When my wife and I considered having kids, we worried we weren’t ready. In response, a friend of ours commented, “If you wait till you feel ready, you’ll never do it.”
It’s often the same with serving. There are constantly things getting in the way of our feeling ready to serve.
Serving When Too Busy
Life has a lot of responsibilities, and it would be nice to get a few of them sorted out before adding regular service.
Jesus encountered several people with a similar mindset:
To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-62)
If you think that you’ll start serving after you get things squared away, you won’t. There’s always some excuse not to serve. Jesus doesn’t want your excuses, he wants you. If you’re too busy to serve, then you are too busy.
Serving When Spiritually Weak
Perhaps you feel unworthy to serve. This is one of my struggles—how could God use someone like me? 1 Corinthians 1:27 reminds us that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Knowing you are weak is a wonderful starting point for service. It’s where Simon Peter started from when Jesus called him. Seeing the power and holiness of Jesus, Simon “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8b). Like he did with Simon, Jesus uses people of contrite spirits to do his work, using that work to expand their capacity for service.
Serving When Not Gifted
Knowing your God-given gifts is a great step in determining where you may be of most use. However, spiritual gifts aren’t the only metric by which we gauge our ability to serve. There may be times when a great need, a wonderful opportunity, or a change in circumstance may be a better indicator.
In Nehemiah, people come together to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. With God’s guidance, they overcome opposition and hardship to complete their task. In Chapter 3, there is a description of the people doing the work: priests, goldsmiths, perfumers, merchants; men and women even came from other towns to help. Wall building was likely not a skill any of them natively possessed, but the need was there.
A perceived lack of gifting in an area may cause you to think that your contribution will be small or substandard. The contribution of the woman who gave her two coins to the offering in Luke 21:2 was small but greatly blessed because she gave all she had.
Ezra worked with Nehemiah on the walls of Jerusalem, and then also on the temple. Ezra records that “many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid” (Ezra 3:12.) Some of their weeping was due to the comparison of the new temple to the old and finding the new lacking. But Haggai gives us a glimpse of how God sees their service:
Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?…The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:3,9)
Some areas of service require a level of competence, but even then there are often ways to serve if you are willing to be humble and teachable.
You should not avoid service from worry that you will serve inadequately. The Lord is not constrained by the quality of our efforts; he brings himself glory in all circumstances. So serve him in your mediocrity, and he will glorify that service as he sees fit.
Serving When Hurt
It’s hard to serve God and others when we are in pain, especially if that pain is caused by those we are serving.
The week leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion must have been consistently painful: as he entered triumphantly on Palm Sunday, he knew that in just a week he would be killed; as he washed his disciples’ feet, he knew they would all run when he was taken; as he ate dinner with them, he knew Peter would deny him and Judas would betray him. Yet, Jesus went willingly into the pain of the cross to serve God and us. He bore the sins of those who spat on him and murdered him.
Jesus suffered this way to pay the penalty for our sin and reconcile us to God, and also that we would know that he understands our suffering. We can feel confident to find solace and comfort in Jesus because he has also suffered.
We must remember that in his suffering, Jesus continued to serve God by doing the work he was given.
As should we.
Serving Courageously and Constantly
In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the parable of the talents. A master calls his servants together and gives them each some money. The first servant receives five chests of money, the second. two chests, and the last receives one. The first and second servants use the money in trade and commerce and double their money. The last servant is afraid of losing the money, so he buries it. When the master returns, he rewards the first two servants, and punishes the last servant for doing nothing.
None of the servants were judged on the basis of the amount they returned to the master, but instead on the faithful use of what they were given.
We have all been given something—gifts, experience, opportunity, counsel, desire, or eyes that see needs. Our work is to be faithful in what we are given, whatever it is, whenever it is, or however we feel about it.