One of Martin Luther’s greatest contributions to Christian life–in my humble opinion–was his view of work. He, a monk, came to realize that his vocation was no more holy than that of the local bartender or seamstress. Perhaps is most famous statement on work is that God doesn’t need our work–but our neighbor does. In other words, our vocations–our callings, the good work that fills so many hours of our days–are primarily about service to others.
I appreciated this insight by Gene Vieth: Though we may speak of serving God in our vocations, we do not, strictly speaking, serve God. He always serves us. Rather, we are to serve our neighbors, the actual human beings whom God brings into our lives as we carry out our daily callings. I may think that I am glorifying God primarily when I am worshiping at church or spending time in prayer. These are worthwhile parts of my week, but not only because I am declaring how great God is. It is also because I am serving my neighbor by encouraging her in her faith. We declare together the glory of God, and we are both strengthened.
Our life has two key components.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
James 1:27 puts it another way: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. Both verses reveal that our callings involve two components: we serve those whom the Lord has brought into our lives–those in need of justice and kindness, the widows and fatherless; and second, we walk in humility with God, keeping ourselves focused on his best for us and not indulging in the sin that the world cherishes. We walk like Jesus because we love him–we serve others because we love him and because we love them.
I remember my past life as an instructor at a Christian college–a time glowing with warm California sunshine as I taught at one of the most beautiful colleges in the country. At the very end of my time there, I taught a course on the history of Christian spiritual formation. We studied various disciplines, and then practiced them–solitude, reading Scripture, prayer, meditation on Scripture, etc. Service was just one discipline, and while viewed as important, certainly not given a central focus.
But now I have seen that service informs all of spiritual life. I am not saying that a personal retreat to spend time in prayer has no value. But when I consider the spiritual formation of ministering to a fussy baby for hours, of serving my spouse when we’ve both had a bad day, of taking time for the person who grates on my nerves, of being patient and kind toward someone who has offended me or hurt my feelings–now that is spiritual formation. We love God. We serve others. And indeed, when we serve them, Jesus reminds us that he receives that service: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:40)
Jesus receives service when we serve people. It’s that simple.
So, as I finish work for clients and make it as beautiful as I can, I am making something beautiful for Jesus. As I deal with a client who is demanding or rude, I serve with patience that Jesus both provides and receives. When I serve my family, I am serving Jesus.
Isn’t it helpful to know that service does not take place primarily in a quiet chair at the beginning of the day with a well-worn Bible wide open? It takes place throughout the day as I serve the world with the hands and feet of Christ. Jesus invites me to know him better through the everyday activities of my life. He invites me to know eternal life now as I work hard and love those around me.
How will you serve Jesus today?
Jesus, sometimes I would rather spend time in your word with my own thoughts than serve those around me. I resent them for interrupting my time with you. And while I do indeed love and need time with you in your word, I am seeing that serving them is as precious to you as anything else I do in my spiritual life. I need to feed on your word and receive the nourishment of your Spirit in order to serve others well. But you also invite me to experience you giving to these others THROUGH me. You are able to minister to me as I minister to them, providing an overflowing fountain that refreshes both of us.
Lord, as I go through the rythms of my day, would you please keep my eyes focused on you, and my ear attuned to your voice? Open my eyes to the opportunities you have placed around me, whether it involves sitting by myself finishing a client project with joy and attention to detail, or whether it means answering my kids’ four-thousandth question of the morning. Let me serve with joy, humility, and patience. And rather than leading me to despair when I feel my attitude slipping, let me cast my whole self on you and know the reality of your revolutionary gospel. I pray in your holy and powerful, life-giving and transforming name. Amen.