Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why We Serve

Exhausted. Burned out. Running on empty.

Yesterday, I shared during my weekly office meeting about the fifth attribute of the fruit of the Spirit: Kindness. What is kindness? One way to understand kindness is to ask about the opposite of kindness. It can mean cruelty. It can also mean unkindness. Being nice is not necessarily kind. Being kind does not mean we have to be nice. One book I have been following is "The Fruitful Wife" by Hayley DiMarco. Though written primarily for wives, it has lots of application and tips for non-wives and men in general too. She writes about kindness as follows:
"Kindness is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me." (Hayley DiMarco)
Think about that. Like porcupines living close together, our prickly edges can hurt. It is the willingness to be hurt and hurt over and over again that keeps us together, regardless.

1) Distinguishing Kindness from Niceness

Kindness is about doing whatever we can in order to glorify God. It is in asking how can I exemplify the life of a disciple in my kindness? How do I show my best kindness so that Christ can shine through my acts and deeds? I have read somewhere that there is a difference between boys and girls. When boys fight or quarrel during a game, they let their anger flow easily into fists and punches. They fight openly. After the disciplinary actions, and the reprimands, they continue the rest of the game.

The same is not true of girls. When girls quarrel or fight, the anger does not simply end in fight-kiss-makeup manner. The  emotions can linger on. The hurts continue. The pain persists. The game ends abruptly.

While I do not want to stereotype boys and girls, there is a lesson here to remember. Men and women are made differently. They need different ways in which to resolve any differences. When men or women are hurt, they deal with the pain in very unique ways. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we all agree that we ought to be serving one another in love. What we fail to agree is the extent in which we follow through what we believe. That is why, from time to time, we need to ask ourselves why we serve. More importantly, we need to be reminded about Who we are serving.

Kindness is not niceness. Kindness is in essence another way to demonstrate grace. True authentic believers will let their kindness flow not out of societal expectation of niceness, but Christ-formed grace. See how DiMarco writes about kindness.
"Grace, as we probably all know, is the unmerited favor, divine mercy, or selfless lovingkindness shown by God to his sinful children. It was a kindness shown to us even while we were still enemies of God, dead in our own sinfulness (Eph. 2:1–5). This extreme grace, given with the aim of receiving nothing in return, is the ultimate example of kindness and the model of what it should look like in our lives." (Hayley DiMarco, The Fruitful Wife, Crossway, 2012, 107)
2) The Two Kindness Killers

For DiMarco, the opposite of kindness is "mercilessness." This is also described through the two major "kindness killers." The first is a "sense of justice." Many people have a strong sense of justice and fairness. We can easily see it in our children. It reflects a tit-for-tat culture so prevalent in our society. Unfortunately, the idea of grace goes against anything tit-for-tat. Jesus has said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42)
Impossible? That is why we need the Holy Spirit to help us.

While the Old Testament law has its place, true justice is always fulfilled beautifully with grace. It frees ourselves from being trapped by self-righteousness and a judgemental spirit. It frees us to letting God decide how to deal with those who have hurt us. One reason why a sense of justice is problematic is because it is less about a battle for holiness, but a fight for self-protection. DiMarco writes that our natural tendency toward hurts is either "fight or flight." From Jesus' teaching, instead of fight, we ought to turn the cheek. Instead of flight, we need to follow with a second mile, and not turn away from the need. The key thing is to learn to see the law from the eyes of grace. Kindness is a great way to demonstrate that. Kindness is a profound way to demonstrate love to others, the giving up of any personal right to retaliate. Jesus is trying to teach us to live counter-cultural.

The second "kindness killer" is more sinister. It is a "fear of rejection." It is an emotional tendency to be so self-conscious that we fail to see the opportunity to do good. Imagine if Jesus has this fear of rejection in the first place. He will not have walked into the trap set by Judas Iscariot. He will run away and hide in a cave for safety. No. Jesus prays. He asks to do God's will rather than to obey any human tendencies. Grace comes through in his kindness to people in words and in works.

"Mercy is rooted in kindness, because mercy, like grace, is given not on the merit of the one who messed up but on the unearned favor of the God who forgives." (Hayley Dimarco, The Fruitful Wife, p112)
Respond to any fear of rejection by accepting one another, just as God in Christ, accepted us.

3) Why We Serve?

This article has touched on the fruit of kindness as a reason to serve one another. When we serve one another, getting hurt or hurting others becomes a common occurrence. If I can prescribe one cure for not ever getting hurt at all, it is this: DO NOT SERVE.

If we are fearful of rejection, do not serve.

If we are always on a lookout for justice, do not serve.

If we are always calculating how much we can gain, do not serve.

If we are serving out of people's wishes, do not serve.

If you want to be servants of the Church, seek not a reason why you need to serve. For every reason you can think of in serving, there is always a counter-reason why NOT to serve.

If you want to be servants of the Church, seek not a method about how you serve. For every good method you can think of, there is always a corresponding method that is BETTER than how you are serving.

Instead, if you want to serve, let it flow out of your love for one Person. Let not the "why" or the "how" determine your reason for service. Let your motivation and convictions for serving be your pursuit of that Person of Jesus Christ. The 'why' reason can provide you answers. The 'how' reason can give you methods and strategies. For us as a Church, the WHO trumps the 'why' and the 'how.'

Let me close with the following from Thomas Kelly's classic book on devotion.

"Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is in our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life. It is a dynamic center, a creative Life that presses to birth within us. It is a Light Within which illumines the face of God and casts new shadows and new glories upon the face of men. It is a seed stirring to life if we do not choke it. It is the Shekinah of the soul, the Presence in the midst. Here is the Slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened, to become the soul we clothe in earthly form and action. And He is within us all." (Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, p3)

Christ is within us. Let us share His glory in our life, through our service.

Why do we serve? Let it be because of this one Person Jesus. Let it be because we want to honour the Son of God. Let it be because service is a privilege.

The moment we move our eyes away from this Person, toward seeking other kinds of reasons, for self-fulfilment, or obligations, we will become distracted. Serve not because you are asked to, or because you have to. Serve because you love to. More importantly, serve so that the Christ that is in you, will be made known to all in your service, in your works, and in your kindness.

Remember the parable about the man who found a great pearl in the land? Let them remind us all over again, how much we love that great pearl in Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." (Matthew 13:44-46)

For those of us who are serving, we need to be reminded from time to time. How valuable is the pearl that you have found? Who is that pearl in your life? May your desire to serve illustrate that very finding.


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