What does it mean to be compelled to serve? Romans 5:8 states But God demonstrates his own love for us in this while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus died out of his love for us. That act alone should compel us to give back, to serve in Jesus’ name.
Yet we have so many excuses. I’ll answer a few of these, but I’ll list some:
- I don’t have time.
- I have kids.
- I’m not comfortable doing that.
- I’m too old.
- I’ve done my time.
- I’m too tired.
- What might people think if they see me…what do I get out of it?
Let’s start here: Anyone can serve. I’m too old. Nope. When I worked at a church in the Chicago area, the youth led worship quarterly. I was given great latitude in what we did. One time I decided to turn a worship service upside down. We gathered for worship sang a couple of songs and prayed. Then we went out to serve. We all learned how to worship through service. The majority of the congregation served our elderly neighbors and did spring cleanup yard work (yes they knew ahead of time so they knew how to dress). There were others that weren’t in great health and couldn’t serve that way. I had an opportunity for them to make sack lunches for a homeless shelter. 95-year-old Elsie complained that she wasn’t doing anything but putting cookies in a bag and that wasn’t serving. I explained to her that the people who would be eating this lunch might not get another meal that day. I explained to her that Jesus said whatever you do for the least of these you do for me. So by serving others in any way you’re serving Jesus. She then went around saying she was making lunch for Jesus. She got it. There was a way for her to serve.
There’s a story in the book Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli about a woman named Gertie who wanted to serve in the youth ministry. She had no idea what she wanted to do or how she could help, but she knew God knew. She took pictures of all the students, put them on cards and wrote biographical information on the back. She used these to learn the kids’ names. She’d stand by the door and greet each student by name each week and promised to pray for them. The kids learned that she had a large part of the Bible memorized so they came to her with questions. Ten years later when she was 86 she suffered three strokes. The youth leader decided to do Gertie’s funeral while she was alive so she could see what a difference she made. That’s 10 years worth of students coming back to celebrate Gertie. Like the widow and her seemingly tiny offering, Gertie gave what she could and her offering will live on the lives of the students. Did you get that she started working with the youth ministry when she was 76.
One of my favorite parts of youth worker conventions is when they honor the oldest person present, volunteer or staff. I’m amazed as they start with 65 and have everyone 65 and older stand and it’s a large number as they move on the younger people sit, but there are still quite a few 70 and 75 year olds serving. There was one convention I was at the oldest person there was 82. Too old isn’t an excuse.
I did my time… that comes up all the time. Serving isn’t a prison sentence. Serving is an outpouring of joy and thanksgiving to God. If you’re feeling that you’ve done your time or you don’t need to serve maybe it’s time for a heart check and see where that joy in the Lord went.
I have kids. I didn’t when I started serving. But after I did, I sometimes volunteered 40 hours a week. My girls were in school and my son came to meetings or to work at church with me. I went to camp and on retreats with the youth group as a volunteer. A friend once told me that her husband’s ministry was to stay with the kids so she could do ministry. That gave me a different perspective and made it easier for me to serve.
Let’s talk about the joy of serving for a minute. If you were here last week at 8:15, Chase Mabry was one of the ushers. He’s 8. I’ve never seen anyone serve as an usher with as much joy as Chase did last week. He was having a great time, smiling and you could see the joy he was getting from serving, and at least to me, it was contagious. It made me wonder where is the joy in other forms of serving? Why aren’t others quick to say yes? Shouldn’t we? Wouldn’t we want to serve more if we got that much joy from serving?
Now I’m not saying that if a crying child makes your head want to explode that serving in the nursery is right for you, it’s clearly not. But maybe instead you love to shovel snow. When we’re looking for volunteers to sign up to shovel snow, make sure you sign up, maybe even for multiple weeks.
Here’s an interesting thought; serving as a spiritual discipline or spiritual practice. What does that even mean? In his book Celebration of Discipline Richard Foster has a chapter on service as a spiritual discipline. He speaks of the difference between self-righteous serving or serving based on demographics and charts and numbers; serving to help THOSE people and serving as a spiritual discipline. Self-righteous service is temporary when the need is met service is done. It’s selfish, based on the feeling of serving. I’m too tired so I don’t feel like going today. It’s insensitive, it serves even when helping hurts the person being served. It centers on glorification of the individual. It requires external rewards. It needs to know that people see and appreciate the effort. It’s concerned about results. It comes with expectations of the person being served. There might be bitterness if the person being served doesn’t respond in a way that meets the expectation. An example I’ve heard while serving: These people are so ungrateful they didn’t even say thank you. Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal” it’s looking for Titanic gains, and is very numbers focused.
Serving as a spiritual discipline is none of those things. It comes from relationship with Jesus and divine urgings. It’s not frantic energy in a way that drains. It welcomes all opportunities to serve. It doesn’t seek the limelight or the gratitude. Every church relies on the people who serve this way. There are tasks to be done that are done quietly. In this church people fold bulletins and set up the altar or edit the newsletter, or water the plants outside or fix things around the church or parsonage, take care of the website and social media, help with the meal for WNL, or do any number of thankless tasks. They do it not for recognition but because they love the church and they love Jesus.
The grace of humility is worked into our lives through the discipline of serving. It’s the one discipline that is conducive to growing in humility. When we serve in secret, ie don’t shout it from the rooftops or serve to be noticed, we crucify pride and arrogance, both of which scream at us that we need recognition and gratitude for our service.
Serving can bring a deeper love and joy in God. Joyous service, Foster says, is an active prayer of thanksgiving.
As Foster continues on he talks of ways we serve that don’t seem like service. For example he talks about the service of guarding the reputation of others and not being a party to slanderous talk about others especially in the church. Gossip and slander can destroy the root and branch in all who hear it. Guarding the reputation of others can be a deep and lasting service.
He also discusses the service of common curtesy which is sorely lacking these days. I’m not sure I thought of that as a service, but it’s Biblical. Titus 3:1-2 states: Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities to be obedient and do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate to show true humility toward all men. Common curtesy can be a lost art. Sometimes a simple please and thank you go a long way toward building relationships.
Another often overlooked act of service is encouraging others. I try to make youth group a positive encouraging environment. I also try to keep poking fun at others out of the group. An encouraging word can go a long way. Occasionally outside of the youth I have sent notes or private social media messages or emails to encourage someone, just a kind word about something I see in them. I’ve talked to a manager about an employee who went above and beyond. I’ve written to school principals about a teacher who did an outstanding job with my kids.
I youth group have some simple rules that I took my own kids’ childhood rules: Keep your hands, feet and unkind words to yourself. So many ways we discourage other come from unkind words that have been spoken. Treat others as you want to be treated. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I will admit to having times in my life where I have embraced a quote from Steel Magnolias, “If you don’t have anything nice to say sit by me.” But, I never have that attitude in youth group.
A lot of time we come to worship on Sunday, maybe go to Sunday school and live the rest of the week like Jesus doesn’t exist in our lives or we miss where he’s working in our lives all week. Church isn’t what goes in within these four walls every Sunday morning. Church is what you do when you leave this place, Monday through Saturday. The pew is supposed to lead to a daily experience. A friend of mine shared a quote on Facebook this week and I love it: “I used to go to church to get filled up with inspiration and wow. Now I care about being the church and community to, to practice loving and being loved.”
The ELCA has a tagline for service that I love: God’s work our hands. People talk of being the hands and feet of God. So you can and should serve in at least one area in your church, but you also should serve your local community and the world. There are tons of places in the Champaign Urbana area that need people to serve. Google it and find a place that sounds like a place you can use your gifts to serve God. When you see an opportunity here in the church grab it. Be Gertie for the youth group. Be Elsie and find joy in serving in small ways for Jesus. Check out the mission board or talk to Jody Bentley or anyone on the missions team. I’m sure any of them would be happy to share ways you can serve the community.
Sometimes we wonder what’s wrong with us, that though we go to church and read our Bible, maybe attend a Bible study and Sunday school we still don’t feel like we have a vibrant faith, we feel like something is missing. James said “faith without works or deeds is dead.” If we’re not doing some kind of service work our faith isn’t going to be a fire burning in us. It’s not going to be catching and bring others into it wondering how they can have what we have.
Pastor Gene alluded to my ministry mission statement last week: Help students discover where their hearts intersect the heart of God so they can serve God and change the world. That’s one reason we do try to do a service project either in the church or the community once a month for the past year. I’m working on more opportunities for us to serve. We have students who serve in worship and VBS is full of students willing to serve. I was impressed with the turnout for the bake sale to benefit the classroom in Houston. The kids want to do service work. They want to serve God. Past students from other ministries I’ve served have found it in their heart to together raise over $5000 for clean water, over $3000 for hunger charities and get involved with a ministry to stop human trafficking. I’ve had students who had a passion for something and write their congressmen to make a difference. I’ve had students discover a passion for helping students who are bullied or have no friends. It’s amazing what God stirs in the hearts of anyone willing to listen.
Pastor Gene talked about tithing your time last week. Find opportunities to do so. It’s 16 hours a week. What can you do with that. Maybe you help out with oh say youth group and that’s about 1.5-2 hours a week. Maybe you volunteer at a charity in the area for another 2 hours a week. That leaves around 12 hours of that 16 hours. You can help a neighbor, be the good news of Jesus to your neighborhood. Maybe you have a neighbor that can’t drive anymore, so you offer to take them grocery shopping. It’s simple things, but what a great way to show the love of Jesus in a practical way. Shovel for a single mom or the elderly, rake leaves, mow a lawn. Lighten the load for someone else. Don’t do these things with an ulterior motive such as bringing that person to church. Do it simply to show the love of God to others and to get to know your neighbor better. Get to hear their story. Find areas where your story overlaps and you can connect through that. If they feel compelled to come to church after spending time with you and seeing your heart to serve God, great, but that’s not the goal.
Through our faith we can be so much more. We can be Jesus to the world. We can look at ourselves, our lives and our church and decide to be more. 1 billion people go hungry each day. That’s a pretty daunting number. Mother Theresa said, If you can’t feed 100 people feed just one.” We can do that. When we collected items for school lunches we collected 95 items. Almost 100 right there. VBS donated 300 items to the food pantry. We can show the love of Christ everywhere we go. We can reach out. Being a Christian isn’t what we do in church on Sunday morning. It’s who we are both here and in the world. Serving others, doing good deeds, bearing fruit isn’t something we do out of obligation. It’s something we do because we love Jesus so much we can’t help but serve. It’s a loving response to what Jesus did on the cross for us, for all God has done for us. We are compelled by his love for us. It’s an opportunity to joyfully give through action! People look to those who profess to be Christian to see if we’re different. Let’s be different. Let’s go out and change the world and change people’s perceptions of Christians. Let’s live what we say we believe. It doesn’t matter if we think we don’t have the time or the money or it’s an untraditional idea.
Ask God to break your heart for what breaks his. There are a multitude of causes that God cares about, find the one God is leading you to. Some examples; lack of clean water, hunger, no access to education, lack of health care, people dying of preventable diseases because of lack of health care, homelessness, human trafficking, lonely people, bullied people, the devastation from floods, fire, hurricanes, tornadoes etc, mass shootings, mass incarceration, terrorism, religious persecution…I could go on for quite some time. Find where your heart intersects with God’s heart for the broken or needy. Think of what could we do if we all tithed our time. What could we do if we stopped thinking of ways or reasons we can’t but focused on how we can? What can we do, what can I do, what can you do? Go, be God’s hands and feet and do his work. Dream big and imagine the possibilities.
Please pray with me, Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, make you complete in every good work to do His will working in you what is pleasing in his sight. Break our hearts for what breaks yours, Lord. Compel us to serve you in many ways through Jesus Christ who is the glory forever and ever amen.
To reach Beth at St. Joseph United Methodist church, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.