Servanthood and Selfishness

Last Sunday I delivered a sermon at a local medical and rehab center. About fifteen elderly folks gathered for the brief worship service. As I drove away I was very happy to have done it, but I’d be lying if I told you I was peaceful and confident through the whole thing. These are some reflections on my experience.

From the time I got home from church to the time that I left for the medical center to the time I stepped up to give the message, I was feeling a bit uneasy. As a young guy (and as a introvert) it’s a strange feeling standing before a group of elderly folks and sharing God’s word. It’s one of those times where you feel very inadequate for the task. Not only are you in an unfamiliar setting with unfamiliar people, the people to whom you’re speaking have been through a whole lot more in life than you have and are presently suffering in ways you never have. That being the case, what could you possibly have to share with them?

In that moment you realize the best and only thing really worth saying is what God has said. And that is perhaps the greatest preaching lesson an aspiring preacher could learn: give the people what they really need – God. Give them his word: his promises, his encouragements and consolations, his admonitions and rebukes. Give them Jesus.

The other thing you realize is that many of the things you’re concerned about are not big concerns to them. Am I dressed appropriately? Will they like me? I hope I don’t stumble over my words. What am I going to do later this afternoon? These are the kinds of thoughts that run through my head. But those I’m serving are just happy to have someone there; someone who took the time to come and be with them.

You see, a servant knows that the service he offers is of greater value than any fear or uneasiness he may feel and any reservations or doubts he may have. In fact, the service rendered will often be of more benefit to the one served than the servant himself. But that’s part of servanthood, isn’t it – sacrificing your own (perceived) gain for the good of another?

But there’s a deeper problem that I think many of us have. Many (if not all) of the thoughts that fill my mind as I go to serve someone are wrapped around one person – ME (for instance, those I listed above). And how can I serve when all I’m thinking about is myself?

It’s hard to get outside of ourselves, to live with the highest regard for someone other than yourself. To do as Paul exhorted us, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4, NASB) is easier said than done.

Deeper than any reservation we may have to serve, any uneasiness or nerves we feel, any personality traits that make us less ‘sociable’ than others, or even plain lack of motivation; deeper than all these things lies another reason why we don’t (want to) serve.

There is an ugly, smelly drifter that dwells within us. He crouches in the corners of our souls that we try to ignore like an abandoned building on the outskirts of town. He whispers in our ears and seduces us to keep ourselves at the top of our priority list at all costs. He makes us feel like we’re important and that we deserve whatever our heart desires. He cautions us against taking risks and stepping out in faith. He massages our aches and scratches our itches. And as much as we despise the sight of him, we love his company because he keeps us comfortable.

His name is Selfishness.

I’m still learning how to drown out his voice with the call of our selfless Lord, who bids us to follow in his steps and give our lives as a fragrant offering to God our Father in loving service of our neighbors.

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