Let’s play a game of word association. When I say “SERVING,” what do you think of?
Perhaps the waiter who forgot your side of Sriracha. Someone employed as a member of the armed services. Painting someone’s house. Delivering a meal to a shut-in. Organizing a car-wash for charity.
We tend to relate serving with standing up, springing into action, and getting things done. And rightly so. Serving requires concrete action.
At the same time, it also needs a fair bit of sitting. Really.
Not the ‘sit on your rear-end and binge-watch Stranger Things’ type of sitting (though that is a fantastic type of sitting at other times), but the type of sitting that involves contemplation, listening, and resting for the work ahead.
If you are seeking to serve others, let me invite you to consider sitting in three ways before springing into action: 1) sitting in contemplation and discernment, 2) sitting with those we seek to serve, and 3) sitting in rest as a means to recharge for service.
Sitting in Contemplation and Discernment
Have you ever had the feeling that something doesn’t sit well with you? The idea that children in your community go hungry may not sit well with you. Perhaps the way someone treats you at your office doesn’t sit well with you. Maybe the way that people from other cultures or religions are represented in the media doesn’t sit well with you.
This is what a pastor named Bill Hybels calls, “holy discontent.” It’s that thing that when you see it, touch it, get near it, you just can’t stand or it just doesn’t feel right.
We need “holy discontent” to move us from vegging out on the couch flipping through Snapchat for hours, into the world to confront its brokenness, hurt, and issues of injustice.
But before serving, we should first sit in contemplation to discern exactly what it is that riles us up and that we might be called to apply our passion, gifts, and time to.
Perhaps you could set aside some time to clear your mind of the busyness and bombardment of visual, verbal, and virtual pollution that plagues you each day. Then, you can spend some time sitting in contemplation about the world around you, the world inside you, and the words in front of you. What do I mean by this?
First, the world around you—thinking about the local news, the global headlines, or the stories of people you know—what gets you upset. Spend some time to actually think about what upsets you. What exactly doesn’t sit well with you? Once you pinpoint that…
Contemplate the world within you—consider your gifts and talents. What are you good at? What do other people praise about you? What is it that you can offer the world? Does it match up to the thing that upsets you? How could you match up your passions with your particular skill set?
Overall, we need to test these contemplative notions against some type of authority to keep us on the path toward fulfilling, healthy, and truly helpful service. For me, that means turning to the Word of God (the Bible) and contemplating what it is saying to me, to the world around me, and to the particular issues that call out to me and I recognize in times of contemplation. This will help us better serve those around us.
Sitting with Those We Seek to Serve
Speaking of better serving those around us—it is one thing to discern where, or to whom, we are called to serve. It is another to know how best to serve.
Too often, the valuable views and experiences of the people who are supposed to benefit from our service are ignored, disregarded, or underappreciated, even though they are an invaluable source of insight into our service’s potential for effectiveness.
This is part of what Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert are getting at in their book When Helping Hurts. Too often, people who serve start out with good intentions, but totally miss the real, and felt, needs of those they seek to serve.
That’s a shame. Because it isn’t that we don’t care about the people we serve. They are our motivation for the work, they are people we love and care for, they are the ones we want to assist and be an ally for.
So why don’t we sit and listen to what they think, how we can best serve them, and whether or not the work we are doing is of real benefit to their overall lives? Maybe we don’t really trust them. Perhaps we are fearful of what they might say. Or maybe we just don’t value their knowledge.
Sometimes, what they need might not be something we can give. Are our egos willing to hear that?
Whatever our fears might be, it is too often that those who receive help are caught in power dynamics that silence them, make them subordinate, and ultimately rob them of the services that would truly bless their lives.
It is time that we sit and listen to whose we seek to serve. We will be surprised by what we find, blessed by the richness of wisdom that is embedded in the lives of those we want to help, and better able to serve them if we do.
Sitting in Rest as a Means to Recharge for Service
In a world that is rife with addiction to busyness, it is imperative that we re-discover the lost art of re-creative rest. Only then can we effectively serve and yield fruit in our work for justice.
Justice work is good work. It is a high calling. It deserves great effort and exertion. But in today’s world, if our work in the realms of social justice mimics the exhausting routine of the fiercely competitive struggle for wealth and power, we would do well to take a moment to consider the biblical rhythm of Sabbath.
From the foundation of the world, God wove together time in such a way that it would be lived in a rhythm of rest and work. The fabric of the universe has Sabbath rest stitched into it, and the concept has served as the cadence for agricultural, pastoral, and industrial work for ages.
The call to those who labor, in whatever calling, is to both rest from their work and work from their rest. It is to seek asylum in what Rabbi Abraham Heschel called, a “sanctuary in time.”
Compassion for the world and practice of the Sabbath for the body and soul are intimately interconnected. We cannot serve the world without setting time aside for re-creative rest. We cannot do re-creative work from a place of exhaustion and burnout.
In our current culture, this is downright subversive. It will also make us better servants in a world rife with not only busyness, but serious hurt and need.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on serving from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.