Essay / Culture

For The Love of Service

Have you ever had a week that was so taxing that the only thing that keeps you going is the belief that it can only continue for so long? I recently had one of those weeks. I had finally made it to the Saturday following the aforementioned week. I was anticipating a day of rest and relaxation, catching up on some emails, and spend time with my wife and the kids.

Then the phone rang, and I should have remembered what the Bible says in James about making plans…

I knew better than to answer the phone because nothing good can come from a phone call in the early afternoon on a Saturday. Only trouble calls early on a Saturday afternoon. No one calls to say, “Hey, just called to let you know that I am lying on the couch with the kids, and overdosing on junk food and Looney Tunes.” So, I intercepted my daughter who was diving for the phone. I told her not to answer it, but I did listen to the message.

The person who left the message was a friend of ours (of my wife and I) whose husband was out of town until late Sunday night. Her plumbing decided that this was the opportune moment to regurgitate sewage back into all of the plumbing fixtures that are not built for housing such swill, and she was desperately looking for some help.

As I listened to the message I could feel my leisurely Saturday slipping away. For a moment, I considered ignoring it. I had earned this restful Saturday, and, anyway, who would know if I didn’t call her back? Reluctantly, I picked up the phone, and I waved goodbye to my restful Saturday.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of using a roto-rooter you don’t know what you are missing. Imagine wrestling with a 100 foot python that is coved with all matters of waste; whose manic movements cannot be predicted with any certainty–even by someone with a degree in quantum mechanics. (As a bonus throw in an inquisitive child asking, “Paul is that hard?” as I was tangled up in its infernal coils.)

As I wrestled with this sewage snake, and in the process became covered in a substance that was most likely responsible for starting the “Black Plague” in Europe, I grappled with why I chose to give up my well-earned Saturday. Here are some of the reasons (I am not proud of them) I was helping on the Saturday afternoon in question:

I find myself doing things because of the principle of reciprocity. I have this 100 foot tall tree that needs trimming, and now he can’t say no.

I would rather just avoid the potential conflict. I don’t want them to find out that I was home all Saturday, and that I didn’t lend a hand.

Reciprocity part deux: I owed him for helping me put in a new water heater.

I would get praised for what I did. If someone at church asked about my weekend, I would have to share about my Saturday, and how I sacrificed–then I could bask in the glory of my generosity.

I have bad theology. Either I don’t want God to be mad at me or I wanted God to bless me strictly because of my actions. C.S. Lewis calls this, in his book Mere Christianity, making a “kind of bargain with God.”

The more I thought about this the more I realized I was a mix of competing motivations–most of which were not Christian. What was most alarming was that no could even guess at my bad motivations, because externally my actions appeared beyond reproach.

Somewhere deep within, God, through his Spirit, was moving through the muck that was inside of me, and asking me about my improper motivations. I came to realize that I needed to help out my friend and neighbor because of Christ’s love for them, and because they too are made in God’s image–not because of what I gained from my service.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way in the chapter on “Charity” in Mere Christianity, “But whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more…” It is because we see God’s immeasurable love for us and others that we are able to properly serve.

It is amazing how God uses our own acts of self-righteousness to humble us and remind us of the true nature of service. As the Apostle Paul states in I Corinthians 13, without the love of Christ as the core of our acts of service we will achieve nothing. Thankfully, God is gracious to us and uses our acts of service, as broken as they are, for his glory.

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