Thoughts on Service

We do hard things.

This is something we say at the school where I teach. Often, we say it multiple times a day. It’s an encouragement and a reminder. It’s necessary because the children we teach want things to be easy, and when they encounter something difficult, they want to bolt. Their instinct is to shy away from it, to quit, to pursue something that comes more easily and more naturally. They don’t enjoy struggle or hardship; they much prefer to breeze through life doing whatever they please, whenever they please.

Does that sound familiar?

“We do hard things” is something I need to hear at least as often as my students do. Like them, when I encounter something difficult, my inclination is to quit. I don’t want to do it. I would much rather watch my favorite show on Netflix, thanks. (It’s The Great British Baking Show, if you’re wondering.) We never have to be trained to spend time pursuing our own pleasure. It comes as naturally as breathing. If you have a toddler in your home, I’d be willing to bet good money that you don’t have to plead with them to play with their toys (or your kitchen utensils); they do it without being asked. As humans, we’re happy to serve ourselves and seek our own comfort. It’s easy.

Serving others is hard. It requires our resources, our energy, our time. It’s a sacrifice. No matter the way in which we serve someone else, it necessitates time away from serving ourselves. We’re weary. We’re busy, oh, so busy. We’re stretched thin and have so many responsibilities, the thought of adding another thing makes us want to weep. We have to fight to get ourselves there, and sometimes we have to struggle with our children to get them there, too.

So why do it? Why do the hard thing? We do it because Jesus commands us to. In John 13, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Surely, this was not an enjoyable task. Their feet were dirty. It would not have been a pleasant experience, but Jesus did it anyway. He set aside his own comfort for the sake of others. He used his time and energy for other people – including one person that he knew was about to betray him, and one that would deny him. When he finished, he said, “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 13:12b-15, ESV) Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the one by whom, for whom, and through whom all things were created, humbled himself to serve others, and calls you to do the same.

Just a few chapters earlier in John 10, Jesus is describing his role as the shepherd. We’re the sheep. He says that the sheep follow the shepherd because they know him – they know his voice. They trust him. They know that the shepherd wants what is best for them and cares for them. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” If our good shepherd tells us do something, we can trust that it is for our good. Even when it’s difficult, even when we don’t want to, we can know that he is calling us to abundant life. We can trust that he knows what will bring life more than we do.

Serving others is not easy, but it’s worth doing. It’s worth overcoming the weariness, the lack of excitement, perhaps even the dread. It’s worth rearranging your schedule, eliminating a few other commitments, to create freedom to serve others. It’s worth training your children in, even when they don’t yet see the value. Following Christ is not easy. Over and over again, our flesh must be overcome in obedience to him. The call is: “Come and die.” We die to our sin, die to our flesh, die to our selfish desires, so that we can be raised to new, abundant life in him. We do hard things. We do them because our good shepherd bids us follow him, and he will never lead us astray.

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