Scriptures like these have begun to change the way I think about serving:
…Because I have heard of your faith in The Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you…(Ephesians 1:15-16)
We always thank God….since we heard of your faith in Christ and of the love that you have for all the saints. (Colossians 1:3-4)
I added the emphasis on “and” in both passages because that’s what stands out to me now, and these are the Scriptures that help explain to me part of what James meant by his teaching on faith and works:
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2)
James and Paul both made clear distinctions between God’s salvation of my soul through faith in Christ (something vertical) and my response of love for others (something horizontal). They are absolutely connected, but they do have aspects that are separate from each other. One has everything to do with my relationship with God made possible by Jesus’ work on the cross – a total grace gift, received through faith; the other has to do with an urge to share that love and grace with others and is NOT about me trying to repay him or earn the grace I’ve been given. The first is about what Jesus has done; the second is what I do for others in light of what Jesus has done for me.
The problem is that for most of my life, I’ve viewed service to others more as a statement I’m making to God. Almost like I’m making payments toward what he already purchased for me. It begins with a pure motive of gratitude, but it so quickly warps into something else. I know he saved me, but I still often feel this burden to work myself (mostly by myself) into a person worthy to be called his child. As if I could ever be! The worst part of these inclinations is that in pursuing self-betterment through the roles of serving Jesus, I have unknowingly used the people I am called to love. It’s selfish, but I mostly haven’t been aware. Somehow my quest to love and serve others with Christ’s love became more about me and my need for his approval, as if the gospel hadn’t already given me everything I could possibly need.
I know he’s revealing more about my heart and is in the work of changing me by his grace, but I wish I could say I was further down this road of transformation. Instead, I tell you it’s a struggle. Constantly I have to reexamine my heart on these issues and run my thoughts and desires through the filter of what the gospel provides me.
So when the women’s ministry leader in my church posed some questions about serving to a group of us in a panel discussion a couple of months ago, I felt challenged and excited to think through them in light of the grace he’s making new to me. (Thank you, Vicki Clark!) They were excellent questions:
1.) Choice Overload – with so many great opportunities to be involved in worship, community, and mission, how does a woman choose where to invest herself?
2.) Passion – how important is it to find yours?
3.) Seasons of Life – how do they affect your needs and your abilities to minister. Is there ever a “perfect” season?
4.) How do you deal with feelings of inadequacy when it comes to serving The Lord or even joining a community of believers?
5.) When was a time God challenged you to “step out of your comfort zone” and what was the result?
6.) What keeps you in God’s Game Plan….on mission, loving Him, loving others?
We’ll explore each of these over the next several weeks, but in the meantime I’ll ask you two questions: What are some ways you guard against legalism in the roles in which you are called to serve? What do you notice about the teaching you receive about serving – is it guilt-motivated pressure to do more, or is it accompanied by gospel-rich reminders of what has already been accomplished for you in Jesus Christ?