Serving Because of Love
By HEATHER COFER
My four-year-old son, Jude, and two-year-old daughter, Jenesis, were thrilled to wake up on a frosty morning last December to see a beautiful blanket of snow and big, fluffy flakes still falling plentifully from the sky. They decided breakfast was less important than beginning their snowy adventures, so they eagerly slipped into their winter gear and ran outside into the yard. A few minutes after they went out, Jude slid open the back door and asked if I would get him a snow shovel. “I want to shovel the deck for Daddy!” He exclaimed with bright eyes and rosy cheeks. I obliged and got him the shovel, not expecting the endeavor to last very long (especially since the shovel was almost double his height). Five minutes went by, then ten. Jenesis came in to get warm, but Jude was still out there dutifully pushing piles of snow off the deck. After about 30 minutes he came in to get warm, but a few hours later he asked if he could go back out and finish the job — which he did in record time. As he peeled out of his wet clothes, he looked up at me with a wide smile, delight evident on every feature of his face. “I can’t wait to show Daddy! He is going to be so happy!”
I was amazed and touched by the determination and genuine excitement he had to complete this task. It wasn’t an easy feat, especially for a four-year-old in freezing weather. But he joyfully and diligently completed it out of a heart that was motivated by love for his dad.
There are many motives we can have for serving. Some are good, and some are not so good, but they all originate from two main heart attitudes: selfishness or selflessness.
Selfish service comes in various forms: wanting others to see us and think well of us; wanting to “up our righteousness” and earn favor with God; feeling obligated and worrying that we might be judged if we don’t do something; grumbling when service unexpectedly throws a kink into our plans. Fear and pride are mixed up in these, too, but ultimately they all come back to self: How will performing this act of service make me feel or look better to others?
Selfless service, on the other hand, is motivated by love for God and others. It is joyfully obedient when unexpected opportunities arise. It is humble and serves the same way whether seen or unseen, with care to do the job well. And it is done with a heart of gratitude, knowing that we have been served by our Savior, Jesus, and that He is enabling us to serve as He did when He was on earth.
On the surface, it may not be readily apparent what our true motive for service is. But God sees. Nothing is hidden from His sight. God said in 1 Samuel 16:7b, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (ESV).
We might be able to hide a prideful and selfish heart from others for a while, but it is fully exposed before our Creator.
The truth is, no one has the ability in their own strength to serve out of selflessness. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (ESV).
But that is where the transforming power of Jesus comes in. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us” (ESV).
When we believe that Jesus died in our place and rose again to defeat sin and death, His Spirit comes in and transforms us, enabling us to live in a way that is naturally impossible. That is the beauty of the Gospel! We have been given all we need to love and serve others as we ought; all we need to do is walk in obedience and trust that His grace will be there for us. When Christ’s power is displayed in our weak and imperfect lives — He is greatly glorified.
Galatians 5:13 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (ESV).
We have been called to serve each other out of love. This isn’t optional; it’s a command. But God never calls us to something that He does not also give us the grace to accomplish. (See 2 Peter 1:3.) Even when we struggle with selfishness, God can transform us into pictures of His enabling power when we deliberately choose to walk in obedience to Him.
Have you ever seen this lived out? Seeing someone who is serving from a heart of genuine love for God and others is pretty incredible to behold!
There is a couple in our church body who exemplify this kind of servant-heartedness. It seems that almost everyone has a story of some way they’ve been served by the time, energy, and resource of this couple. It’s as if they can hardly contain themselves when it comes to loving others, and they are usually among the first to respond when there is a need that they can fill in any way. Seeing this kind of joyful, humble, sacrificial service is convicting, motivating, and points everyone to the true Source of all things good — Jesus Christ.
Here are some ways we can begin to cultivate a heart of loving and selfless service.
Grow in your love for God
We cannot truly love others well unless it overflows from our love for God. So the best and most important way to grow a heart of true service is by focusing on our relationship with the Lord. It is only when we know Him that we can truly love Him, and when we love Him, we will delight in obeying His command to love and serve those around us. Make this the highest priority in your day. As much as possible, make time to be with Him in His Word and in prayer. If you’re not sure where to start, reading the book of John is a wonderful way of seeing what Jesus’ life looked like while He was on earth, and how He loved and served those around Him.
Repent of wrong motives
The moment we realize that we have been serving in any capacity for the wrong reasons, we must immediately repent of it. This involves confessing to God and choosing — by His enabling grace — to serve out of love and humility instead. Sometimes this may involve confessing to others if we know we have specifically sinned against them. But often, this will be something that is just between us and the Lord. Once the Lord has shown you an area in need of change and you’ve repented, ask Him for wisdom and strength to learn what it means to serve with a heart of love rather than pride, selfishness, or anything else that stems from sinful motives.
Have a “yes, Lord” mentality
Before an opportunity comes along to serve, we need to have already pre-decided that we are going to joyfully accept the opportunities He will bring to us. There are seemingly endless opportunities that arise and, if you’re like me, it can be hard to know which ones to choose. But as we give this to the Lord and make the decision to say yes to anything we know He is calling us to, it will be very clear which ones we are supposed to accept. So decide that you will prayerfully and willingly evaluate every opportunity that comes along, and don’t delay when He makes it clear that He wants you to serve in that capacity.
Choose to practice joy
When an opportunity for service comes along that we weren’t expecting, it can too easily become a cause for grumbling and complaining (whether from our mouths or just in our hearts). But this should not be so! We are called to be joyful even in trials, so serving with a joyful heart is no exception. (See James 1:2.) Contrary to what we might think, joy is not a feeling; rather, true joy is available to us through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in us. We must act on that reality and choose joy, whether we feel happy or not. When we act in obedience, regardless of feelings and out of love for God, we can be sure that He will provide overflowing and abundant joy.
When you’re faced with a circumstance where you are tempted to grumble, ask God to give you a heart of joy as you walk in obedience to what He has placed before you.
Paul said, as he was talking to a group of believers in the book of Acts, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35 ESV).
When we give of our time, our energy, and our resources to love those whom God has put around us, we will receive far more blessing than those we are serving. In light of eternity, it isn’t a burden, but an incredible privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who come across our paths — be it family, friends, or complete strangers. And we can be sure that at the end of a life that has been poured out in faithful, joyful, obedient service, we will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matt. 25:21 ESV).