This will be a Thought for the Week for EBA Churches some time in August – but you read it here first folks!
Every Christian serves God. Whenever we love our neighbour and whenever we share our faith, it is God we are serving. Ministers and deacons and home group leaders and those who work with children and young people are all serving God in different ways. But at times serving God in the church and in the world can become difficult and demanding and even painful. Many of us have found this to be true particularly over the last very strange year.
So what motivates our service? What helps us to keep going? To do the simple menial tasks, behind the scenes and not just when we are in the spotlight? To do the jobs nobody wants to do. To go the extra mile, when nobody is looking? Why do we do it? What motives could we possibly have which will keep us serving God when the going gets tough? As it does.
Here are six possible motives why pastors and teachers and leaders take on those responsibilities and at the same time equally why any Christian might serve God in any way in the church and in the world. All of these are good biblical reasons for serving. But I want to suggest to you that they are of increasing importance. The later motives will be of the greatest value to us when serving God stops being glamorous and exciting and becomes impossibly difficult! Why do we serve God?
Because of the needs of the people
Of course the needs of all the people we are serving are important; material and emotional and health needs as much as spiritual needs. But we do not serve people because we have seen their needs and think that we could make much of a difference. That is a weak motive because however hard we work, however much of ourselves we give, we will never ever make a visible hole in that mountain of needs! Keeping our eyes on the needs, and looking all the time to see what difference we are making, is a recipe for discouragement and depression. We should never rely on “seeing results” as our motivation for serving God. We can never measure our “success” or “failure” in God’s work. The Kingdom of God is the seed growing secretly, underground and out of sight. We will not see the signs of growth until the harvest at the end of the age. Seeing the vast needs of this troubled world is not by itself enough motivation for serving.
Because we care about the people
It is right and good that we care for the people God calls us to serve. The lesson we learn from the bad example of the Pharisees is that it is always better to serve out of love than out of duty. But loving people is not enough. Because at time people can be very hard to love! After decades as a minister I sometimes feel that Snoopy got it right. “I love humanity, I just can’t stand people.” When we are serving God, the devil loves to attack that work by bringing division and disagreement and lack of trust between even the closest of friends. It is good to start off loving people. But that will not be enough!
Because God loves the people
Now we are making progress. Our task is not to love people in our own strength. Our task is to take God’s love to people! Our service for God must be based on the fact that the love God has for people is infinitely greater than our love for those people. God’s love for them is greater than we can possibly imagine! When our patience with them runs out, God’s patience never runs out. When our love for the people we are serving and caring for and pastoring and teaching runs out, God’s love for them will never run out! When we want to give up, God’s love never gives up! So we serve God and we serve people because God loves those people.
Because Christ gives us an example
At the last Supper Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. We read in John 13:14-15 Jesus said, Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
Jesus came not to be served but to serve and he shows us what being a servant means. Not glamorous. Not exciting. Not pleasant. Being a servant is hard work; long hours with no reward. But we serve others because Christ has set us an example which we should follow in his steps. All Christians should follow that example, summed up in a famous prayer written by Richard of Chichester:
Lord give us the grace to serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To labour and not to ask for any reward,
Except that of knowing that we are doing your will.
That is what it means to serve God and to serve other people.
Because God has commanded us
Nobody should take on any tasks serving in the church or in the world, and certainly not become a pastor or a teacher or a leader, just because they want to. We should only be doing the tasks God calls us and sends us to do. We serve because we know God has called us to serve. But in any tasks we undertake the hard part is not starting the work but keeping on going. When everything seems to be going wrong, and nothing seems to be working. When the going has got so tough that the tough have long since packed their bags and gone home. When we aren’t seeing any results and it seems that the whole world and even everybody in the church is against us. When we feel that even God has given up on us. When a time like that comes, being there “because God commanded me” will not seem to be enough of a reason to stay! That darkest hour may come, when all the other motives why we should serve God count for absolutely nothing. So let me give you the most important reason why we serve, why some become pastors and teachers and leaders and why every Christian serves God.
You serve because God loves you
God loves YOU! More than any other reason – this is the reason to cling on to. God loves you! Never forget this glorious truth. God loves you so much that He gave His only Son to die for your sins so that He could make you His child. God loves you so much that He has come to live within you as the Holy Spirit. God loves you – and nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate you from that love God has for you. That is why we serve God. Because He loves us. “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19) We love God and we love others because God loved us first. The love which we ourselves have received inspires and sustains us to love other people. Why do we go out into the world as Ambassadors for Christ? As the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “Christ’s love compels us” It is not our love for Christ that matters. It is the infinite love Christ has shown for us which compels us to serve God! In the hardest of times it is only our own personal experience of just how much God loves us which will be sufficient to keep any of us firm carrying on in serving God. God loves you! May God give us each one of us the strength to carry on serving him today.
So let us learn how to serve, and in our lives enthrone Him;
Each other’s needs to prefer, for it is Christ we’re serving.