Friday, October 30, 2009

Secret Service

Years ago during cold and flu season, three in our household of four were ill. I rarely get colds, but back then I had felt heaviness in my chest for about 48 hours. One child had a bearish cough, and the other was lethargic, signaling yet another ear infection.

Sluggish, it was all I could do to get everyone ready, in the car, and drive to the doctor. While paying our doctor bill, I saw Rox, who worshiped at church with us. I must have had WEARY stamped on my forehead. I told him the doctor’s diagnosis: daughter had a ruptured ear drum, son had severe bronchitis, and I had pneumonia. His brows arched in concern.

By the time I bought prescribed meds and drove home, I literally collapsed with exhaustion. Right before my husband arrived from out of town, I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and there stood Charlotte Owens, a woman from our church. Rox had told his wife Pamela about our wilting family.

Pamela and a few other women cooked a quick supper for us. To this day, my eyes grow moist when I think of that chain-reaction of care and kind service. For the next few days Dave and family pitched in to help. On either end of giving awaits a blessing, whether the giver or the receiver.

The spiritual discipline of service is lived out in biblical examples: a cup of cold water; Jesus acknowledging tax collector Zacchaeus; Martha offering hospitality; and King Jesus, kneeling to wash his disciples’ feet.

Service is deeply rooted in the discipline of submission, of placing others’ needs before our own. If you are a parent you have served. If you have a spouse, you have served. If you are a policeman, a sanitation worker, firefighter, judge, or other public servant, you have served.

It is not difficult to find someone to render a service to, but the challenge is to serve with genuine selflessness, tender care, and joy for the opportunity. Temptations may arise to brag about a service provided, to want recognition, or a pat on the back. Also, the “poor me” attitude can be prevalent when serving. We go ahead and do the act of service, but it’s served with a decanter of whine.

The greatest services are those offered with joy, those that never receive recognition. They are “hidden.” The servers do not expect applause or desire it. That servant-person can make 100 sandwiches in the middle of the night for firefighters and not seek any thanks or mention their kindness to family or friends. “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness in front of men to be seen by them….but your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:1-4).

Richard Foster in his book, “Celebration of Discipline,” lists these areas of service: do daily small things for folk; guard people’s reputations; allow others to serve you; extend common courtesies; be hospitable; listen well; and share the word of Life.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1153) said if we are to live the life of one who will lead others “what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.” One can offer good leadership and authority and still be a servant. Jesus is the prevalent example of such a person. Our prideful nature may want the big job that comes with fanfare and glory. But it’s the daily sacrifices, the little things that add up to humility seeping into our lives in a small stream. Humility is one of the rewards of genuine service to others.

This week, join the “secret service.” Do for others and don’t mention it to a soul—ever. You might choose to sit quietly and listen to your spouse’s critique when your usual response is to offer a verbal defense. Or you could choose to halt gossip and save a reputation from a beating. Or make it your goal to extend common courtesies the entire week, on the phone, in the auto, and in your home.

Our loving Father is watching for the mothers who hold fevered children, for the dads who build character by their example, and for that secret service for a neighbor. He’s lining up the rewards, for here and hereafter.

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