5 Roadblocks to Service
Sacrificing for others is hard... almost impossible. Serving the needs of others is like a summer road trip. We pull our car out on the road of interest and compassion for others but immediately something falls in the road in front of us. We grind to a halt.
1. "Move toward need, not comfort."
What starts your engines and moves you to serve? Rarely does anyone wake up in the morning and think, "I want to live for someone else." Our hearts by nature are full-time focused on guarding our comforts. If someone cuts in front of us at our favorite coffee shop, or the barista gets our order wrong, our comfort protection sensors start going off. "This is my 'me' time!" we cry out.
John Piper once said something that stuck with me: "Christian, move toward need, not comfort." From Hebrews 13:11-16 and he connected Jesus' sufferings outside the gate of the city of Jerusalem to the call for us to suffer and serve those who society looks at as reproachful. The engine of sacrifice stalls when we protect all our comforts while simultaneously trying to serve others.
2. Eyes to see the needs
We also frequently think: "I'm not trained for that! Get a professional." There are certainly many service tasks that require professionals. Everyone expects their doctors and lawyers to have education and training. Most of the bothersome tasks in life, however, require little or no training. The problem is, we lack the eyes to see the everyday needs.
Have we noticed the mom in the parking lot at the grocery store trying to get her children locked in their car seats while also attempting to put away her cart? Have we noticed the elderly person in our neighborhood trying to weed their garden? They probably won’t let you weed for them (lawns are too precious!), but you can keep them company and talk to them while they weed. Have we noticed the tired eyes of young parents who could really use companionship, and feel incapable and alone? Many of the small and big sufferings in life could be helped if we began by noticing the need in front of our eyes.
3. Service depends on grace.
Perhaps the most profound roadblock to service is what I call the "reciprocity principle." If I take care of other people, who will take care of me? What will I get out of this? Much philanthropy depends on this. Give your money away and get a tax refund. Every time I drop my old clothing at Goodwill they ask me if I want a "receipt." That means I can tell the IRS I have given things away and get something in return. We all live, in some sense, on the "reciprocity principle."
God's love isn't like that. His is a one-way love. Before creation, God didn’t need anything. The three persons of the trinity were perfectly fulfilled in their own fellowship. God made man without needing anything in return. Imagine that: no reciprocity principle. He lovingly created us without needing anything in return; merely out of one-way love.
But we see gracious service most clearly when God took on flesh. Jesus loved without strings attached. "This is love," the Apostle John writes, "not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10). The Son of God himself served us to the death, literally, without thinking, "What will I get from this?" One of the most well-known passages in the Bible has the simple phrase we overlook, "For God so loved the world that he gave." That is service that is freely given. No expected return.
But this is so hard for us: I remember how hard it was when my first little girl was born. After caring for her hour after hour she couldn't even say two simple words: "Thank you." She would fall asleep easily throughout the day while my head pounded and my eyes blurred with sleeplessness. My comfort-seeking heart groaned to be repaid some way. I realized my service before having children was not gracious. I always wanted to be repaid.
It's only when we have tasted the one-way love of God in Christ that we serve others selflessly, without requiring others to thank us in some tangible way. It becomes a joy to give with no strings attached.
4. "Here we have no lasting city."
The passage I began with, Hebrews 13, ends by saying we can't keep the things we build here. "Here we have no lasting city." This shouldn't make us so "heavenly minded, we are no earthly good." Instead it should jumpstart our serving engines to move toward the needs and sufferings of others. How is that possible?
If we have a safe, eternal city kept in heaven for us, we are freed to give everything away that we have in this life. Our possessions, which sometimes define us, can't be taken with us when we die. Paul tells Timothy in his first letter to instruct wealthy people to not "be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God." Service and giving are the safest investments. That is exactly where Paul finishes: "In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
5. “Nobody Has Asked Me”
Finally, we can wait to be asked, rather than taking the initiative to serve. It’s tempting to wait to serve in tangible ways until we are asked. There are a host of volunteer opportunities at Harvest and we would love to see more people serving. Nursery, youth discipling and mentoring, counseling training, and leading a small group are formal ways to serve. There is also always a lonely person on a Sunday morning that just needs a smile and a warm hand-shake.
If you want to take initiative to serve, please fill out this survey and let us know an area where you can concretely begin to serve Christ’s body and our community.
In Christ's Service,
What Pastor Adrian is reading . . .
Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship
by Jonathan Gibson
This is a 30-day guide that combines calls to worship, prayers, doxologies, confession of sin and assurances of pardon. I’ve benefited most from the prayers Gibson has collected from Christians all throughout church history. Gibson also includes a reference each day to a reading from reformed catechisms and includes the catechisms in the back of the book. Gibson put this together when his prayer life felt hectic and too brief during Covid. I’ve really benefited from working through this each day (it takes about 8 minutes to read and pray through it).
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