You hear a lot about service these days. Kids have service projects at school or in Scouts. People volunteer for food pantries or soup kitchens over the holidays. Social media has posts about “giving back” or “paying it forward.”
But service goes way beyond that. For some people, it becomes a lifestyle. That’s what Jesus called us to—not just to do “projects,” but to spend ourselves in caring for others.
It’s what he did, after all. It didn’t matter to him what kind of person he was dealing with—a poor woman, a distraught father, an outcast with a disgusting disease—he was completely there for them, listening to them, paying attention to what they needed. And then he did what he could to meet those needs, even the ones that never found a voice—the woman’s need for a new, better status in the community, the outcast’s need not just for healing but for human touch (John 4, Luke 5:12-15).
We can do that too—be in the moment, pay attention to those we’re interacting with, meet the needs we can. It’s what he calls us to do.
But it’s messy. If you open yourself up to human need, you risk getting dragged in to other people’s messy lives. And lots of us—maybe all of us—don’t really want to do that. It’s not comfortable. We worry what might be asked of us—and whether we’ll be able to “get out of it” if we want to.
The thing about service is, people tend to put limits on how far they’ll be involved with the people they serve. And that’s not bad. We have to have boundaries, or we get worn out and people walk all over us. But most people put those limits up a lot sooner than they need to—and some amazing things could happen if they’d stretch just a bit further.
Let’s take an example. Maybe there’s an older man, Ed, who’s about to lose his home. Medical bills and late payments have put him on the edge of foreclosure. He’s in a panic, because he’s never been good at paperwork, and he sure can’t afford to hire someone to sort it out.
So you volunteer to look at it. You make a few phone calls, you talk to a social worker friend, you call the bank (with his permission, of course!) You find a solution. Whew! That’s good. That’s over with. Or is it?
Take a step back and look at your new friend. Actually, he could use a friend—a real friend—because he’s largely home-bound. Any time the weather gets bad, he’s stuck at home. He’s got transportation issues. His car is twenty years old and on its last legs. But he hasn’t said anything to you about it because he’s very proud and independent. He’ll take help from a friend—but not from a mere acquaintance.
Go deeper. Ed is a great guy—he should have loads of friends. But his wife died ten years ago, and his only son is in the military stationed in Germany. Ed’s retired, so he doesn’t have work friends, and he doesn’t go to church. He says “hi” to his neighbors, but they came here as refugees and don’t have much more English than that.
Could you spend some time with Ed?
Not as a “service project.” Nobody likes to be a project. But as a friend—as a person you care about and want to spend time with. That’s real service—the kind you do because that’s just what you were made to do. The kind that, ultimately, you don’t even realize you’re doing, because it’s just who you are. Ed’s needs are not the needs of a stranger anymore—they are the needs of your friend. And so naturally you do what you can.
This is the kind of life Jesus lived. This is the kind of life he calls his followers to. And God forgive us, there’s plenty of proof that Christians don’t always live this way. But we can. We can try. Because meeting human need is what Jesus is all about.