It’s ironic, right? “I’ll serve, but…” And yet all-too-often I find this to be the masked mentality of my heart when it comes to serving others. This past week’s relief trip to Joplin was a really good reminder for me of the mixed intentions I easily fall prey to in the midst of serving. If I examine myself closely, I often find a plethora of thoughts waging war inside my heart: “I want to serve, I really do. But I want to do it my way. I want it to be convenient, and a little recognition for it would be nice too.” Maybe you can relate?In Joplin, I knew what I was getting myself in to. I had seen the pictures, watched the videos, and read the horrific stories in the newspapers. I knew the work would be challenging, both physically and mentally. I was prepared. And yet, in the midst of laboring alongside others, I found myself faced with a deep-rooted selfishness that desired comfort, convenience, and even recognition. I didn’t want to fold clothes; I wanted to do the “real” work. I wanted to get my hands dirty. I wanted to sweat and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. The irony here is obvious. I was there to serve, but to serve who? Myself and my expectations, or the victims of a deadly tornado? Unfortunately the answer is both.
In reflecting on this, I was reminded of the life of Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate example of servanthood. He entered into the world, born in a manger. Lived a holy and pleasing life but was mocked, beat, and tortured on the cross. And for what?
Matthew 20:28 tells us, “… the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus didn’t come to the world for himself. He didn’t come to feel useful. He didn’t need a sense of accomplishment. He humbly came to serve us so that we might know who He is, and one day spend our lives in eternity with him. Jesus came to sacrifice Himself for others.
I reflect on these thoughts not with a cynical view of our ability to serve genuinely, but as a reminder and warning to myself of the necessity to check my motives for doing so. I want to grow more deeply in being motivated to serve out of a response to what Christ has done on the cross; a response to the grace and mercy that’s been shown to me.
What are your motives for serving? Are they self-serving? Do you volunteer on your own conditions? Are you seeking recognition for your service? If you’re like me at all, then I think we need to ask ourselves these questions a lot more.