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Serving When It’s Killing You

“Sharing Christ by Serving Others” is St. John’s current vision focus, but last week we saw that Jesus warns that doing good and serving others can become a performance for human applause (Matt. 6: 5-6). That being said, there is joyin helping those in need, in mutual encouragement, in bringing more of heaven to earth, and in serving the One who has served and saved us by His grace (Mark 10:45). So what about serving when it’s literally killing us? Didn’t Jesus say that he came not to be served but to serve, and to lay down his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20: 28)? If Jesus was willing to serve until it killed him, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same?

Following Jesus’ example, let’s first clarify that while Jesus came to serve, “Jesus was not, first of all, one who served the world, but one who served God.” (Anderson, The Soul of Ministry, pp. 78-86) A sane theology of service for the follower of Jesus will affirm that it is the Father who sets the agenda for our service rather than human need, as important as that need is. There are countless agencies that seek to alleviate human suffering, but as anyone in the helping professions can tell you, the power to meet human need does not come from trying to meet those needs. On the contrary, trying to meet those never-ending needs canlead to depression and despair.

Thankfully, there is an alternative. Rather than taking the fast-track to burn-out, God calls us to recognize our limitations -- our human finitude; to acknowledge our need of regular times of physical rest and spiritual renewal. This call to rest goes right back to Genesis where God, having completed the initial act of creation, “rested from all the work that he had done” (Genesis 2: 3). God paused not because God gets tiredbut because, as the original Artist, God wanted to reflect and rejoice in the beauty of what he had made. Similarly, God’s ancient people were instructed not only to rest on the seventh day, but to set apart a tithe each yearfor a joyous celebration. In Deuteronomy 14, God instructs them to gather up a tithe of their grain, wine, flocks etc. and go to Jerusalem and “spend the money for whatever they wished… whatever they desired. And…eat there in the presence of the Lord…you and your household rejoicing together” (Deut. 14: 26). In other words, they were to come to Jerusalem and “splurge,” rejoicing and living the high life with God’s people!

It is a recurring feature of Jesus’ ministry that he purposely withdrew from the pressing crowds and the needs of the people in order to rest with his disciples and spend time with the Father. Even Jesus sometimes said “No more today,” and “Let’s take a break.” Jesus did not demand from his disciples continuous and unceasing acts of self-denying service (Mark 6: 30-31). Rather, he purposely asked them to come away by themselves to places of peaceful quiet and to know periods of “happy” rest (cf. Psalm 34: 8; Matt. 11: 28-30). By the way, Elders and Deacons, I give you permission to remind me about this blog the next time our board meeting runs late. And you can remind me also of this: that the power Jesus had to serve rather than be served is available to us as we stop to rest, receive the Spirit’s power, and take time to celebrate.

To sum up, serving others without killing ourselves means…

  • We know we are servants of God, not servants of human need.

  • We take time to practice disciplines like solitude, rest, and celebration, that we might experience the Spirit’s renewal in the midst of our service (Exodus 20: 8-11; Mark 6:31).

  • We have learned to say the godly “No” when we reach our human limitations (John 7: 7-9).

  • We find strength in loved ones and friends as we serve together in Christ’s name (Philippians 1: 3-8)!

Hope to see you soon…

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