The Discipline of Service

There is a lot more to this chapter than I was expecting. I have been involved in church life since before I can remember. Service has always been one of the chief tenants that has been taught to me, and in a way I have long felt like I have a solid hold on what it means to truly serve. I am not necessarily wrong, but I am left wondering after reading this chapter whether I am a servant, or if I merely serve others.

I like the distinction Foster makes about how Jesus didn’t just reverse the expected “pecking order” for humanity (which I think is what we all normally hear when passages such as John 13 shows up), but He abolished it completely. There is an expected structure for leadership. Jesus spoke at length that there were some who possess Spiritual authority and others who did not. But our human minds want to equate that order with what we see in society. Imagine teaching a child or a teenager who in reality has more Spiritual authority than yourself. Wouldn’t that just blow your mind?

Foster takes several pages of the chapter to break down (nearly) exhaustively the differences between self-righteous service and true service. A lot of what he has rings as familiar to me. I especially like when he states that in true service our service will dictate our feelings and emotions, not the other way around (choosing not to serve because we do not feel like it or do not feel well physically). I am also left wondering if we should take pictures and videos of the work our ministry does in the service of others. This practice takes the human ego and places it back into the picture, inviting teens to potentially brag about how they served this person or that group. I also enjoyed the segment toward the end where Foster walks through a lot of every-day things that we should do in the pursuit of becoming servants, such as listening, guarding the reputations of others, and being served. I will admit, I really struggle with that last one there. I find it very difficult to allow others to serve me, and when I do I feel as if I need to reciprocate. I have gotten better at this over the years, but it is still a large struggle.

There are a couple of areas I am not sure that I line up with Foster on in this chapter. When he explores the interpretation of 1 John 2.16 to mean that the “lust of the flesh” and the “lust of the eyes” as being captivated by the outward show (prideful recognition) and pretentious egotism, I can see that the reasoning is Biblically sound. We should not pursue these things. But I am not certain that this is a correct interpretation of this passage, and it could be damaging if I am indeed correct. I have not done a deep study of this verse up to this point, it is merely my experience with understanding lust, flesh and eyes in combinations elsewhere in Scripture and a slight unease that I cannot explain when reading the paragraph Foster wrote.

I also in my justice-oriented self disagree with Foster that we should allow “How are you doing” to simply be an excused form of greeting because it has become so in America. If someone asks how I am doing, I will share my life, especially if they are a Christian. We should be clear in our speech, and should mean what we say. I do not see how allowing the current culture direct our actions is honoring to God in this matter. I realize that I am sounding a bit arrogant here, and as a practice I do not unload the deep miseries of my life on people who greet me in such a manner unless I know they genuinely mean it. But I disagree with Foster. There are some common courtesies we should observe, but this one should be one we combat.

The last item I struggle with (that I want to point out, or this post would be incredibly long) is that if we draw Foster’s interpretation of how we serve (always say yes, do not worry about people walking all over you) it could very well lead us to burnout. I admit, the idea of the great reversal in status is amazing. We choose to be slaves, and in that we do not see serving as a negative thing. But if we are to always say “yes” when asked to help, where is the time to serve our families? What if we are so caught up in serving that we do not spend time with God in His Word? What if two people with identical problems who are both friends or enemies seek help at the same time? I know it would be nearly impossible to answer these questions, and I almost feel like one of my teenagers asking them, but Foster leaves no room in the chapter for anything but a “yes” answer if we desire to be true servants. I would just like to have seen him include some footnote about this very issue.

On the whole, a very deep, challenging chapter that you will probably never hear me share my practical experiences about when I follow in these teachings.

Because if I shared them, they would not be in secret. And I would be guilty of self-righteous serving, and not being a true servant.