A recent article pointed out the terrible state of many public restrooms in America compared to those in some other nations. I will spare you the more gross descriptions of the sorry state of some of those places! Apparently, we are not very conscious of our shared responsibility to help keep those ‘public’ places clean. What if we were committed to making sure to keep litter off of the floor, to wipe off the sink, out of respect for others? A public restroom which is ‘shared’ by everybody is felt to be ‘owned’ by nobody so paper towels get tossed in the corner, paper thrown on the floor next to the commode. The point is that some will feel none of the sense of responsibility that helps make life better for all.
I hear you asking, “Jerry, is there a point here?” Yes, there is. Selfless service is a mark of the true disciple’s life. As a culture we are increasingly careless in the use of words and in actions that diminish life’s beauty for others. The feeling that we are ‘community,’ that we share in making the world better is lost to a Self-centered view. One response is to create governing bodies that make more petty laws to compel us to do what we should do just because of common sense. What has happened to those inner discipline that tell us where the ‘boundaries’ of life should be and that cause us to give up some of our ‘space’ for the benefit of our neighbors?
Jesus took on the idea that Self is supreme on the night before His ultimate sacrifice. In a dramatic moment told in the Gospel, He got up from the table, took a towel and basin and knelt to wash His friends feet! Here’s the story. The disciples were fighting with each other about their relative importance. “Jesus loves me more than you.” Can you imagine a group of adult men acting so silly? It was the custom of the time to provide a servant to wash the tired, dirty feet of those who visited your home. But, this group had no servant, and none of them was about to take that role voluntarily. Jesus, though He was first in rank, set aside His status and personal advantage to serve.
When He finished the task, He said, “You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life. “ (John 13:13-17, The Message)
Are you prepared to serve, starting with something like picking up the trash, absorbing unfair criticism, doing what needs to be done even when there is no direct benefit to you?
What should be a ‘no-brainer’ in our churches is often forgotten in favor of self-interest, doing what is ‘best for me.’ Many fellowships are torn apart, not by outside attack, but by strife on the inside. If we bring Self-interest to church with us we will never ‘take up the towel of service.’ Where this person says he wants only a certain kind of music used in worship, that person wants all the church’s attention focused on a specific ministry, and another wants only to hear sermons about prophecy, you will find a church that is hampered by power plays, people pressuring those in leadership offices to do what they want done – now. The Word tells us that “where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16, NIV)
Jesus taught the ideal of community life and mutual benefit in a homely way. Let me encourage you to forget about yourself and to start being a servant. Pick up your neighbor’s trash.
- When you’re about to say something, think about how it will sound to the ones who hear your words.
- When you’re ready to take action, ask yourself, “Who benefits most? Me, or We?”
- When somebody trespasses onto ‘your’ space, steps on your toes, fails to notice your needs – pray for the Holy Spirit to change your response from defensive reflex to authentic love.
Here’s a word that challenged me this morning. Let the Spirit use it to speak to you. “If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior:
Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!
If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back?
Run-of-the-mill sinners do that.” (Luke 6:29-32, The Message)
Lord, you’ve handed me a tough assignment,
asking me to be a servant.
Everything in my human nature screams
for soothing and I love to be served.
The ‘big lie’ about being served as the way to happiness is so seductive.
I cannot consistently be a servant in my own strength, or by my own resolve.
So, I pray- change my very nature, O Spirit of God.
Break the grasp of selfishness in me.
Let me see again the depth of Your suffering for me,
suffering I caused by my willful rejection of God and good.
Then, convict me and compel me, by the lessons of grace,
into a life of Loving service; that allows Your beauty to be seen in me and
in the world which I help to create by my words and actions.
For Jesus sake, I pray. Amen.