Infinite Access - SERVE
Knowing when to serve and when to stop.
After getting married almost 5 years ago now (wow, time flies!), me and Grace headed off on our honeymoon to Cyprus. We’d found a great deal on an all inclusive place that would just allow us to relax for the week. The hotel was huge and it seemed to have lots going on throughout each day. However, while we were there we noticed something quite churchy (for want of a better word) about the place!
There appeared to be one small group of people who did everything.
I mean, everything.
This group were in reception, in the bar area, the entertainment in the evenings (which was a big variety of tribute acts), carrying out the children’s entertainment through the day, we think we spotted one of them helping in the spa and who knows what else.
We almost felt guilty for how relaxed we felt watching them.
If you’re involved in a church, you’ll know that they can be hard work sometimes! There always seems to be something happening and more that you could be doing. Serving and volunteering then can be so tiring on top of all you do already - work, seeing friends, looking after family etc. And sometimes it looks a lot like the same people are involved in everything!
Serving isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s what we are called to do as followers of Jesus as a way to reflect the love and grace we’ve been shown to the world. But is that actually what it looks like when we do it through tired bodies?
So how do we know when to serve and when we need to stop? And where do we get the rest we need from stopping and the energy we need to serve?
For this blog, I was drawn to the story in Luke about Mary and Martha.
All sounds a little like me at Christmas when everyone in my family is helping cook an amazing dinner, while I’ve ducked out to watch Christmas films and 'look after' our guests!
You can imagine Martha's frustration boiling up as she works hard alone to serve Jesus the perfect meal, while Mary does nothing but sit with their guest. Martha builds up the courage to tell off Mary, and hoping Jesus will agree, asks him why he hasn’t told her to help.
Jesus replies by noticing something about Martha. She wasn’t just bothered by Mary’s lack of help, in fact that was the lesser matter, there was something else going on.
He replies, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things’.
And what do we do when we are worried? We keep ourselves busy.
I was great at this when I was a student, particularly when there was an upcoming deadline - procrastinating. Escaping. If I just do this, I won’t have to think about anything else and I can avoid those feelings boiling up. Whatever it is, we regularly choose to run from it by distracting ourselves with other stuff.
Jesus isn’t saying don’t serve, but he is teaching Martha (and other Martha’s out there!), when to serve and when to stop.
Martha, you are worried, anxious and upset - Stop. Stop and listen.
Escaping does nothing for the situation we find ourselves in. It’s still there and very much exists while we do whatever else it is that allows us to feel as if it isn’t - cleaning up, Netflix, socialising, internet shopping, listening to music (we’ll use anything!).
And what that means is that the voices of those around us, whose own anxiousness often can make things worse with what they’ve said to us, and our own voice which is already upset, just builds up and festers.
So while we think we’re escaping, all we are actually doing is pulling others into our problems and feelings (look at how Martha talks about Mary to Jesus!).
And what does Jesus say at this point? Not, I don’t care for your servant heart, but I do care for your servant heart. So much so, that you’re serving of me can wait, until I’ve served you. Until I’ve been allowed to speak peace into your worry and sadness.
You are more important than what you do.
So when do we stop? When serving is about us getting away from others, rather than us putting others above ourselves. When we are tired and worn down and we start listening to the wrong voices in our life. When the voice that will change our situation is talking.
Martha has rushed to feed Jesus, and neglected the opportunity to be fed herself.
But as we know, Jesus’s example is that of a servant. So I want to make it crystal clear, that Jesus’s response here isn’t a blanket statement about serving.
Don’t try and use this blog to get out of doing the washing up or tidying the house! (Terry!)
But don’t try and use washing up or tidying the house to escape life either. Jesus is with you and waiting to speak life.
Stop and listen.
The Greek word used here to describe what Martha is doing is diakonia, the same one Paul uses to encourage a style of leadership in those running churches (alongside doulos), and literally means here to ‘serve the tables’. So this style of serving isn’t something Jesus is trying to stop all together. In fact, in John 12:2, Martha serves again and is content doing so and not encouraged to stop.
Quick side-note (sorry, I get distracted easily!) - Given the time that this took place in, and Jewish women’s rights not permitting them to be as active in synagogues as men, Mary could be seen as the one acting out of the ordinary, not Martha, as we often assume. Yet this is something Jesus is encouraging!
So if this passage isn't telling us we shouldn't serve, when do we serve?
Let’s jump to John 13, a famous passage used when people think about the kind of servant hearted leader Jesus was as he washes the feet of his disciples. Grubby, muddy, smelly feet. No thanks.
It’s so easy to only see the emphasis in this passage on Jesus being an example of servant heartedness for us to follow - he served and therefore so should we. Of course he is, but we shouldn’t overlook when he asks the disciples to serve within the narrative. Let’s look at Jesus’s interaction with Peter in the middle.
Peter begins by refusing to let Jesus wash his feet. It comes from the place of someone determined to prove himself and determined to lead by example - but Jesus uses it as an opportunity to talk about when we serve. He even tells Peter he won’t understand now, but will later. His heart is in the right place, but he’s missed the point.
Following that interaction, Jesus washes the rest of the disciples feet and calls on them to wash each others feet.
You see what Jesus is saying to his disciples isn’t simply - ‘hey, go and wash everybody’s feet! It’ll be disgusting, but it’ll show everyone what a great servant hearted leader you are - and therefore I am.’
Jesus is more concerned with when his disciples will serve than how.
He is saying to Peter - unless you allow me to wash your feet first, you can’t wash the feet others.
It’s only after Jesus has washed their feet that he encourages them to wash the feet of others.
Stop before you start.
Be served before you serve.
Listen before you share.
Be before you do.
Serving shouldn’t be an escape from our already busy lives (think about how little sense that makes!), it should be love in action. But in order to reveal that love we must stop, and allow Jesus to love and serve us first.
We aren't Jesus's employees, who he is forcing into work, we are his children who he wants to work in and through. Maybe it's time for you to stop and let him?
Spend 5/10 minutes (or longer if you have it!) stopping. No escaping in music or reading or TV or podcasts or videos. If it's best to, wait till the kids have gone to bed or find another room away from everything else and simply stop and let Jesus serve you so you can serve others.
Stop and listen.
What's he saying to you?