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Becoming more spiritual through service

On the evening before Jesus’ arrest, the gospel of John records the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. It was unheard of for a rabbi to wash his disciple’s feet, but Jesus was teaching his disciples a very important lesson about what it means to follow him. Jesus said, “So if I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).

This was not a lesson on the importance of washing others’ feet.  This was a powerful demonstration: that the disciples of Jesus are called to be servants, as Jesus was a servant. Paul also wrote about Jesus, “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7a).  If our role as servants in Jesus’ name is to be a spiritual discipline, then we will desire to find opportunities to serve others regularly in our lives for the glory of God. A spiritual discipline is anything we do regularly that draws us closer to God. We also must take seriously the barriers and temptations we face to make our service a self-serving activity.

It is very easy to get caught up in our own personal rewards when we do things. For example, my involvement in Boy Scouts gives me the chance to glorify God. Lots of parents and scouts share words of praise and thanks to me. It would be easy for me to accept their praise as my due when I know God is at the center of our scout troop’s success.  We pray for his protection on all our adventures and he has protected us in many miraculous ways. In prayer he directed me to use my place in the scouts’ and parents’ lives to teach his life lessons. None of this I could do, or know to do, without God’s power and direction. I serve the scouts and their families because God has called me to do so, and he blesses me through it very richly. I praise God every chance I get publicly and privately, for the opportunity to serve him in this way. 

That is what differentiates other forms of service from Christian service — it glorifies God rather than the self.  When we share our talents with others while glorifying God, we find our service becomes a spiritual discipline. It is not that other service is not as good as Christian service, it is just different.  If we believe we want our service to be a Christian discipline, then it must glorify God.

The disciple Peter objects to Jesus’ washing his feet.  Jesus says he must, if Peter is to understand who Jesus is. Then Peter responds, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Just like at the Mountain of Transfiguration, and later when Jesus predicts Peter will abandon Jesus, Peter pushes the limits of Jesus’ message. It seems here Peter is turning Jesus’ foot-washing into something else, like getting one up on the rest of the disciples, or proving somehow he is more worthy.

Peter would later understand what we struggle to always remember, we cannot earn our salvation.  The service we do does not guarantee us anything, least of all salvation.  Our service grows out of our desire to be like Jesus, who has already saved us and calls us to be servants as an expression of our discipleship. In this way, we exhibit humility, as this spiritual discipline frees us from self-centeredness; helps us keep our priorities in order and helps us to know Jesus better. That is what the spiritual disciplines do, help us to know Jesus better. Let us guard against the constant temptation to glorify ourselves by the service we do, and cherish this spiritual discipline as we glorify God.

I challenge you to always have at least one ministry you are doing for others that you do for one reason alone, to glorify God.  What one ministry(s) is God calling you to, to glorify him?  If you don’t serve others, what barriers keep you from serving others? How can God help you to break down those barriers?  Take some time to review each of the ministries you are a part of and list how your involvement glorifies God, and also list how you are tempted to glorify yourself through those ministries.

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, go to lagrangepres.com.