Serve Christ, Find Joy

July 10, 2013

John Hindley is pastor of BroadGrace, Norfolk, UK. He is the author of Serving without Sinking: How to serve Christ and keep your joy, published by The Good Book Company.

I often feel weary, discouraged or bitter in serving Jesus. These are not merely past realities. I’m a pastor, and this is a fair summary of my heart too many days.

I don’t think it’s just me—I see signs of it in my Christian friends, too. We often seem to be a burdened, joyless bunch. It shouldn’t be like this, and it doesn’t need to be—for me or for you.

Jesus promises us that if we come to him, no matter how weary or burdened we are, he will “give you rest” (Matthew 11 v 29). Following him brings rest, takes our burdens, leaves our weariness behind.

I like the sound of that! My heart says: “That’s amazing.” My head says: “That’s not what it’s really like though, is it, John?”

Deep down, I have found myself wondering if Jesus is mistaken, or unrealistic. But in the end, either he got it wrong, or I did—and he is God. Working for him is meant to be a joy. It can be restful. It ought to be wonderful.

And yet for me, it often hasn’t been and often isn’t. Why not?

Why Do You Serve?

It’s 9:30 a.m. at Holy Trinity Church in Genericville. The service won’t start till 10.30am, but there are already some church members in the building. The Smiths are setting up a table for serving drinks. The Sanchez family are folding service sheets. The Smalls are preparing to teach a children’s group.

All are serving. Their hands are busy. But are they serving Christianly? Maybe; or maybe not. When it comes to Christian service, the first place to look is at what is going on in our hearts, not what we are doing with our hands.

Our motives matter. And, when it comes to service, our motives can so easily go wrong. We know this because we see it throughout the Bible. You can “serve God”…

to be good enough for him, like the Pharisee in Luke 18 v 9-14
to get something from him, like the older brother in Luke 15 v 22-32
to pay him back for saving us, rather than loving him for it, like the “imaginary Paul” of 1 Corinthians 13 v 1-3
to impress others, like the Pharisees of Matthew 6
to belong, like Simon Magus in Acts 8 v 15-23
because you think he needs you, like Martha in Luke 10 v 38-42
in a way which assumes you don’t need him, like the disciples trying to drive out an evil spirit in Mark 9 v 14-29
If any of these are what drives your service, then that service will be accompanied by bitterness, worry, pride, exhaustion, discouragement, or envy.

Finding the Joy in Service

So how do we find, or rediscover, joy in service? By shifting our focus away from ourselves: by appreciating that:

“the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus did not come for you to serve him. He came to serve you. He came to make you his friend, part of his bride, a son of his Father.

It’s only as we grasp this that we find ourselves able to serve, but now in freedom and with joy. After all, if you work for a friend, you work hard; if you do something for your spouse, you do it joyfully; if you are in a family business, you freely go the extra mile.

The Next Day

Imagine it’s the day after the younger son returned home in Jesus’ famous parable.

The father asks his two sons to help harvest. The younger son springs up with joy. He is amazed he can enjoy his father’s love, relishes the work of swinging his scythe for the father who loves him so much.

This is Christian service—it makes you smile. It truly is an easy yoke.

What does the older brother do? Maybe he works, too—but bitterly, angrily, joylessly. He serves—but he does not smile.

I face a daily battle to be a younger brother, not an older one; to take my eyes off what I am doing and focus on what Jesus has done and is doing for me. But it’s only in Christ that I find the motivation to serve freely and joyfully.

It’s as we love knowing Jesus that we’ll serve long, serve hard, serve more… and all with a smile.

Trevin Wax

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