“I am sorry. I am not going to make it,” read the text on my phone. A bit of anger rose up inside of me.
“I am willing to give my time, but I am not willing to waste it!” I muttered under my breath as I walked home in the rain.
We had a family member visiting from the States, but I had carved out a bit of time to meet with this woman I had never met before. She expressed interest through a mutual contact in attending the Bible study I lead. I wanted to help her feel more comfortable by meeting her first, but now she hadn’t shown up.
“Because Life is for Service” is the motto of the small Bible college I attended. Graduates walk across the platform to receive their diploma and are given a towel that has been hand-embroidered with the words “Trained to Serve” as a visible reminder of the example that Jesus affixed within history when he washed the disciples’ feet. I received my towel nearly two decades ago, but I do not doubt I have more to grasp concerning the concept of serving.
My husband and I are church planters. The first church we planted was in the town where I grew up. In suburban America, the people we ministered to were very much like us. It was comfortable. Weekly, I gathered for a women’s Bible study with minivan-driving moms who fell into my age bracket and season of life. Our kids thrived among a church full of peers and good times.
Almost three years ago, our family moved to join a church-planting effort in England. We minister to a different demographic of people in this place. Many have suffered abuse, poverty and a myriad of other sad situations. Living in a city, many do not have cars. When there is a church event, we need to give lifts in order to accommodate everyone. I have felt myself being stretched as I calculate a departure time of an hour before a meeting begins because of the need to pick several people up. Our family has given up a lot to move to plant a church in a place that desperately needs it, so why am I begrudging 20 minutes out of my way so a person can be at a Bible study that I want so much for them to attend? It almost seems silly as I write this, but this has been hard for me.
“I would like to come to your Bible study. Could I have a lift?” was a text I later received from the lady who didn’t make our coffee date. I responded with the time I would be to her flat and did my best to put aside my frustrated feelings from days before.
When I met this woman, my heart melted in compassion. She has truly been bruised by this world and is seeking love, acceptance and the truth. It took a mountain of courage for her to leave the safety of her flat and come to that Bible study.
What I am learning is people who have been beat up by life are in need of gentleness, patience, and grace. Just like a person who has been physically injured needs the tenderest of care, so do people who have been emotionally, spiritually, or psychologically injured. They do not need to be made to feel badly about messing up my schedule. I grew up as a cherished child in a Christian home. My parents are still together and in love. I married the sweetest of men and live loved by him. I have been blessed to have four people call me “mom”. Because of the extravagant love, patience, and grace of God and others towards me, I have extra to give. Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48, NIV).
SERVICE IS OFTEN SMALL
Thinking about how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, I am reminded that service is often mundane. Jesus was about to selflessly shed his very lifeblood for these men, surely, he could forego the demeaning task of washing dirty feet. Wasn’t he about to do enough? Let someone else pick up that towel! When Jesus intentionally gave an example of serving it wasn’t a miracle, teaching or leading – it was washing dirty feet; it was a practical demonstration of going low.
“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-15 ESV) Do I truly understand? This wasn’t just a haphazard situation where Jesus just happened to be the one who washed the feet that day. Jesus was nailing down an intentional point. This task was culturally below him as a teacher. As Lord, Almighty Creator, it is unthinkable that he would have lowered himself in this way. Yet, he directly states this is what he wants us, his followers, to imitate. He wants us to lower ourselves for the sake of others.
SERVICE DICTATES SURRENDER
If I am honest, I want to be in charge and in control of my service. I would like to dictate how, when and where I serve God and my church. I will sell my house and move across the ocean on my terms, but when someone invades my schedule and needs a lift to the doctor, I am going to have to die to myself to give over that time. Jesus is described in Philippians 2:7 as emptying himself and “taking on the form of a servant.” By very definition, a servant is not in charge or in control.
SERVICE DOES NOT KEEP SCORE
Church planting is made up of relational highs and lows. I cringe to admit that there have been times when someone leaves the church we have been pouring our lives into and a list of all of the things that I have done for them starts scrolling through my mind.
As the years roll by, I am slowly learning that I need to maintain the perspective of ultimately doing what I do for Jesus, my King, when I serve people. The apostle Paul explained this way of living when he advised believers in Ephesians 6:6-8 (ESV): “. . . as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord. . .” God will take care of us as we serve with our sights on glorifying him alone; no need to keep score.
SERVICE STEMS FROM A SECURE IDENTITY
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-5 NIV) Jesus knew he had come from God and was headed back to the right hand of the Father and so he served. The fact Jesus lived grounded in his God-given identity is not a casual comment in the narrative of this story.
On the contrary, when I serve people looking to be noticed and commended, I am left feeling like a doormat, unappreciated, and undervalued. When my worth and value is bound up in striving to please people, I tend to make commitments to serve that are not in line with what God would have me to do. Living like that leads to burnout. Mere humans are not capable of giving me the sense of value and purpose my Father is delighted to give when I look to him for my identity. Knowing who I am in Christ, what he has called me to do, and where my home is, frees me to serve unselfishly and with joy.
SERVICE GROWS OUT OF SACRIFICIAL LOVE
John 13:1 says, “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” This introduction to the scene of the Passover meal where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, leads me to ponder that perhaps the writer, the apostle John, got it. He knew Jesus wasn’t just giving his disciples a formula for ministry. Christ was genuinely showing love during his last hours by humbling himself, meeting an everyday need, and getting his hands dirty.
Imagine the glow of candlelight upon Jesus’ face while he ate this final of many meals with “his own” into whom he had invested time, teaching, and care. The evening has progressed. Judas has already left with clean feet, to carry out the worst of intentions. Jesus, serious, leans forward and gives his men some parting instructions: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV) “Just as I have loved you”—the image of Jesus bending over and washing the filth off their feet was fresh in their minds.
These eleven men at that last supper could not have possessed wild enough imaginations to conjure up what the rest of their lives would look like. These ordinary people were the ones entrusted with the start of the Church; the foundation of what is still the agent God has chosen to reach a desperately needy world. They would lead, journey, and die for the cause of Christ. Jesus wanted them to know an intentional love of other people was what was going to set Christianity apart and love would be the fuel for what their calling was going to demand of them.
I find loving people I don’t know hard. Loving people who “rub me the wrong way” or who have made poor life choices is also difficult for me. There is comfort and hope for people like me in Romans 5:5 (ESV): “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” When I am willing to surrender my time and my very life to the Holy Spirit, he graciously pours his love into my heart enabling me to serve the people who he has placed in my path. He not only leads me to know when, where, and how to serve, but gives me the supernatural love I need to serve in a way that points to him alone.
Connect with Amy:
Amy and her husband are church planters in England. Originally from Pennsylvania, she has learned the meaning of living as a pilgrim while adjusting to ex-pat life and settling her four children into a new culture. She is addicted to seeing Jesus change people’s lives and loves nothing better than to walk with them through His Word whether that be in a small group, her writing, or over coffee. Exploring the English countryside, getting lost in a book, and catching up with an old friend are among her favorite things. You can find her at www.amymullens.com or on Instagram @amymullens.
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