Christmas is over. We have given and we have received. We have served and been served in many ways. Let’s think about that for a minute.
It is better to give than it is to receive, at Christmas, in games, and in life. We all know it is better, but how is it better?
Psychologist and consultant, Peter Block, wrote the book, “Stewardship:
Choosing Service over Self-interest.” Here is a portion of that.
He says: “Ultimately, the choice we make is between service and self-interest. Both are attractive. Fire and intensity of self-interest seem to be all around
us. We search, so often in vain, to find leaders we can have faith in. Our
doubts are not about our leaders’ talents, but about their trustworthiness. We are unsure whether they are serving their institutions, or themselves. When we look out at our peers and our neighbors, we see so much energy dedicated to claiming entitlements. The nuclear family now includes a parent, a partner, children, a financial consultant, and a lawyer. We are no different. We were born into the age of anxiety, and became adults in the age of self-interest.
“The antidote to self-interest is to commit and find cause; to commit to
something outside of ourselves and be a part of creating something we care
about so we can endure the sacrifice, the risk, and the adventure
commitment entails. This is the deeper meaning of service.”
When we are called to service, the issue comes up for us. It is a tug of
war between two different parts of us – a part of us that is interested
only in ourselves, and part of us that truly wishes to help and care for
In the Bible when Jesus was hanging on the Cross? There were two robbers on either side of Him. One of the robbers looks over at Jesus through his pain and says (paraphrased), “What are you doing here? If you are so great, why don’t
you save yourself?”
But the robber on the other side of Jesus says, in effect, “You’re the Son
of God. My friend and I are guilty; we deserve to be here. But you haven’t
done a thing.”
Jesus replies to the second man, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
These two men represent two parts of ourselves. The first man represents
that natural, normal “looking out for #1” self-interest who can only see
through his own eyes of pain and suffering.
The second man looks up a little higher and sees that the sacred part of
life that is Christ is totally innocent and recognizes it. He calls out, and then Christ, assures him, “This day you will be with me in paradise;” just by making that conscious contact with God, with spirituality, he was saved. This second part represents our willingness to become larger than the little parts of ourselves – to give, to commit, to become great. until we become fully one with Christ. I think we are always in a kind of conflict or war between these two parts of ourselves.
In spirituality, life is about our service to others. The reward of service is that when we turn our attention to help someone else, we forget our own problems and misery, which was created by our own willingness to dote on it.
Service gives us the opportunity to look beyond ourselves. But we have to
make that choice. Who are we going to be? Which man on the Cross are we
going to be, today?
“Each person’s work will become manifest.” 1 Corinthians 3:13
St. Francis wrote a prayer that captures this essence of this idea. He said: “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; not so much to be understood as to understand; not so much to be loved as to love.”
The world, as is commonly understood (as in worldly wisdom), is looking
out for #1. This has its value, its place, and its purpose. We all know
that we have to take care of our own needs. I’m not talking about some
type of total sacrifice, where we give up everything we have and lay on
beds of nails. We are to seek to satisfy our own basic needs; to find ways
of nurturing ourselves and keeping ourselves healthy; and providing means
of expression of our gifts.
But beyond that healthy self-interest, there lies a subtle trap that we all fall into. At some point, we have to stop trying to satisfy the ego and start surrendering the ego. And surrendering is the last thing the ego wants to do.
What do we do?
What happens is we eventually find ourselves in a cage of our own making.
We do everything we already know how to do, over and over again, until
the suffering becomes so great that we are willing to burst out of that cage
and do whatever it takes. It seems like what is being offered to us as an
antidote is to serve. Imagine that!
Spiritual people always look out for #2.
Romans 14: 18 – because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men
It is true, when we are thinking of someone else, we take our minds off
our own pain, and it seems to magically disappear. What a great thing that
is! When we actually begin to give of ourselves, we suddenly feel larger.
Why is that? Because when we give, we literally do become larger because
we experience, maybe for the first time, how great we are. We realize God’s power of love inside of us. When we touch it, tap it, and give from that Divinity, we start experiencing God in the world.
For all our talk in Christianity about prosperity and abundance, we are
still often trapped by our concepts. We are still that first man on the
cross looking out for #1 in our prosperity. We are trying to see how we
can use affirmations and visualizations to capture more for “me,” and we
think we will give a little bit back, later. We don’t get the big picture
of prosperity, which is simply to know that God is here. Prosperity is to
experience that. When we do that, the world is different. We feel so
prosperous. We know that abundance, but the ego doesn’t like it too much.
There is an old Jewish story of how God decided where to put the temple in
Jerusalem. The story goes that there were two brothers. One had a family
and one didn’t. They loved each other very much. They were in the
grain/flour business together. Every night, the brother who had a family
would look at his wife and children and say, “When I grow old I’m going to
have my family to take care of me, but my poor brother is all by himself.”
So he would take as much of the grain he had taken home for personal use,
and he would put some flour back for his brother.
In the meantime, his brother who was at his house by himself would think,
“I’m just fine. My poor brother has a whole family to feed, so I need to
help them out.” So he would take some of his flour back to the business
for his brother. Unknown to the other, they both would continually give
back some of their personal flour.
One day, they met on the road on the way to their business, and they
realized what they had been doing for all those years. That is where God
chose to build the temple.
That is a sweet story. Behind it is the simple message of where divinity
dwells – in the openness, the giving, and the sharing.
When a great teacher of prayer was asked, “How can I feel the bliss of
God?” He answered in one word: “Service.”
There was an extraordinary article in the Toronto Star years ago. The
headlines said: “Girl Weeps as Jet Passengers Give.” Here is a little piece of that story.
“The little girl wept as big-hearted passengers on a jumbo jet raised the
equivalent of $97,000 in a mid-air collection to pay for a life-saving
operation. Four-year-old Marian Kadash who suffered from a serious liver
condition, was flying to Britain for tests at a top London hospital. She
will need a liver transplant. The pretty, dark-haired child and her mother
burst out in tears as the 450 passengers and crew who heard about her
plight emptied their pockets. Everyone on board threw money into a
suitcase being carried around the jet as it flew over the Mediterranean
toward Heathrow Airport. The suitcase, which was filled after it went
around once, was carried around a second time to cheers and applause.
Astonished crew and passengers gasped with disbelief when the collection
in a dozen different currencies added up to $97,000. The flight was flying
British holiday merrymakers home from Tel Aviv, and a group of British
millionaires helped bump up the fundraising to its final tally.”
What was going on in that place? People were stepping out of their
self-interest and serving and giving. How did they feel? One of the great
secrets to service is the experience you have when you give.
Service is really more of an attitude than it is a job or a specific role.
You can do service wherever you are with whatever you are doing. In fact,
you can do the same stuff you do every day, but shift for whom you are doing
it . Are you the man on the right side of the Cross or on the left? If
you can start seeing God in the people you work with, and seeing God’s
expression in everything you do, then all of your chores become blissful
prayer. What a secret. Then you start experiencing and feeling the
presence of God.
Service is the finest way of practicing the presence of God. So, when you
are doing service, whether it is washing your dishes, or balancing your
checkbook, or working in your office, or sweeping the steps, you are
really sweeping out the dust from inside your own heart. You are really
cleaning up your own life when you serve.
Service rules because it gives you and me the opportunity to clean up our
acts, to practice what we know, to see God in the world, to feel God
rather than our own petty egos and our little concerns. What a great gift
that is! Every person in prayer and meditation must eventually get up and
begin serving God in the world.
I would like to close with a parable that Bruce Barton tells that sums up very nicely what service is. It talks about the two different kinds of people there are in the world, and who live inside of us.
There are two seas in Palestine. One is fresh and fish are in it. Splashes
of green adorn its banks. Trees spread their branches over it and stretch
out their thirsty roots for a sip of its healing waters. Along its shores
the children play as children played when Jesus was there. He loved it. He
could look across its silver surface when He spoke his parables. And on a
rolling plain not far away Jesus fed 5,000 people. The River Jordan makes
this sea with sparkling water from the hills. Men build their houses near
to it, and birds their nests, and every kind of life is happier because it
The River Jordan flows on south into another sea. Here is no splashing
fish, no fluttering leaf, and no song of birds, no children’s laughter.
Travelers choose another route, unless on urgent business. The air hangs
heavy above its water, and neither men nor beast nor fowl will drink.
What makes this mighty difference in these neighboring seas? Not the River
Jordan – it empties the same good water into both. Not the soil in which
they lie nor the country around it. This is the difference – the Sea of
Galilee receives but does not keep the Jordan. For every drop that flows
into it, another drop flows out. The other sea is shrewder, hoarding its
income, jealously. It will not be tempted into a generous impulse. Every
drop it gets, it keeps. The Sea of Galilee gives and lives. The other sea
gives nothing. It is named Dead – the Dead Sea.
There are two seas in Palestine; there are two kinds of people in the
world; there are two kinds of persons inside you and me.
Move from survival to significance. Decide this day whom you will serve.
Let’s close with a short prayer. Lord, we are here to both receive from God and to give. Today, Dear God we ask a simple prayer that we can serve more. We ask that we can make a difference because of the difference you have made in and on us. We are ready and we are willing to be of service now. Help us to give more and be thankful for what we have received and also now less concerned about ourselves.
For this knowledge and experience, we are grateful,
In the name of Jesus Christ . . . Amen.
God bless you.