March 5, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Service

Service is the last of the four S-words that comprise the outward disciplines!  Next week we'll start into the four corporate disciplines and that will take us to the annual April Interrupted by Grace* series.  Yeah!  But I won't rush us to April, it being only the first week of March and all.  Back to Service, then.

In our day, Service is hot stuff.  We participate in service projects and include our volunteer gigs on job and college applications.  You are a better candidate (and human being) if you can list ways you spent time and gave yourself for others, rather than you.  One day a few years back I was filling out an application to work with a local organization.  They wanted met to list other ways/places I was volunteering.

I had nothing to write on those lines, and was embarrassed leaving them blank.

Why?  Because I wanted them to know that I really was a nice person, that I did think of others and cared well for my family, that I gave my time and efforts, just not in the usual volunteering kind of way.  I didn't want to be judged and found lacking.

Do you serve so that others will notice or so you can feel better about yourself?  We all do at one time or another.  We humans are like that.  Biblical service, however, is another ballgame entirely, focused not on the acts of service, but rather on cultivating the servant lifestyle.  

Do you find it odd that Foster includes this as a discipline?  Did you know we can cultivate a servant heart?  We don't have to beat ourselves up about lacking humility and a servant's heart.  We can instead, as those beloved of God, repent of our sin and look for ways God has called us to "take up the towel" and serve others for His sake, not for recognition or to pat ourselves on the back.  This is possible!

I can be a helpful person.  My personality is inclined to reach out when there is a need.  Most of the time I don't get involved to be recognized, but because it is right.  However, my perseverance in service is desperately lacking.  I'm "good at" single acts of service.  I cannot claim to have a servant's heart; I love myself and my time far too much.

But, behold, I bring myself and you good tidings of great joy:  Jesus came!  He showed us true service.  Security in our relationship with Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit frees us to die more to ourselves each day as we choose to be servants of God and others, rather than slaves to our flesh.  Foster says,
It takes some practice so, rather than dashing out to bear the burdens of the whole world, let us begin more humbly.  We can begin in some small corner somewhere and learn. Jesus will be our teacher. ... The risen Christ beckons us to the ministry of the towel.  Such a ministry, flowing out of the inner recesses of the heart, is life and joy and peace.  Perhaps you would like to begin by experimenting with a prayer that several of us use.  Begin the day by praying, "Lord Jesus, as it would please you bring me someone today whom I can serve."

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How wonderfully appropriate that the discipline of service falls on Ash Wednesday.  Today the church turns her eyes toward Holy Week, remembering the sufferings of Her Lord, then celebrating His resurrection on Easter Sunday!  Traditionally, believers give up something for the 40 days of Lent.  This can be a wonderful practice.  Last year, I felt prompted to try an alternative.  I added something to my life that required something of me and made me face my idols of control and self-centeredness.  Since we're in the middle of learning more about the Spiritual Disciplines, let me suggest focusing on one of these things during Lent!  Perhaps some regular fasting, reading your Bible every day, or committing to pray that prayer above each morning and being on the look out for opportunities God brings your way?  Any of these things drive will us to repentance, the true focus of the Lenten season!

This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  I John 4:9-10

*Here's how the April series became "a thing" on Life in the Valley.  This will be the third year for us to spend April intentionally keeping our eyes peeled for moments God interrupts our days with His grace.  :)

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