No, he said, "When I come back, I want to catch you serving." In other words, when Jesus comes back, He wants to find servants who have given their hearts to live out God’s purpose and to serve the needs of others.
This idea of servanthood may be the most difficult thing for us to understand in our culture today. Servanthood requires a mental shift, a change in your attitudes and a change in your heart. God is always more interested in why we do something than in what we do. Attitudes count more than achievements. We’re not simply looking for folks to fill positions, but God’s looking for people who are willing to fulfill their God-given purpose with a servant’s heart. King Amaziah lost God’s favor because although he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, he did not serve with a servant’s heart. Real servants serve God with a mindset of five attitudes.
First, real servants are self forgetful. They focus on others, not themselves. True humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less. Paul said to forget yourself long enough to lend a helping hand. This is what it means to "lose your life"-- forgetting yourself in service to others. When we stop focusing on our needs, we become aware of the needs around us. Jesus "emptied himself, (in other words he stopped thinking of himself and pursuing his desires and wants) by taking on the form of a servant." Phil. 2:7 When was the last time you emptied yourself for someone else’s benefit? You can’t be a servant if you’re full of yourself. It’s only when we forget ourselves that we do the things that deserve to be remembered.
Unfortunately, a lot of our service is often self-serving. We serve to get others to like us. We serve to be recognized. We serve to achieve our own goals. That’s manipulation, not ministry. That’s service while thinking about ourselves and how noble and wonderful we are. Some people try to use service as a bargaining tool with God: "I’ll do this for you God, if you’ll do something for me." Real servants don’t try to use God for their purposes. They let God use them for his purposes. Thinking like a servant is difficult because it challenges the basic problem of my life: I am, by nature, selfish. I think most about me. The opportunity to be a servant confronts us dozens of times a day where we’re given the choice to decide between meeting our needs or the needs of others. Self-denial is the core of servanthood.
We can measure our servant’s heart by how we respond when others treat us like servants. How do you react when you’re taken for granted, bossed around or treated as an inferior? The Message paraphrase of Matthew 5:41 says, "If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life." Being a servant has little to do with us, and everything to do with others.
Second, real servants base their identity in Christ. They remember they are unconditionally loved and accepted by grace, so they don’t have to prove their worth by what they do or won’t do. That means they aren’t threatened by lowly jobs. One of the most profound examples of serving from a secure self-image is Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Washing feet was something you wouldn’t even ask your servant to do. It was considered to be even below them. So the only person who washed the feet of others were slaves because it was such a degrading job. But Jesus knew who he was, so it didn’t threaten or bother him to do it. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God, so on the last night of his life, he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist, knelt down and began to wash his disciple’s feet.
If you’re going to be a servant you must settle your identity in Christ. Only secure people can serve with a servant’s heart. The more insecure you are, the more you’ll be concerned about what others think and the more you’ll need their approval. On the other hand, when you base your worth and identity on your relationship to Christ, you are freed from the expectations and approval of others. That means you are freed to serve. Servants don’t need to cover their walls with plaques and awards to validate their work. They don’t need the accolades of others because they serve an audience of one. Paul said, "You may brag about yourself, but the only approval that counts is the Lord’s approval." (2 Cor. 10:18, CEV) The closer you get to Jesus, the less you need to promote yourself and gain the approval of others.
Third, real servants think of ministry as an opportunity, not an obligation. In our Scripture today, Jesus said, "Who here qualifies for the job of overseeing the household? A person the master can depend on to feed the workers on time each day." Early on, Jesus taught the disciples that serving is a matter of following Him and doing the Master’s will. As disciples, we have been invited to participate in the amazing work of God and touch the lives of others by meeting their needs and ministering to them. Jesus invites all of us to recognize the call to be true servants, to have hearts that are totally about meeting the needs of others, without being told to do so, to rise above a life focused only on ourselves and to live beyond yourself.
So ministry becomes an opportunity to have a different life than what the world offers and encourages. It’s an opportunity to be used by God, to get in on the work of God and see and experience him at work. It’s an opportunity to use your gifts and abilities to help build the kingdom and to experience God working through you. It’s an opportunity to make a difference in the life of another and connect with them in a way nothing else allows, as one representing the heart, hands and feet of Christ for the world. When serving becomes an opportunity instead of an obligation, you begin to "serve the Lord with gladness." Why? Because we love the Lord, we’re grateful for his grace, we know serving is the highest use of our life and absolutely nothing can compare to it. Albert Schweitzer said, "The only really happy people are those have learned how to serve." Servanthood is realizing life is not about us. It is about serving the needs of others. It’s realizing true life comes from serving and meeting the needs of other people. I believe that serving is life-giving. It is not until you give yourself away service that you will experience real life, real meaning and real joy.
Fourth, real servants are compassionate and loving. Too often we look at others and make unconscious judgments of them. We look at what they wear, how their hair looks, what they drive, where they live, what work they do, how they talk and we make judgments about them. Our insecurities measure them up against ourselves and decide if they’re like us, they’re one of us, they’re above us or below us. But God looks at people from a different perspective. It’s not about who you are, how you look or even what you have accomplished. God looks through the eyes of a parent who see their children with a heart of love. Servants are called to take on the eyes of God and see every person as a child of God. In fact we are called to see Jesus in every person, because we are all made in the image of God. Mother Teresa told a story of how one of their sisters had spent an entire day bathing the wounds of a dying beggar who was brought to them from the streets of Calcutta. Then Mother Teresa’s voice dropped to a whisper as she told the hushed auditorium that some would consider that a waste of time on a worthless person when, in reality, the nun had been bathing the wounds of Jesus. Then she said, “Christ tests the love of his followers by hiding in grotesque disguises to see if we can still see him.” The heart of a servant recognizes that when we serve and love others as God’s children, we serve and love Christ. The heart of a servant is compassionate and loving. Sympathy is when you say, ‘I’m sorry you are hurt.’ Empathy is when you say, ‘I hurt with you.’ But compassion is when you say ‘I’ll do anything I can for you in the midst of your pain and sufferent.’ In Matthew, chapter 9, the Bible says that Jesus was filled with compassion, and likewise, we are to be filled with compassion, not judgment, for others because we see their pain and see them as a child of God.
Fifth, real servants think like stewards, not owners. They remember God owns it all. In the Scripture today, Jesus speaks of a steward as a servant entrusted to manage an estate, reminding us that servanthood and stewardship go together. You have been given time and talents. The world says those are yours but God is the giver of those gifts and He expects us to be good stewards in how we use them. God wants us to use them for His work which is to serve others and in so doing bring them into a saving relationship with His son. The one thing required of such servants is that they be faithful to their master’s will. How are you handling the time and talents God has entrusted to you? Are you giving more than just an hour on Sunday morning to God? We all know what happens on April 15. There’s one form you have to turn in each year to the government on that day and it’s your W-2. Well this year, we’re going to ask you to give back to God each week not your W-2 but W+2, that is, one hour for worship, one our in Sunday School or a Bible study and one hour of service to God. You have 168 hours given to you each week and we’re asking you to give God just 3 hours. That’s a beginning point which all of us could do.
Second, have you discovered your spiritual gifts and are using them to minister to others in the name of Jesus? If not, we’re going to once again give you that opportunity by offering Network which is a 3 week class to discover your spiritual gifts, your passions and your personality which will direct you to where God has wired you to serve in His ministry.
In Matthew 20:28, Jesus told us that he came "not be served, but to serve." Serving is not a recommendation. Serving is an expectation and invitation to live beyond yourself. Every day, Jesus calls all of us to serve. To follow Jesus you must not only serve but serve with a servant’s heart. Every year we produce a servant catalog. We have over 60 ways to get connected here and serve in Christ’s name. We put it out there, but you have to take the responsibility to get connected and serve for God’s greater purpose. Serving is not a personal choice in following Jesus. It is following Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to be served, but he came to serve others.
After you hear the invitation to serve and embrace the opportunity, then Jesus calls us to realize the urgency. That sense of urgency comes because we don’t know when the master will return but we do know what his expectation is: to find us serving Him. So every day we are called to urgently live out the master’s will. We do this because we realize that time is running out regarding His return, and because we serve an audience of One. Our time is meant to be doing the Master’s will and that is serving others and meeting their needs in the name of Jesus Christ, sharing His love with them.
When we recognize we don’t have a lot of time, every day we are faced with opportunity, of a new day to serve the will of the Master never knowing when time will run out. No time is right or perfect to be a servant. There are always other things, people and circumstances pressing on us. So often we hear people say they don’t have time to serve. They need time to finish school, to work on their career, to get their finances straight, to raise their kids first or to get to retirement when they’ll have loads of free time, right retirees? Jesus is saying that urgency of not knowing when the Master will return leads us to one conclusion: the time is now. The fact is, when you are a servant and you realize the urgency, it can be inconvenient. When you are a servant, sometimes you have to put your desires and your needs on the back burner so you can serve others. It is all about having an attitude of urgency. At the end of the day, as servants and followers of Jesus Christ, we realize this life is not about us—it is all about meeting the needs of others. Servants always realize the urgency of helping someone else. Servants are called not just to sacrifice but to sacrifice more. God wants all of us to give more of our time and to give more of ourselves. He wants us to be more available for his use. But God also wants us to stop make excuses.
He is watching us. When Jesus returns, will we be caught helping children and youth? When Jesus returns, will we be caught helping the disadvantaged? When Jesus returns, will we be caught helping the serving in the choir or helping to rebuild New Orleans? When Jesus returns, will we be caught helping the single parent? When Jesus returns, will we be caught doing good in the Christ?
There is something about having a heart of urgency and recognizing the opportunity of the life Jesus has to offer. Serving is not a one-time opportunity. Being a servant is a life-long identity because Jesus wants us to be just like Him. Serving is a 24/7, 365 days a year thing. Serving is all about living out our true, life calling.
Robbie Goldman tells the story of growing up and his my mom and dad came up with this crazy idea where the family would prepare a meal, then all go downtown and serve it to the homeless young people on the streets. He writes, There we were, a little suburban family learning about what God could do with a little faith. It truly formed my way of serving. I recall where my youngest sister would have the plastic ware all neatly wrapped by the time my other sister and I came home from school. I can still remember smelling the incredible scent coming from the kitchen. We would then all rush to get our homework done so that when dad got home, we could be on our way. We all then loaded up to take the beautiful banquet downtown. Over the years as I grew, I watched as these young people we served would thank my parents, and more importantly, would thank us kids. They would always love to see what little costume my baby sister was wearing, which I think made them so happy to see her smile. I would serve the bread or whatever side dish was made, but mainly I think I did a lot of learning throughout those times. When people ask me, Why do I serve God so radically? I honestly cannot understand what they see as being so radical. It seems to me that what I do is very simple, and really the only way I know how to live for God. I learned radical service is only a perception from the outside. I learned that loving people and just being real to everyone is all it takes. That is why today I choose to serve God.”