What does it mean to be a servant?
What kind of things do you need to do to earn that title? Do you even want that title?
When I think of a servant, my mind usually goes straight to medieval times, and everything castle servants did. Scrub the dishes, wash the floors, milk the cows, muck out the stables, beat the carpets…Hard, dirty, thankless, and often mind-numbing work.
But of course, servants weren’t just around in medieval times. They’ve been around since the very beginning, and will continue to be. A servant can be anyone. It doesn’t matter their age, gender, race, culture, location, skillset, or personality.
Again, anyone can be a servant. All it takes is serving. Doing something for others, whether you’re reciprocated or not. It can look like raking a yard or shoveling a sidewalk. Making a meal or paying for someone’s groceries. Visiting someone ill or lending a listening ear.
It’s possible to serve others without a servant’s heart. To do things for others from selfish motives, or because we feel like we should or we have to. What can look like a selfless and loving act on the outside may actually be a grudging or detested deed inside. It’s arguable whether serving from rotten motives is actually better than not serving at all.
But while it’s possible to serve without a servant’s heart, it’s impossible to have a servant’s heart and not serve. Having a servant’s heart means that you like to serve. It doesn’t mean that you enjoy getting filthy, or sweaty, or that you consider your work to be fun (although it can). It means that your love for others, and your desire to do things for them, outweighs any inconveniences or discomfort.
When you have a servant’s heart, you may not like cooking – but you’ll gladly spend all day in the kitchen making desserts to sell at the fundraiser. You may not enjoy making conversation – but you’ll still volunteer to counsel others going through tough times. You may not want to exhaust and burn yourself – but you’ll spend your weekend helping repair houses in the hot sun anyway.
Because you know it’s worth it. Because you know that serving – that helping and caring for others – will bring far greater blessings to everyone involved than if you didn’t serve. Yes, you wouldn’t have gotten so tired. You would have had more time to yourself. You would have been more comfortable and avoided the pain and stress of hard work – whether physical or emotional.
But, in the end, those with servants’ hearts are the ones that are truly fulfilled.
I’ve known many people that model this. Family, friends, coworkers, teachers…it’s been such a blessing over the years to watch and experience their examples of servitude. No matter what it costs them, they will be there for you. If you need a meal, they’ll make it. If you need to talk, they’ll listen. And if you need your house painted, or your kids watched, or your dog walked, just call them up and they’ll be there. Often they’re helping before you even recognize that you need the help, or when you can’t muster the strength to ask.
The world needs more people like that. More people – more servants – following the ultimate example that Jesus set.
There’s no doubt that servitude is hard. It can be strenuous and uncomfortable, and it’s also very humbling. In my experience, it’s all too easy to shy away from serving others because the task is just too far ‘beneath me’. If I don’t want to do it, I can always find ‘reasons’ why someone else would be better for the job. Why I’m just not the right person.
But being a servant means that nothing is beneath you. I often find myself wanting to serve – as long as that servitude means recognition and provision and relatively little pain involved. I want the benefits without the back-breaking work. I want to feel good about how helpful I am without actually getting too invested.
I may call myself a servant, and fool myself into thinking that I have a servant’s heart, but when it comes down to it…am I really? Do I actually? Am I willing to do anything for another? Will I give up my comfort, my pride, and my wants for someone else’s benefit? Will I serve in the background, sweaty and drained and filthy, even if no one ever notices or thanks me?
Or will I turn away when the chance to serve is not in my comfort zone?
There are servants all around us, every day. Sometimes their work gets noticed by many, sometimes only by the person they served. Sometimes the work may be noticed, but the servant is not. Servants give much, but expect nothing. They will do all they can to help, even when there’s no way to repay them. Their concern and focus is not on themselves, but on others. On you. On me.
I wish I could say that I have a pure servant’s heart. But truthfully, I know I don’t yet. I want to have it, and I’m working very hard on developing one. But I’m still too proud. Too selfish. Too concerned with what I will get out of a hard task, or a draining conversation.
So far, I’m finding that the more I serve – whether I feel like it or not – the more I want to serve. The more I see how my actions and time bless others, the more I want to give them. The closer I draw to people that are hurting and seeking help, the more I discover that it doesn’t matter if there’s recognition or praise afterward. The serving is the reward.
Jesus knew this. There’s never been a greater Servant than the one who gave everything for us. If anyone could claim that dirty, hard, and draining tasks were below Him, He could. And yet, during His life on earth, He was the greatest example of servitude that there ever has been or will be.
He could have demanded his feet be washed, but instead He washed others’. He could have surrounded Himself with clean, wealthy, and well-respected people, but He chose to minister to the ill, the poor, and the outcast. He could have commanded an army of angels to take Him from the cross, but He chose to stay, to suffer, and to die. For us.
If that’s not servitude, than I don’t know what is.
And His is the example I’m learning to follow. You’ve probably heard the often-used question, “What would Jesus do?”. To me, it’s a crucial one. I know that Jesus is the ultimate example. That I’m meant to follow in His footsteps. And I’m currently striving to ask myself that question every time I’m faced with a decision whether to focus on myself or on others.
What would Jesus do?
I know He’d serve. I know He did serve. And I know He longs for me to do the same.
As I continue to seek Him, I know Jesus is working on my heart – molding it, forming it, and growing it. To make it into a true servant’s heart, just as His is. And I’m going to continue to choose to serve, even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I don’t see why I would, from a me-first standpoint. Even when I want to do anything else.
I’ve seen amazing things happen when people choose to serve, rather than be served. And I want to be one of those people. I want to develop my servant’s heart more and more with every day that passes.
Will you join me?
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:45 NIV)