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Volunteering or Serving?

Tuesday Vesper Reflection on Jesus' invitation to serve others.

by Abi Foerster on October 17, 2023

Matthew 20:20 - 28 (The Voice)

Jesus turned the values of his day upside down when he identified serving as the way to greatness.  Actually, his teachings turn the values of any time period upside down!  Success and greatness are defined by the world in terms of status, wealth and power.  Jesus calls his followers to set their own interests and well being aside in favor of the interests and well being of others.

Servanthood is different from volunteering our time, money, and energy.  Volunteering is about convenience; servanthood is about laying down our lives.  When we volunteer, we may feel good that we have donated our time and resources to a worthy cause, but we choose our level of involvement and set our own agendas.  Servants or stewards, however, carry out what their Lord asks them to do.  During his whole earthly life, Jesus served his Father and did only what he heard his Father tell him to do – even dying on the cross.  We in turn serve Jesus, our Lord, and Jesus unmistakably calls us to serve him by serving others.  Jesus willingly gave up his life for us, expecting nothing in return. 

In the same way, we sacrificially give of ourselves to others – whatever it takes, no strings attached.  We serve because Jesus calls us to serve, not because of the reward we expect or because we want a place of honor.  We serve because we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.

This past Sunday, we explored the ways that Moses and Aaron served in their own cultural context and place in history to help an entire people experience freedom.  We also considered the ways we might serve through the church and beyond the walls of the church today to help our community experience freedom in Christ.  Sometimes, our service leads us to make significant sacrifices of time, money and other resources – like serving on a week-long mission team with Habitat for Humanity or United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) in places like El Salvador, Honduras, or Ukraine.  Most times, our service leads us to offer simple acts of kindness to our family, friends, and neighbors.  Perhaps baking a pie and introducing ourselves to a new neighbor, washing the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, or driving a grandchild to a doctor’s appointment.

Sometimes, serving the people who have the closest and deepest connection with us is hardest.  Why do we struggle in our marriages, with our parents, our children or in other close relationships?  Why is it so tempting to expect those I love to serve me?  The Bible gives plenty of instructions on relationships and continually points out the importance of humbling ourselves and putting the other person first.  When we grasp that serving is about grown-up, other-centered love, it becomes easier to see the importance of setting our own wants aside and focusing on the needs of others.  In other words, it’s not all about me!

Translating our love for Jesus into love for others allows God’s love to be poured out through us.  We begin to grow up emotionally and spiritually and become better equipped to serve.

Care for people was at the center of Jesus’ heart.  In the home, workplace, community or church, servant leaders have the good of their followers at the center of their hearts and lay down their lives for them.  We don’t use our leadership positions for personal gain but for what we can give.  Jesus, our servant leader, humbled himself to leave heaven, come to earth, and fulfill his ultimate service on the cross.  Jesus gave his all to restore our relationship with God for all eternity.  In response, let us humbly give our all for others in Jesus’ name.

Reflection Questions…

  1. As you think back over the past week, when have you experienced serving others as more of an obligation rather than a joy? How could today’s scripture encourage a change in your outlook?
  2. As you think about applying the lessons learned from today’s Vespers to your work or home situation, what will you do differently this week?
  3. In which of your closest relationships is it easiest to serve? In which relationships do you most often expect to be served?  How do you balance meeting others’ needs with meeting your own?

Read Philippians 2:1 – 8 and then pray, “God, help me to have the attitude of Jesus.  Please provide clarity to me as I consider different ways that I might serve You, by serving others.  Amen.”

To join with others in praying for the needs of the world, check out these prayers from the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle.

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Tags: serving, volunteering