If you haven’t read my previous blog posts about my journey in discipline this year, I would recommend starting by reading my introductory blog here, as well as my other update blogs which you can find listed here.

What is True Service?

I like to say yes to people. If somebody in my life asks me to do something to help them, it’s pretty much a guarantee that I’ll say yes. Because of that, and generally what is life-giving for me, I have always considered myself to have a heart for service. As I’ve been learning this month through Celebration of Discipline, however, there’s a big difference between performing acts of service, and actually being a servant.

In this chapter on service, Richard Foster touches on many important points about practicing this discipline. One of these topics is the distinction he makes between self-righteous service and true service. He goes through quite a few differences, but there were three in particular that really stood out to me.

    1. Self-righteous service requires external rewards of being seen and appreciated. True service “Rests contented in hiddenness”; the approval of God is enough. (p. 128)
    2. Self-righteous service is insensitive and demands to help, even if it will be destructive. True service can withhold help as easily as it can give help. (p. 129)
    3. Self-righteous service fractures community by putting others into debt to the server. True service builds community; it “draws, binds, heals, builds.” (p. 129-130)

All of these distinctions, especially the third one, brought deep conviction to me. About point three above, Foster said it “becomes one of the most subtle and destructive forms of manipulation known” (p. 129). What’s terrible is that I talked about this exact struggle in my blog from last month, so we all know this is a problem in my life. I don’t want to be one who brings destruction, but instead one who cultivates life in my community through true service, not out of serving for my own self-glorification, but out of love for others.

This is certainly an issue in my heart as I’ve talked about before, but I’m committed to grow in this area and, by the grace of God, cut it out of my life. The difficult part for me now is differentiating what acts of service I’m doing out of genuine love and desire to serve those around me, and what is out of that nasty pride that keeps coming back up.

So how do we live out of humility? Foster’s answer is that we serve in hiddenness. “Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness” (p.130). When our pride rises up, our response should be to deny the flesh that wants to be recognized – the result will be the rise of grace and humility (p.131).

What Service Looks Like

As mentioned before, performing the acts of service doesn’t make us servants. Being a servant is a lifestyle, where you continually choose to sacrifice your own comfort, time, and life for the sake of others. This lifestyle of service can take many different forms, which Foster ends this chapter with. He goes into much more detail, but I’ve listed them below:

    • The service of hiddenness – hiddenness is a rebuke to the flesh and can deal a fatal blow to pride (p.134)
    • The service of small things – those frequent opportunities to help in small ways (p.135)
    • The service of guarding the reputation of others – actively avoiding gossip which causes division, and instead promoting unity through your words (p. 136)
    • The service of being served – true servants should graciously receive service, not feeling they must repay it (p. 136-137)
    • The service of common courtesy – acknowledging others and affirming their worth (p. 137)
    • The service of hospitality – “practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another” (1 Peter 4:9); making a space where people are welcome as they are to be together and share life (p. 137-138)
    • The service of listening – we don’t need to have all the answers, we simply need to be present and listen well in love (p. 138-139)
    • The service of bearing the burdens of each other – weeping with those who weep, and bearing the hurts and sufferings of others (p. 139)
    • The service of sharing the word of Life with one another – nobody hears God perfectly, thus we are dependent on one another to receive the full counsel of God (p. 139-140)

Over the past few months I have been stirred to find a place where I can serve in some kind of official compacity, and while that is absolutely a good thing and something I will continue to pursue, I don’t want to miss the little service opportunities happening all around me. My roommate, family, friends, church, coworkers, and even those around me that I don’t know, all have needs and desires, and though I can’t fulfill everything for them, even a small act of service can make them feel more seen and loved than they would have been without it. And I believe there is great power for transformation in that, as I’ve experienced through others loving me well in those ways. I want to live a lifestyle of service, not because I feel like I have to or because I want to be seen, but as an outpouring of love and light on the world around me. And of course I want to do all of this in partnership with Jesus, following his perfect example as the servant of all.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog. Whether you’ve been participating in this challenge yourself or not, I’d love to hear how you’ve practiced the discipline of service in the comment section below. Have a wonderful September, and I’ll see you back here next month for the Discipline of Confession!