Now that we have an understanding of the idea of what it means to serve one another, I want to give some pictures of what serving one another looks like in practice; and I’m going to do that by identifying who we should be serving.
First, if you are married, or are married and have kids, or if you are a kid still living at home with your parents, or you are living with roommates, you have a core of people to serve right off the bat. Home is the first place where we should be learning to serve one another.
A couple examples.
This last week I was attending the annual conference of the CCCC (the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference), the national body with whom I am ordained for pastoral ministry. While I was there, my wife Mandi came down with strep throat, complete with a nasty fever. I did not want her to have to take care of our three girls while she was that sick. I asked her if she wanted me to come home. She said no. But I know my wife, she would have a very hard time staying in bed—she would be cleaning, gardening, and doing projects around the house—not resting. And I did not want her to be worrying about taking care of the girls while she felt so lousy. So I came home early anyway. About five minutes after I walked in, she just fell apart. “I’m so glad you came home,” she cried. Sometimes serving one another means putting your plans on hold. Sometimes being a good servant means knowing that you need to serve in a certain way even when you are told “no.”
My daughter Anna has been struggling with severe depression and anxiety. The last six months have been very challenging to say the least. Serving Anna has at times meant being there when she was completely falling apart, when she did not want me there, when she was saying things—hurtful things—that I hoped in her heart she didn’t mean. That same night I came home early, about 30 minutes after I got home, she fell apart again, this time she started cutting again, which meant an automatic trip to the hospital. I spent 5 hours with her in the ER listening to her talk about how bad and wicked she was, and how unloved and unwanted she felt. She was admitted that night, and at the time of this posting she is still there. To sit and listen to that and be kind, gentle, patient, and self-controlled is hard. But that is what she needed from me at the time.
Second, we need to be serving those in our church family. One way we serve one another is by being active in the life and ministry of our congregation by using our gifts and talents. But service goes deeper than this, as the fruits of the Spirit show. Serving one another can and should get personal.
No one can serve everyone all the time, but everyone can serve some people some of the time. There is a lot of overlap between serving one another and discipling and ministering to one another, because serving one another is loving one another, and that is at the core of what discipleship is—teaching people how to live a life of love to God, to one another, and teaching them to do the same. Ministering is showing love to one another.
As I was thinking about what I could share here, I didn’t really want to put anyone on the spot as an example, but I really wanted to give some illustration of what serving one another looks like that is more personal and was inside the church family. Then the perfect example came to mind, Sarah Welch (I include her last name here to distinguish her from another Sarah who is a regular reader of my blog and who is mentioned below). She no longer attends my church, but she grew up in Byfield Parish and was under my care for a season. And she was more than willing to let me share these thoughts with you (including her name).
Sarah started coming to my Wednesday night Bible study several years ago, and quickly started a habit of hanging around after everyone else was gone. She and Mandi and I had a lot of great late night talks together—which is to say we did a lot of listening while she did a lot of the talking! We talked about God, faith, family, work, difficulties with relationships both personal and professional, dealing with singleness while longing for a husband. Serving her meant being willing to give her time, it meant being willing to listen and reflect back what she was thinking and feeling. She is a great example of how serving can often be pleasant and fun, because serving one another can be very relational and produce deep and lasting friendships.
So the core of where we should be serving is in the home. Then we need to be serving in our church family (and if you are living alone your church family becomes your core). But we also should be looking to serve people outside the church. Christian servanthood is decidedly outward focused. It wants to multiply, to see itself reproduced in others.
Oftentimes we already know these people. They are our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Lately though, I have been learning that sometimes God brings people He wants you to serve right to your door.
For the past 9 months I have been learning how to serve one another by walking with a young lady named Michelle. I talked about her in a sermon titled A Tale of Three Women back in January. We have become good friends in that time, in fact I see her as an adopted daughter and she sees me as a brother (close enough). She has been in a world of hurt for most of her young life: born deaf, gang raped and left for dead at 14, a fear of men and strangers, depression, anxiety, PTSD, cutting, never-ending nightmares.
About seven weeks ago while she and her wife Sarah were on vacation in Hawaii, the Darkness overwhelmed her and she attempted suicide by trying to stab herself in the heart. Sarah, who is a believer and was asleep in the next room, was shaken awake by a hand on her shoulder (though she was alone) and heard Jesus say to her, “Get up and find Michelle, she needs you!” She got up and found her on the floor in the next room. Sarah is an ER nurse. She did everything right, and God was with her.
When she was well enough, Michelle was transferred to the psych wing of the hospital. She is still there. Two weeks ago I got an email from one of the doctors who is treating her (who happens to be a Christian). He said that they have found faith to be an important aspect of the healing process. They also believe that consistency in teaching is important, and since I have been her spiritual father, her family and the doctors wanted me to be the person with whom she could talk about spiritual matters and get spiritual care. So twice a week for an hour I talk with her via Facebook, and we can email back and forth a few times a week.
It is very tough. She is ready to die. She believes death is the only way she will be free from her pain. Serving her means being willing to engage with her in this very dark and hopeless place. She reminds me of Job, but without the hope I know is only found in Christ. It is hard, painful, and frustrating; knowing that all I can do is watch from a distance and pray that God brings her to faith in Christ and heals her broken soul.
Sometimes serving one another means being willing to enter into another person’s pain and suffering. Such service is costly, draining, and tests the mettle of your faith. But as hard as it is, I wouldn’t walk away from her or her family if you offered me all the money in the world. Because there are some joys that are only found on the other side of great suffering. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).
This is what serving one another looks like. It isn’t about a program, or about a time or a place, or an item on your “to-do” list that you can just check off. This is a way of life. It is what it means to live for God through Christ. So let us gladly, with love, serve one another.