Wanted: Servants of the Master

I read an article the other day that left me heavy-hearted. It was taking the church to task for not providing enough ways for women to serve within the body. The author made it clear that the opportunities for service she wanted were in leadership, chances for her intellectual and theological prowess to be exhibited. Don’t give her any more kitchen duty, nursery duty or children’s ministry. By the time I finished reading, I was deeply saddened.

I’ve read many open letters to “the church” complaining about one thing or another that makes each author feel devalued or under-appreciated. Finally, a moment of clarity came upon me. This is all just so much jockeying for position. We’ve become like James and John in Mark 10:35, “Master, we want you to do for us whatever it is we desire.” What was their desire? They asked to be seated on Jesus’ right and left when He was established in His glory. In other words, they wanted positions of honor.  Jesus answer was a far cry from what they had hoped to hear.

“…But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:43-45

A servant is one who performs duties for another – rarely seen and rarely praised. We all want to be lords of the manor, sought by others for our wisdom and giftedness while we sit in comfort. Meanwhile, the servants are doing the daily work of scrubbing, sweeping, ironing, washing, cooking and polishing in order to make the lord look good. The life Christ calls us to as His followers, The Church, gets lived in the servants’ quarters. How do I know this?

Philippians 2:3-8 gives us two strong directives.

1. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (vs.3-4)

2. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (vs. 5-8)

After the attitude of Christ has sunk in and taken root in our hearts, there is another word from Christ that needs to hit us like a wrecking ball, knocking us off our self-built pedestals. John 13:13-17 is too-little noticed. Jesus rose from supper to wash His disciples feet. (John 13:1-12) First, they protested because they thought it was a job beneath Jesus’ dignity, but Jesus was adamant. When He had finished, He wanted the disciples to get the point of the whole exercise. He spoke the following words,

“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. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (Jn 13:13-17).

A servant is not greater than his master.

A servant is not greater than his master. If we catch the full weight of these words following on the heels of Jesus’ actions, and ultimately His death on a cross, it will transform us. What job is beneath us? Why do we worry about being devalued? We must learn to think less of ourselves, to the point of serving in positions that draw the smallest crowds of workers and onlookers. The jobs we least want to do are the ones we should make haste towards. Or do we believe someone else should be required to do what we abhor?

We are so worried that our gifts will go unnoticed. But I believe God, who gifted us and knows us intimately, requires first a faithfulness in the little things. (Matthew 25:21). Matthew 6 tells us to beware of practicing our righteousness in order to be noticed, for if we are honored by men, we will have received our reward in full. In addition, 1 Peter 5:6 admonishes us to humble ourselves that God may exalt us in the proper time. Maybe that won’t be until Heaven, but there the believer’s reward is secure, and far greater than the limited and fleeting notice we will get on earth.

Do you really want to serve? I’ve never been part of a church that had too many willing servants. Diapers always need changing in the nursery, trash cans need to be emptied. If you have no experience with children and fear breaking someone else’s baby while changing a diaper, or your back is too damaged to carry a trash bag, then be the one to offer a ride to an elderly church member, or visit mid-week to read aloud to someone who’s eyes are failing. If you, like the author of the article, are theologically trained and desire to use your teaching gift, start a Bible study in a nursing home. Be the theologian who sits silently beside the broken and mingles your tears with theirs.

Do something that needs doing even if no one else will notice. Just please don’t tell me you are leaving the church because the church hasn’t recognized your gifts and given you a place to visibly serve. The Church is not an organization that bears responsibility for screening and placing each of it’s members in a pre-assigned position. God’s people are The Church; people who are humbling themselves enough to follow their master’s lead all the way to the death of our desires for recognition and prominence.

I’m grieved by all the complaining about how our needs are unmet. Doesn’t God promise to meet our every need (Phil. 4:19 – And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.)? Do we trust Him to do what He says? Let’s use that abundance to meet the needs of another in joyful, willing, unremarkable and often unnoticed service. God sees and will reward His servants in due time.

©Erika Rice 2015

All About the Details

Outside, the snow is heavily falling, and then it’s driving sideways against the house. The wood stove fights a losing battle against the bitter breath of a raging wind forcing its way through cracks we never knew we had. The chill nibbles at my ankles and stiffens my fingers. Not far from the stove and its meager warmth, my youngest son plucks at his banjo strings. I’m seated close to my patient Man About the House as he gently instructs me in a new craft project. Trying to meet his patience with my own, I hear myself saying, “This is a painstakingly detailed project.”

Painstakingly detailed craft projects are the kind from which I run. I’m not sure why I run from them when I eagerly grip teeny artist’s brushes in my paint-stained fingers in order to perfectly edge the corners of my bathroom. I have a penchant for embroiling myself in painstakingly detailed projects, so long as they aren’t considered crafts. Maybe I’ve spent years teaching crafts to children, knowing that I can’t afford to get lost in too many details. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll lose interest before I finish. Maybe I’m reluctant to concentrate on something I think should be entertaining. Maybe I don’t want to clean up the mess when I’ve finally come up for air. Maybe I should stop looking for excuses.

For right now, though, I’m inched up tight to calm, kind and patient himself. The man who never sits still is seated next to me, gently lifting tiny paper pieces with an exacto knife while we laugh at our mistakes and he wonders aloud at his boldness in saying he’d teach me. Let it snow, let it blow, let the fire strive with the cold. Today, I’m all about the details. And days like this don’t happen enough.


©Erika Rice 2015