Monday, July 23, 2012

What Does it Mean to Serve God?

For many Christians, including myself at one time, “serving God” looks like this: (in order of hierarchy of commonly perceived importance):

1     .    Missionary to a Third World country, either long-term or short trips.
 .    Church plant in a Third World country
3     .    Church plant in an inner city
4     .    Youth ministry or pastor
5     .    Worship leader or member of praise band
6     .    Leading a Bible study at church
7     .    Teaching Sunday school

But I think that the internal ministry of our character and of our families often gets overlooked or forgotten altogether when we think of service to God. So I went to Scripture to focus on other equally important service commands of God, if not prerequisites for the service mentioned above. As I worked through Scripture, I realized that the Bible is full of commands for our hearts and minds to be in service to God right where we are:

“Whoever serves me must follow me;” John 12:26

“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Romans 13:13-14

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’” Ephesians 6:1-3 (note how obedience to God is in our best interest and for our well being and joy)

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men…” Ephesians 6:7

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Colossians 3:18

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Colossians 3:19

“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Colossians 3:20

“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Colossians 3:21

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3: 12-13

“Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s lap.” 1 Timothy 3:1-7

“Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 3:8-13

“…if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.” 1 Timothy 5:4

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8

“If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.” 1 Timothy 5:16

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” James 2:26

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8

Wow. I, for one, am just coming into an understanding of how my attitude, motivations and ability to abide in God’s authority over my heart and mind have not been viewed as service to Him. Therefore, it’s been easy to become distracted by outward “service” which isn’t always done in God’s righteousness, for His Glory, and with His motivations.

Obedience to God is service to God. And the above verses are just a small example of the many ways God wants us to obey Him. For example, in the Ten Commandments as well as in the New Testament, God tells us to obey our parents. When we obey God in this, we serve Him because it is something He asks us to do (not just once, by the way, but continually. Not conditionally, but continually. Ouch!)

When someone asks us to take out the trash, and we do it, we are serving the person who asked us to take out the trash. We don’t stand there and say, “Well, since this trash isn’t in Africa, I can’t take it out to the curb because it isn’t real service.” No one would say that. They would understand that to serve the home and the people in it, they take out the trash. It is service. Ahh, but so many Christians compartmentalize service into “service to God” and service that is below us or irrelevant because we don’t perceive it as being directly for God.

I recently met a woman in another state who frequents Christian conferences and seminars and is off on mission trips without her husband. And now her marriage is suffering. What does God say about marriage? When we obey God in doing what He says, we are serving Him. This woman sees serving “out there” as a priority over serving God in her marriage.

God’s word, however, does not compartmentalize. When He tells us to train up a child, love our wives, respect our husbands, and be patient, long suffering, and forgiving, He doesn't spell out when it is for Him and when it is not for Him because it is always for Him.

I’ve often wondered why some people assume serving a child in a foreign country is service to God while serving their own children under their very roof is not (see Proverbs 22:6). I once talked to a pastor’s wife who worked part time, attended college and conducted women’s ministries. When it came to her own children still living at home, she said, “The Lord will provide.” Really? Well, I tested this concept. (I need to say here that my husband was holding up his end of responsibility by working long hours to support our family and then coming home and helping out. I, in turn, was an at-home mom).

So I tested her concept. As a newby Christian, I got involved in serving everywhere but at home in my house and it didn’t work! I volunteered in the school library, sat on multiple school committees, worked pizza sales, went on mission trips, ran money-raising 10 K’s and cause-based week-long bike rides, but God didn’t do my laundry. He didn’t cook the meals. He didn’t keep my house in order and pay my bills for me on time. He didn’t do the ironing. He didn’t keep peace in the house when homework didn’t get done or we couldn’t find the fieldtrip permission slip because everything was reduced to chaos while I was “out there” serving the world (not God) and neglecting my family.

Why does God give us children if He can just raise them Himself? It doesn’t make sense and it isn’t Biblical. Our first duty is always to our families (Read Titus and Proverbs for starters). And “duty” to our families doesn’t mean farming the kids off to sports camps and every other which way so we can get on with being busy in our own pursuits, even if those pursuits are “other-centered” or “for God.” James 3:14-16 says, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” I was full of selfish ambition and still caught in the worldly attitude of womanhood.

Instead, God showed me, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

God’s perspective on service to Him is something He had to repeatedly hammer into me. And one day, the light bulb went on and stayed on. These children of mine, God showed me, are not my kids, they are God’s! He entrusted them to me. Just like my marriage is a covenant with God, and so participation in my marriage and with my husband is service to God, so is the raising of God’s kids. God knitted my children in my womb. They are His gift. He knitted my husband in my mother-in-law’s womb. He knitted me in my mom’s womb. We are not our own. We belong to God.

“For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14: 7-8.  See also Psalm 139:13, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 7:23).

When I understood this—when it really hit me that my children and my husband belong to God--I suddenly understood service to my family as service to God, and marveled at the grace of God to include me in such a high calling. Only then was I able to tap into God’s joy in serving my family so that it became my joy to serve my family.

God is who we belong to. And so God is whom we are to serve:
wherever we are; when ever; right here; right now; in our thought life; in our actions; in how we redeem the time. “Out there,” yes, but also in here, in our hearts and in our minds; in our marriages and in our families. And before we ever serve “out there” I believe God wants us to serve “in here.” And that can be the most difficult place to begin.

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” 1 Peter 1:13-16

“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:11

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