Confessions of a Bad Servant

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and rerun for your consideration and comments.

Last Summer, in our Sunday morning Bible Study, my class did a series on Spiritual Disciplines. As I prepared the lesson on the Discipline of Serving others, I finished reading Same Kind of Different as Me, the true account of Ron Hall and Denver Moore and God’s work in both their lives, particularly on this subject of Christian servanthood. That book, and that week’s Bible Study of John 13:1-17 (Jesus washing His disciples’ feet) brought me under strong conviction and made me wonder if I have ever really understood the heart of the servant.

My office is in downtown San Antonio. My daily walk from my parking garage to my building takes me right through the heart of one of our city’s gathering places for homeless folks. Years ago, when I first started making this walk, my heart went out to these men and women and I found myself giving to them pretty regularly. Over time, I felt like I needed to develop some “rules” about who I would give to and under what circumstances. You know what I mean: (1) no money for anyone who smells of alcohol, (2) no money for anyone who is rude, (3) no money next time for anyone who doesn’t seem grateful this time, etc. The list of rules had grown over time.

It occurred to me as I prepared to teach John 13:1-17 that Jesus not only demonstrated WHAT to do, but He demonstrated HOW to do it. He could have done the foot washing by just standing up, grabbing a wash basin, and quickly going through the motions, but He did not do that. He made it a point to first take on the form of a slave before he even began the work. Far beyond the mere act of serving, He gave us an insight into the attitude of serving, i.e., the condition of the heart of the servant.

Servants do not serve with a list of rules about the condition under which they will serve. Servants do not come to their master with a list of terms for their “service agreement”. Isn’t this what Jesus meant in this passage when He reminds us that “no servant is greater than His master…”? I decided that the only “rules” I should have in my heart about when, where and whom I serve is (1) a humble attitude and (2) to work diligently to meet the need before me. And note, these rules are for me, and not for the person I serve.

But there was one other area of conviction for me. It comes from a bit of dialog out of Ron Hall’s and Denver Moore’s book. Denver (the homeless man) has asked Ron (the Christian “servant” businessman) what he wants with him, i.e., why he comes to the mission to serve. Ron says, “I just want to be your friend.” Denver thinks about this for a few days and then hits Ron with this bit of wisdom:

“I heard that when white folks go fishin they do somethin called ‘catch and release…That really bothers me…I just can’t figure it out. ‘Cause when colored folks go fishin, we really proud of what we catch, and we take it and show it off to everybody that’ll look. Then we eat what we catch…in other words we use it to sustain us. So it really bothers me that white folks would go to all that trouble to catch a fish, then when they done caught it, just throw it back in the water… So, Mr. Ron, it occurred to me: If you is fishin for a friend you just gon’ catch and release, then I ain’t got no desire to be your friend.”

Ouch.

I really have a lot to learn about the Christian discipline of servanthood.

© Blake Coffee

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4 responses to “Confessions of a Bad Servant”

  1. Ouch, indeed
    I definitely have rules. Thanks for sharing that perspective. I will read this book! Keep up the work that the Lord has called you to, Blake!

  2. A profound question.

    How many can you catch and keep? The answer is probably something like “seventy times seven.” But when people come to your church and you get involved in their lives – and often there are multiple and serious needs – you cannot keep up. It becomes overwhelming. Yes you give the problems over to God and encourage the needy ones to do the same. At the same time you are a representative of the body of Christ, and if the eventual response of needy people is “he/she was involved with me for a time but now I haven’t heard from him/her and wonder if he/she cares anymore,” — when reality is that new and urgent needs (tyranny of the urgent!) have arisen elsewhere — well, it just becomes difficult to be intentional and wise in servanthood.

  3. Karen, what a great question. I suspect it is a dilemma with which most church leaders are familiar. “How many can you catch and keep?” I suspect the right answer is, “No more than God assigns you to.” Then comes the really critical question: “Which ones has God assigned me to?”

    This question always reminds me of Jesus at the pool at Bethesda in John 5. Think about all the crippled people Jesus WALKED RIGHT PAST without helping, in order to help the ONE God had assigned him to help. Rightly discerning that assignment, it seems to me, is the truly profound question. By the way, I think Jesus answers THAT question later in that same chapter (John 5:19).

    Thanks, Karen, for asking the hard questions!

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