LUKE 6: 38: Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over……..For the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to your gain..”
I used to play tennis and loved the competition. Believe me when I say that I rarely won. Being left handed was always my excuse. But the give and take of this game enthralls me. The most intense part is watching the serve – the service/serving is everything.
There is a T-shirt from years ago that says, ‘Tis Better to Serve Than to Receive. The scripture reference here is Bjorn (Bjorn Borg) 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. If you know anything about tennis, you know what that is all about.
It is better to serve than it is to receive, in tennis 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.”
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.”
Now that is a powerful quote.
The wicked borrows and pays not again; but the righteous shows mercy and gives.” Psalm 37: 21
When we are called to service, the issue comes up for us. It is a tug of war between two different parts of us –that part that is focused on ourselves and that part that really want to reach out to others, to a cause, to a stewardship. Most of us can attest to that!
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 and without crime, why don’t you save yourself and us?”
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. You are innocent.”
Jesus replies to the second man, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
So, let’s think about this – these two men could represent the two parts of each of us. The first man is looking out for himself and that is normal and natural. We all do that. He sees his own pain and suffering and mocks Jesus, maybe hoping Jesus (the Divine) will save all three of them.
The second man looks up a little higher and sees that the sacred part of life that we call the Christ is totally innocent and recognizes it. He calls out to it, and then Christ assures him, “This day you will be with me in paradise;” that man as guilty as he could be was saved by making that connection with Christ. This part of “us” represents that part that wants to reach out – to give, to commit, to serve. I think we live in that state of conflict. I know I do. Part of me wants to go and part wants to stay. Can you identify with this?
Spiritually speaking, life is about our service to others.
Service gives us the opportunity to look beyond ourselves. The reward of service is that when we turn our attention to help someone else, we forget our own problems, pain, misery, which was created by our own willingness to focus on it. 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
There is a story about a conversation overheard when a group of school children were talking about sharing. According to one boy, sharing is what you do when you only have one of something and the teacher is looking.
Which voice is that speaking? It is the voice of the first man—looking out for #1.
St. Francis wrote a prayer that captures the essence of what I am saying here today. 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 we live it and as is often called 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 speaking here of some type of total sacrifice, where we give up everything we have and lay on beds of nails. We must take care of ourselves in order to reach out in service to others.
We seek ways to satisfy our own basic needs; to find ways of nurturing ourselves and keeping ourselves healthy; and providing ways of expressing our gifts – by reaching out.
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?
When and if we focus too much on #1 we find ourselves in a self made trap. We keep on that treadmill that leads us nowhere. We must burst out of that cage and do whatever it takes to move forward – away from our self serving self. The antidote is to serve.
Spiritual people always look out for #2.
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, stronger, clearer.
Why is that?
When we give, we literally do become larger because we experience, maybe for the first time, power of God of His 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, still looking out for #1.. 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 such 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 some years ago. The headlines said: “Girl Weeps as Jet Passengers Give:
“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 an attitude than – it is a job. The service work you are doing can be the same; the focus changes from self to others. 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. Your life is becoming more focused on Godly service, regardless of who it is for.
Service is of the utmost (for His highest as Oswald says) 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 at every turn in our lives. 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 is there.
“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.”
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.
God bless you!