The phrase that hosts of short-term missions hear from every group is, “I’m leaving with so much more than I came with.” People are amazed by their own emotional and spiritual reaction to serving others. This joy might be a new experience for them, but it is familiar to most short-term mission participants. There are some universal truths about people; we are more alike than most people want to believe. One universal truth is that we are designed to serve others. Service is where joy is found, this is where our purpose is found. Service is putting our faith into action. Service is important. So why is this so hard for so many people to embrace?
The heart for service is like any other muscle, the more we use it, the more it grows, and the easier things become. We are designed to serve in the same way we are designed to move. If we sit and read about exercise, but never actually get out of our recliner, almost nothing happens. There are some results: we get fat, we are unable to fight off illness, and we go downhill fast. We see this in many people, we might see it in a mirror. Today, around the world, obesity is a much more significant threat to many populations than starvation. Humanity is literally eating itself to death, staring at our phones. We know we should diet and exercise, we feel and look better when we do, but then tacos, bacon, and chocolate come into the picture. We are a week species (myself included). How many people in the church are spiritually obese? How many people are always taking in and never putting it into action, never moving from their spiritual recliner?
Service is the equivalent of our physical exercise. It’s what we are designed to do, and it is essential for longterm spiritual health. But, like overeating and sitting on our butts, NOT serving others is the much easier path. Looking after our comfort, enjoyment, and good times is the natural path to take. Self-interest and lack of service in our lives might be enjoyable short-term, but long-term it leads to spiritual obesity, spiritual weakness, and death.
Service does not create life, but it sustains life. It keeps our spiritual heart healthy, just like human beings are designed to move, we as spiritual beings are intended to serve others. Exercise does not give us life, breath, and a heartbeat, that is a free gift from God. But what we do with that life, breath, and heartbeat matters. If we sit and do nothing, and appreciate our heartbeat, and feel our own breath, but do nothing with it, what is the point? We are physical beings that are designed to move and be active in the same way we are spiritual beings called to represent Christ. Christ’s nature was a perfect humble servant. He spent his time here among us focused on service. Christ is our example.
We see the benefits of service in the many mission groups that visit us here in Mexico, and we know the benefit of service to others in the children we care for in our orphanage. It heals them emotionally and spiritually as they learn to look past themselves and their own experiences and look to the needs of others. Service, like exercise and diet, blesses us in small ways every time, it also gets easier over time.
So how do we grow our servant’s heart, how do we put service into action? The same way we become physically healthy. One step and one diet choice at a time. With every step we take, every weight we lift, we become a little stronger. Every time we choose a salad over pasta, we lose a little weight. Over time small decisions change us physically. We can not become fit in one intense weekend. We become fit over months of consistent, healthy choices. A servant’s heart is built the same way.
Small steps in service, over time, change us. It’s moving our faith from concept to practice as we take on the image of Christ and learn to serve those around us. The kind word to someone in a store, the offer to give someone a ride who needs it, the encouraging message to someone we know is hurting, the quiet prayer for others, are all small decisions that show Christ’s love to others. As we make these small decisions, we are changed incrementally, over time, into the servants we are meant to be.
I don’t think anyone ever becomes the perfect servant. I know genuinely amazing Christians who have their bad days, who snap at people, who want to hide from the world. I’ve been there, more often than I want to admit. No one is perfect, in diet, exercise, or service, but as those little decisions get better and become a habit and a lifestyle, we change for the better.
Work on your service exercise plan, embrace the healthy service lifestyle, you will be better for it.
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DJ, thanks for the challenge. And thanks for taking Heb 10:24 to heart. We need it!