Having The Heart Of A Servant
We are in the middle of a series on the Songs of Ascent, or the songs that the people would sing on their way to Jerusalem for the three major feasts that all Hebrews were required to attend. One of the most striking aspects of these songs are the way that they build. When Nick puts our worship together, he spends a lot of time working on the flow of this worship. He makes sure that the songs, prayers, and scripture reading all lead into one another.
There is a subtle flow that is happening in the Songs of Ascent. The first song we looked at describes a longing to be home, which seems like a great reason to worship God. I am tired of the brokenness in this world and I long to be home with God. That leads into the second song that is about the power of God. There is an understanding that we are loved by a God who can do unbelievable things in the brokenness of this world. Then we are invited to sing a song describing the joy that comes from gathering to remember and worship our loving and compassionate God.
With this song of joy still in the air the travelers would begin to sing the fourth song, a song about service. And as we so often read in the Psalms, it is not a set of instruction of what we must do, but rather it is an example of what is done. Because these songs are not sermons in themselves, but as music often does they still teach a very powerful lesson.
Now, before you turn me off, I want to say upfront that I agree with you about the way that we normally talk about service in the church. Usually, you get this hard sell on why you should be serving and the result is guilt. I know that I have left many services and meetings feeling guilty because my schedule is so full that there is no way that I can fit one more thing on my calendar. But let me offer you a different thought today. Remember it’s not an accident that this Psalm follows one that talks about joy. So maybe, the guilty feelings we have are misplaced because we are not getting the truth about being a servant.
A mom preparing supper isn’t just cooking spaghetti; she’s serving the family. A dad helping with homework is serving his children. Raking the leaves in your neighbor’s yard is serving. Helping someone paint a room in their house is serving. A teacher teaching her students is serving. Even occupations which involve little direct contact with people, like air traffic controllers, are really service occupations.
Every day we do a thousand different small acts of kindness that are really acts of service. Holding the door for someone who’s carrying an armload of packages or watching someone’s children for a couple of hours so they can get some task done are all acts of service. As a matter of fact there is really very little of our time that doesn’t involve serving someone, somehow.
I wanted to start today by emphasizing this point because usually, when the topic of serving is addressed, it’s in the form of a command. The preacher is trying to convince you that serving is something you ought to do. And while it’s true that we are called to service, maybe we can better understand the call if we realize that we are already serving other people a great deal of the time, either directly or indirectly.
Servanthood is not just one more command that fills our calendar, in reality it is at the heart of almost everything we do. Our Psalm this morning recognizes that fact and doesn’t deal with whether we’re serving, but why we are serving.
Service is always a part of discipleship
This Psalm begins by looking up to God; by lifting up our eyes we are reminded of what kind of relationship we have with God. The song acknowledges that God is our Lord and our Master. We are here to serve Him. But the idea of service is not easy for everyone to swallow, because we like to be our own masters. We like to manage our own lives. Our problem is that sometimes we bring this attitude into our relationship with God.
We don’t get real excited about looking up to God, it seems easier to look at Him or even down on Him. We all have times when we struggle with feelings of entitlement because when you become a Child of God there is this sense of confidence and power. We read the promises in the Bible; ask and it will be given you. Then there’s the fact that God presents Himself to us in the form of Jesus Christ who was by nature a servant. It becomes very easy to take on the role of the master and begin to make demands of God. But the heart of this Psalm is a reminder that God is our master and Lord.
Anyone who has ever been around children knows that we are born with a desire to be served, not to serve. Babies need someone take care of them and meet their needs, at the moment that the need arises. And babies are not patient task masters, they want to be fed now, changed now, and comforted now. But as we mature God urges us to take on the role of Jesus, who came as a servant. Only a servant can look up to God who is alone worthy to be our Lord and master.
The Psalmist makes a comparison: “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.” Slaves and servants had to be watchful, awaiting a command. They were expected to be alert, observant, ready to anticipate the master’s every need. In the same way, we should always be tuned into God, watching for Him to direct our steps, and being sensitive to His leading in our lives.
I have had far too many conversation with people who say they are waiting for God to give them a sign. Everyone seems to be looking for a big, explosive, loud, neon sign and that’s not how God works. There is a great story in 1 Kings 19 where the prophet Elijah is asking to hear God’s voice, he wants God to show Himself. So God told him to go stand on the mountain and He would walk past him. A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks but God wasn’t there. Then there was an earthquake, but God wasn't there. Then there was a roaring fire, but God wasn't in the fire. Finally Elijah heard a gentle and quiet whisper and that’s where he found God.
God is not going to scream your name, He will approach you in quiet strength. That’s why we must be attentive always looking up to Him. When we serve God, our efforts are an act of worship. Our service is the natural outgrowth of spiritual maturity. Faith is a verb, and that verb is service. God isn’t looking for our ability but our availability. He will equip us to serve Him and show us what He wants us to do. Our job is submission, to surrender ourselves to God and His purpose.
Service isn’t always appreciated
There are so many ways to serve. There are big tasks and little tasks. There are jobs that are more obvious and upfront but most of the acts of service we perform are small behind-the-scenes tasks that are almost invisible. We see the results but we don’t see the effort. We would notice if they were left undone though, but we hardly ever notice when they are done. It’s like the act of service that Jan Hunt and Betty Shannon do every week when they prepare the communion. It so often goes unnoticed, unless they don’t do it.
One of the greatest struggles we have with serving others, is that very often we feel like no one notices, or even stops to say thank you. At work, in our family, or even in this church we often end up becoming frustrated and discouraged. The people we are serving don’t respond as we would hope or expect. They don’t seem to appreciate our hard work and sacrifice. It’s discouraging when we do our best to help someone out; perhaps even making a personal sacrifice in order to do it, and instead of gratitude we hear silence.
Sometimes it goes beyond not being appreciated or ignored sometimes when people do respond they are critical. They criticize our acts of service the only words we hear are grumbling, and complaining, and fault-finding. Folks don’t like the service that you have offered or they tell you that they could have done a better job. You give time and energy to tasks you’ve volunteered to do, and rather than receive thanks you get contempt. They criticize the work, and they even criticize you. We are left feeling hurt and angry; if we’re not careful that leads to bitterness, and eventually you feel like you’d be better off not serving at all.
James Boice said, For every sigh there’s a Psalm. That’s why so many people turn again and again to the Psalms. Music is powerful, and in the pages of this old song book we see the power of someone that seems to understand. The songs understand our fears, depression, joy and hope. Music is truly the language of the heart.
This Psalm was written by someone who understood what it was to feel taken advantage of and unappreciated. He knew the feeling of others looking down on him or people laughing at him. It’s one thing to serve those who are appreciative and grateful; it’s another thing to serve people who treat you poorly, who behave as if whatever you do for them is simply what they deserve, or even worse not enough. It’s hard to keep loving, and serving, and sacrificing, for people who would rather frown and complain instead of smile and say thank you.
I imagine that’s why in verse 3 the psalmist asks for mercy. The author has served, been criticized, and as result a relationship has been broken. This crisis of attitude is why the servant asks for mercy. That is why He turns to God in prayer and lays his feelings on the table. He asks for mercy because he knows that if there is no love in his service then it is worthless. The Psalmist understood that service is an act of worship. You can’t worship when you are angry, frustrated and bitter.
The great thing is that we have a God who fully understands our hurts, struggles and needs. God knows that service involves frustrations. And He knows that we will move towards bitterness and anger when not thanked. He wants our service to be worshipful. God desires for us to understand that our service is for Him and that’s where we will find our gratitude, not in someone else. He wants us to serve for the right reasons and with the right attitude. That’s why we need mercy, because it’s not about what we do to serve but rather about who we serve and how we serve.
Service is always for God
We all long for freedom, we all celebrate our freedom, but not all of us feel free. We live in a nation of complainers and addicts. Everywhere we turn we hear complaints: I can’t spend my money the way I want; I can’t spend my time the way I want; I can’t do what I want. Add to that the a numberless amount of people that are addicts; addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, pornography, work, or 1000 different things. We serve the wrong master and we stay enslaved.
In the idea of serving we find a struggle for freedom and control. We have this natural desire to control our destiny and our surroundings. From the earliest moments of life we struggle for control with our parents, then with employers, and all too often with God. This call to service is a call to allow God to be in control of your life.
Make no mistake about it; who you choose to be in control of your life is the most critical decision you will ever make. As long as you believe that you are in control and you are calling the shots, you will be in conflict with God. It’s only when we surrender to Christ that we begin to understand what real freedom is. It’s there that we find what we are made for and we begin to live the deeper life. Until God is Lord of your life, you will always play in the shallow waters of self centered desire and never find the fullness of experiencing the depths of Gods presence.
Our song this morning reminds us that the only way we will find real freedom is by learning to serve a better master. Until we learn that every relationship that excludes God is oppressive we will never long to live under the control of God. That’s where real freedom is found, in serving Him.
The best commentary on our Psalm is found in the book of Romans. In Romans 12 we read Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you.
We come back full circle to where we started this morning, our service is what happens in our everyday normal life. Because of what God has done for us we find freedom in serving Him. Did you notice that the psalm doesn’t say anything about serving others. It focuses on being a servant to God. It carries the idea that it’s only when we dedicate our lives to serving God that we will be able to serve others. When we chose the freedom of being a slave to God then we will be hospitable, compassionate, visit the sick, and be involved in doing acts of service that really matter in this world.
Paul also writes in Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people. No job is too small, no job is too menial, no job is too insignificant when you have the right motive and perspective. We should think, I’m doing it for God; I’m doing this job as if I’m doing it for the Lord. When you serve your family by cooking them supper you are serving the Lord. When you hold the door open for someone who hands are full you are serving the Lord.
You are no longer working for a boss but for the Lord, and you serve with excellence. You give it your best shot. You do the best you can because you’re not doing it for anyone’s approval except God’s. When you are working with all your heart, motivated by the love of Christ, your work is transformed into an act of worship for God. It’s only then do you truly understand that He is the only one worthy of your worship and praise.
Questions For You To Consider
Jeremy said this morning that whatever you do for someone else is an act of service. So you agree with that?
What are some acts of service that you enjoy?
How does our view of God determine our attitude about service? (If we look down at God we may not want to serve, but if we look up to Him we cannot help but serve)
When you felt unappreciated, how did that effect your servant heart?
How does Matthew 7:12 apply in this situation?
How does giving up control to God cause us to want to serve?