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The Heart of a Servant

Energize your spiritual life through service by forgetting your limitations, being a team player, being willing to get your hands dirty, and turning your job into a ministry.


We're in the final week of a series called Fuel for the Soul. We've been talking about things you can do to turbo-charge your spiritual life—to bring an added intensity to your relationship with God. We've talked about practicing the discipline of silence and solitude, making your soul quiet in the presence of God so that you can hear his voice. We've talked about practicing the discipline of Lectio Divina—transformational Bible study—reading the Word of God and applying it to your life on a daily basis. We've talked about practicing the discipline of fasting—the habit of skipping meals for a day or two in order to focus on experiencing a deeper connection to God. Today we'll look at the discipline of service.

We all have a tendency to occasionally get off track in these areas, and our spiritual lives suffer as a result. Getting off track is rarely an intentional decision. It usually happens little by little. We get busier and busier, so we skip a day of prayer here and there. We put off our Bible study, thinking, "I'll catch up tomorrow." We say, "I'm too stressed to fast this week, I'll do it next week." Next week becomes next month, and we never get to it.

It's the same way with service. No one says, "I think I'll stop doing things for God. I think I'll become a backslider." It just sort of happens. Our schedule gets filled up with other things, and service to the kingdom of God gets edged out. Pretty soon, if we're not careful, we find that we're not doing anything to benefit anyone other than ourselves. If we're not careful, our Christian life can become just about "me, me, me—my problems, my prayer list, my blessings," and on and on.

Are you under stress? Have you got problems? I know a great way to forget about them. Get involved in helping others. I know a pastor who was counseling a woman on the verge of nervous breakdown. She was powerless against the multitude of problems she faced, and she asked her pastor, "What can I do? What can I do?" He asked, "If I tell you what to do, will you do it?" She said, "Yes." Knowing that her schedule included free time during the week, and that she loved to cook, he said, "On Monday, I want you to bake some bread. On Tuesday afternoon, take it to the nursing home. Go into the common area where everyone watches TV and plays checkers, pass out the bread and talk to people. Stay for at least an hour. Don't worry about not knowing anyone; you'll know them all before you leave. On Wednesday, bake cookies. On Thursday afternoon, take them to the children's hospital and find a worker to help you pass them out to the kids who most need a visitor. Talk to as many of them as you can. Stay for at least an hour. On Friday, come back and see me."

It was obvious, as she left his office that day that she didn't think much of his plan. The following Friday, he was disappointed that she didn't keep her appointment. About three weeks later she came to see him again. "Sorry I haven't been back sooner," she said, "I'm working at the cancer center everyday, and I've been so busy. Our Sunday School class is taking on this project together." He said, "But how about you? How are you coping?" "Coping with what?" she asked. "Everything's fine. All those things I was worried about before, I've forgotten them."

Jesus said, "Whoever loses his life for me will find it" (Matthew 16:25). We see this principle at work when we lose ourselves in service to him. As you read the Gospels, you see again and again that Jesus challenges us to devote our lives to living for others. In fact, he equates serving others with serving God. Listen to his words …

"The king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The king will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'" (Matthew 25:34–40).

Do you want to come alive spiritually? Do you want to put your Christian life into overdrive? Then put this principle to practice: Serve somebody. Jesus said, "The greatest among you will be your servant" (Matthew 23:11). Today we'll talk about what it takes to become a servant. There are four things I want you to take note of. First of all …

Forget about your limitations.

I know people who won't get involved in ministry because they believe they aren't good enough. They're waiting till they rid themselves of personal flaws before they begin to help people—it doesn't work that way. In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren points out that God uses imperfect people. He says: "Abraham was old, Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive, Joseph was abused, Moses stuttered, Gideon was poor, Samson was codependent, Rahab was immoral, David had an affair and all kinds of family problems, Elijah was suicidal, Jeremiah was depressed, Jonah was reluctant, Naomi was a widow, John the Baptist was eccentric to say the least, Peter was impulsive and hot-tempered, Martha worried a lot, the Samaritan woman had several failed marriages, Zacchaeus was unpopular, Thomas had doubts, Paul had poor health, and Timothy was timid. That is quite a variety of misfits, but God used each of them in his service. He will use you too if you stop making excuses."

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a pastor about one of the local relief ministries. He expressed some doubt about the leader's qualifications, stating that he had been divorced and his business had failed. I said, "No one else is doing what he is doing. He may be imperfect, but he's helping those that none of the perfect people in this town care to help."

You don't wait until you're perfect to start doing good. In fact, it's by doing good that you become spiritually strong, spiritually mature. Helping others leads to holiness. Don't let your limitations stand in the way of your service to others.

Be a team player

In his book, None of These Diseases, S. I. McMillen tells about a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application that asked, "Are you a leader?" Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, "No," and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: "Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower."

We need leaders, no question about it. However, we need leaders who are also able to follow. We need leaders who are able to be team players. If you're not able to follow, you're not ready to lead. One man at the church told me, "If I don't work in an area of leadership, I'm squandering my talent." Maybe so—but in the area he wants to work, we don't leaders, we need workers. And, unfortunately, he's not interested.

He reminds me of when I coached the Little League All Star team, one of the players decided to quit after the first game. I asked why and his dad told me, "If he can't start, he doesn't want to play." Actually, it was that attitude that prevented him from being a starter. Even though we were called "All Stars," I really wasn't looking for stars; I was looking for team players.

Leonard Bernstein, director the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, once said the hardest instrument to play is second fiddle. He said, "There are plenty of people who want to be first violinists, but to find someone willing to play second chair—in any section of the orchestra—is a problem. But without a second, there is no harmony."

When you look for opportunities to serve others, remember to be a team player.

Be willing to get your hands dirty.

Our church has a rule that those who minister in high profile or "prestige" positions are expected also to serve in a low profile capacity elsewhere. The fact of the matter is there can be a lot of ego involved in some aspects of ministry. Certain people might be drawn to these areas simply because they enjoy the recognition and adulation that comes with it. Requiring that each member also be involved in other types of ministry—such as the nursery, kids ministry, nursing home, lawn maintenance, and so on—tends to discourage those with less than honorable motives from getting involved.

My friend, who is a worship leader, is trying to implement this policy at his church, and his team of prima donnas is fighting him every step of the way. He told me last week, "It might be me and my wife with a guitar and tambourine for the next six months, if that's how long it takes to recruit people with a servant's heart."

I'm both a preacher and a worship leader, so I'm in front of a crowd a couple of times a week. Do you know what I've learned? The "high-profile" type of ministry is exhausting. The "low profile" type of ministry is exhilarating. Doing construction work, yard work, Vacation Bible School, food distribution—these things may wear you out physically, but they're spiritually invigorating.

I encourage you to find an area of ministry that offers no glamour, no prestige. An area where you can serve in obscurity. An area that might be a little demanding physically. An area that causes you to get your hands a little dirty in the process. This is where real ministry takes place, where we meet with people one-on-one, where they live, serving them in practical ways.

Turn your job into a ministry.

If you have a job, you have the opportunity to minister. In Today's Christian Woman, Linda Clare told about her job of being a "mere" childcare provider. She was often tempted to complain about it, thinking certainly God had something better for her than "just babysitting." Then one day, a father who came to pick up his toddler said to her, "You taught Kasey to pray. She says grace at home now, and my wife and I are thinking of attending church." Linda says that suddenly God's direction became clear for her. Now, when others ask what she does for a living, she smiles and says, "I 'just' babysit for the Lord."

You have the chance to turn your work—no matter how unspectacular it may be—into a full-time ministry by offering your work to God and looking for opportunities to serve others. I encourage you to do this: Define your job by the benefit it brings to others. When people ask my friend, who is a financial adviser, what he does for a living, he says, "I bring people to an early retirement by helping them reach their financial goals." He could say, "I manage millions of dollars of investments," or, "I play the stock market all day long"—but he defines his work by what he does for others because he sees it as a ministry. I have another friend who is an attorney specializing in adoptions. He says about his job, "I bring families together."

What do you do? "I help children build a future." "I encourage everyone who enters my store." "I cook burgers for all those stressed out people who deserve a break today." Define your work by the benefit it provides, and pursue it as a way of serving others.


To conclude this message I want to suggest three ways to structure the habit of service into your life. First of all …

Random Daily Acts. You've heard the cliché about doing your good deed for the day. Try it. Look for opportunities to do something good for someone else. Something for which you receive neither compensation nor recognition. A random act of kindness done as anonymously as possible. If you're life is stressed to the breaking point, then I challenge you to give this a try. When you first wake up, instead of thinking about all the trials and tribulations you must endure, ask this instead, "Lord, who can I bless today?"

An ongoing, structured environment. Get involved in an organized ministry that requires your continued involvement—weekly or, at least, monthly. A ministry such as yard crew, church cleanup, nursing home, kids church, and so on.

Something big each year. We always offer a couple of mission projects in Central and South America each year; you can get in on one of those. Or you can be a counselor at church camp. Or you can put together your own team to help fix-up someone's home over the weekend. At least once a year, look for a big project to tackle.

Jesus said, "He who loses his life"—and he's talking serving him sacrificially—"he who loses his life for me will find it." We serve him, he said, by serving others. "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Do you want to add fuel to your spiritual life? Serve Jesus today—serve him by serving others.

© Steve May, 2005
A resource of Christianity Today International

Steve May has been a pastor to pastors for more than 20 years, helping preachers and teachers to become more effective communicators of the gospel.

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Sermon Outline:


If we're not careful, our Christian life can become just about me, me, me—my problems, my prayer list, my blessings, and on and on.

I. Forget about your limitations.

II. Be a team player.

III. Be willing to get your hands dirty.

IV. Turn your job into a ministry.


Structure the habit of service into your life with random daily acts of kindness, an ongoing, structured environment of service, and a big service project each year.