Believe it or not, I used to play a lot of tennis. Now, I have not played in years, but I still love to watch a good tennis match. For me one of the things tennis brings to mind is the flow—the give and take—of the game. It is a game where serving is everything.
I used to have a T-shirt that said, ‘Tis Better to Serve Than to Receive”. The scripture referenced here was Bjorn (Bjorn Borg) who won a major championship years back – 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. If you know anything about tennis, you know what that is all about.
As you can tell by his scores, his motto could have been, “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.” 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 others.
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. He can only feel a certain kind of mocking quality toward The Son.
The second man looks up a little higher and sees the sacred part of life who is Christ and totally innocent, and he recognizes it. He calls out to Him, and then Christ, assures him, “This day you will be with me in paradise;” just by making that conscious contact with God, he was saved. This second man represents our willingness to become larger than the self – interest parts of ourselves – to give, to commit, to become great. Until we become fully wrapped in the arms of 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 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
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 our topic. 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.”
1 Peter 4:10: Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
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 speaking here of 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.
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 give to ourselves and 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 life truly is. 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, the service to the other, 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.” Here is a 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. Service is really more of an attitude than it is a job or a specific role. How did they feel? One of the great secrets to service is the experience you have when you give.
Move from survival to significance.
Decide this day whom you will serve.
God bless you