Service to Others

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Service to Others

 …whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve… Matthew 20:26b-28a

In what we call The Golden Rule, Jesus tells us to treat others as we want them to treat us.[1]  It is an early call to servanthood, and one that Jesus modeled throughout his ministry. Serving others is not only a nice thing to do, it is also an effective tool for personal spiritual development. Most of us spend far too much time thinking about ourselves, what we want, and what we believe we deserve. Serving others gets our minds off ourselves and onto someone else and their needs, at least for a time.

There are several considerations when preparing to serve others. First is the question: In what ways am I gifted to serve? There are usually several ways we can help meet a need. If someone is hungry, we can give him or her money to buy something to eat. We can also buy something to give to them. We can fix food for them, or we can offer to drive them to a food pantry. There is always something helpful we can do, even if it is just to acknowledge the other as a fellow child of God.

Another consideration has to do with finding out what the other person wants. Jesus often asked of those seeking his help what he or she wanted from him. When we assume we know what another person wants, we are most likely seeing their situation through our own biases instead of through their eyes. To know, in most cases, we must ask. In addition, asking what another person needs helps to affirm his or her personhood. To assume we already know can come across as arrogant.

Perhaps the most important consideration, at least from a spiritual development standpoint, is to ask ourselves this question: Can I serve this person freely and without any expectation of a return? Will I resent helping this person if they do not say “Thank you,” or offer any other sign of appreciation? If I give them money and see them coming out of a liquor store a few minutes later, will I regret having tried to help them? Jesus encourages us to give with no expectation of return. If we cannot give unconditionally, we may be giving to meet our own need for recognition more than a desire to actually help someone else.

In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”[2] Certainly, there are some phases of our lives where it is more difficult to be a cheerful giver. If our schedule is unavoidably overloaded, or if we are in some deep need ourselves, we might need to wait until we have a better handle on our own lives. If our lives are always too busy to serve others, however, we probably need to examine our priorities.

From a scientific standpoint, the Golden Rule is Jesus’ equivalent to Newton’s Third Law of Physics, which reads, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”[3] By opposite, this law does not mean that when we do something helpful for another we will receive something unhelpful in return. Rather, it means that the measure of kindness we extend will return in the opposite direction or back to us – like a rubber ball thrown against a hard surface. It is the law of cause and effect, or the law of Karma, if you prefer. Unfortunately, this law is nearly impossible to observe in action because we expect to see the rebound from our kind acts immediately. Sometimes we do, but more often than not, those reactions do not occur in sequential time and maybe not even in this lifetime. Sometimes, the rebound from our kindness goes to others, as when kind acts are paid forward to others. The point is that we are to give without expectation of a personal return, secure in the knowledge that there will be a return somewhere, sometime. No good deed is wasted.

Regardless, the best way to receive the service, kindness, and understanding of others is to act in serving, kind, and understanding ways to others. It is humbling and freeing to regularly focus on needs other than our own. Our faith should assure us we are already in good hands.

This is the 16th in the series of Life Notes titled, Praying With One Eye Open.

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[1] Matthew 7:12

[2] 2 Corinthians 9:7


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