I've been talking a lot about service here lately and it's been on my mind every day, especially in light of the Christmas season and the Be Rich Campaign (which I talked more about here, here, and here).
One issue, in particular, that keeps coming up in my mind is this: I always put service in a certain category, as though it should fit into a nice little box. It should always make us feel good, give us joy, and help us help the world.
But service is more than just doing good for others.
Service is sacrifice.
Andy likes to talk a lot about how Jesus was here to serve, as well he should. It's true. Jesus didn't come to tell us what to do but to show us how to do it. And when we see service done right, we want to help. I see it every week at our church: in the high school, middle school, and children's ministries, in guest services, in the bookstore, in global missions, in those bright, happy faces who greet me in the parking lot, at the door, and in our seats. I see it in the worship team who delight me with their joy and love for Christ. I see it in our small groups. I see it in Andy and the not-always-quiet, quirky way he challenges us to love more and give more. And when the Be Rich Campaign launches every year, I see it in the generosity of our church. Our goal this year was to give 1.5 million dollars. We raised that much in one day. By the end of three weeks, we had given over 4.5 million dollars. We have signed up to serve over 20,000 hours with our intersect partners (established charities that are already doing fantastic work in Atlanta). Over 18,000 shoe boxes were prepared to send overseas. And I don't tell you these numbers to boast (though I am incredibly proud of our church and how they love in action); I tell you this because I know that service can be pretty. I know that service is meaningful and, at times, so breathtaking it can knock you off your feet.
Lately, though, I'm seeing that service can be ordinary, plain, exhausting, and downright tedious.
Sometimes, service doesn't look like pretty boxes tied with ribbon or donation boxes filled with offerings. Sometimes it means getting lost because your GPS doesn't know how to find that random apartment in the south side. Or feeling your blood pressure rise because you're running from place to place trying to be here and get there and you're not sure how you'll ever get to sleep tonight knowing you have an early start in the morning. Or sitting through an orientation when all you can think is "Alright, I got it. Can I go and do now?" Or sending out emails and hoping that everyone will participate and no one will cancel and all will go smoothly.
I think we all want to serve in some way. We might do it simply because we feel convicted. We might do it because we're learning the art of being selfless. Or we might do it because we really love people. Sometimes we do it for all those reasons combined. And what I'm learning in this season is the sacrifice that comes along with service isn't just giving up time. It's giving up energy, and focus, and sleep, and a whole lotta me, me, me.
I'm grateful for the lesson, but I'm tired, too. Can I said that? Yes, I'm tired. I hate when I walk away feeling discouraged that the woman who received a meal didn't even say "thank-you". I should simply be glad we did a good work. And I am. Oh, I am. But it's hard when you can't see what comes after your service. Do people's lives really change? Are you really making a difference or showing them the love of Christ when you can't even sit down and have a conversation? I have a hard time just handing out money, or meals, or material things, although I know they are inexplicably important elements of service. Don't get me wrong. I just want to know why the service is needed in the first place. How did that lady end up all alone in her apartment with no food except what is given to her? Why is that man on the side of the road with nothing but a cardboard sign? How can we prevent these things before they happen?
I pray that Christ will show me the joy to be found even when I can't see past this moment. We learned a good deal about that in Kenya. We were helping to build a school, but the school wouldn't be finished in the time we were there. Others would come after us to complete it. We wouldn't see our finished work, but we left after nine days with this promise: "It will be finished."
In fact, it is finished. It was finished on the cross.
And even when service is hard, or not-so-pretty, it's still worth it. Because it helps answer the question that ails us so: Does God really care about me? Does He see my needs? Who will He send to help when I have no one else?
He already did. His name was Jesus. His name was Emmanuel, "God with us." And we are a part of Him. He finished the Good Work and we continue it. He gave us grace when we didn't deserve it. And we are to give others service even when we can't see what happens afterwards. Even when we're tired or frustrated. Even when we want to hit the snooze button.
We have the promise that it will be finished because it already was. And, through us, others will come to know that Truth.
"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, because of how you love one another."- John 13:35