Having The Heart Of A Servant

Psalm 123

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. Maybe, you are beginning to pick up on the 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 spite of 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 has already been done.       

Now, before you turn me off, I want to say upfront that I agree with you about the way that we normally talk about serving and being a servant in the church. Usually, you get this hard sell on why you should be serving and instead of feeling inspired, we just feel guilty. I have been there, I have walked out of a service or a meeting feeling guilty because my schedule is so full that there is no way that I can fit one more thing on my calendar. The last thing I expect when I come to this place to thank God for all that He has done in my life, is to leave under a heavy burden of guilt. 

So let’s take a look at this from a different angle. I don’t believe that it’s some accident that our Psalm today comes on the heels of a song 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. In reality every act has the ability to be an act of service. 

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.

Let’s just level the playing field here and admit that you are already serving in a thousand different ways. Because what we usually get when we talk about serving is a guilt ridden hard sell about what you are not doing. 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 doing an awful lot of serving other people when we are living out the second great commandment of loving other people.

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.

Sing Heart of a Servant 

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 can I be honest and say that I am not always excited about the idea of being a servant. My greatest struggles in life come from the fact that I want to be my own master; manage my  own life. And I get in trouble when I bring this attitude into my relationship with God.

We don’t get real excited about looking up to God, it seems easier to look over at Him or even down on Him. Have you ever struggled with feelings of entitlement because you are a Child of God? I mean there is a sense of power when you read; ask and it will be given you. There is a sense of importance when you think about the fact that God presents Himself to us in the form of Jesus Christ who was by nature a servant. In our fast paced, consumer driven society it becomes so easy to slip into 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.

Not that we needed a whole lot of encouragement to believe that we are the greatest in the Kingdom. We are born with a desire to be served, not to serve. Every baby 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 grow into maturity, we learn how to put our selfish urges aside and do what is better for ourselves and others. That’s taking on the very nature of Jesus, who came as a servant.

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 doesn’t scream your name, He shows up in quite peace. That’s why we must be attentive 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, verbs imply action, and the action of faith 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. God is worthy of our submission. It is the nature of God to love, and we are called to love Him in return because of His compassion and goodness.

Sing Good, Good, Father. 

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. While we might not notice if they are done, when they are left undone it is painfully obvious. Think about it this way, every Sunday David goes around and makes sure folks know that they are on the schedule to lead and serve the church. You don’t pay much attention when someone comes up here and leads us in prayer, or helps us focus on the Communion. But if no one comes up here to read the scripture before the sermon, we all notice and get uncomfortable.

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 give of our time 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 grumble and complain. The only words you hear are how someone else could have done a better job. You give an act of service and in return you contempt. They criticize the work, or you, which leaves you 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.

This Psalm was written by someone who understood what it was to feel taken advantage of and unappreciated. It’s one thing to serve those who are appreciative and grateful; it’s another thing to serve people who act like 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 is why the servant asks for mercy. It is why He turns to God in prayer and lays his feelings on the table 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.

I find a tremendous amount of hope in the fact 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. That’s why we need to be reminded from time to time that we serve and worship God, and He sees what we do, and blesses our meager and feeble offerings. God not only calls us to live lives of service, in His holiness Jesus demonstrated what a life of service and sacrifice looked like. Then God called us to join Him in this amazing life of peace and joy. That’s why we need mercy, because it’s not about what we do to serve but rather that we are called to serve a God that is compassionate, loving, and holy.

Sing We Bow Down / Holy, Holy, Holy

Service is always for God

Everyone of us would claim to be free, but not all of us feel free. We live in a nation of complainers: 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. Then think about the a numberless amount of people that are addicted to alcohol, drugs, food, pornography, work, or 1000 different things. When we serve the wrong master, 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; we struggle for control with our parents, our children, our employers, and all too often with God. That’s why it is so important that we sing this song as a reminder to allow God to be in control of your life.

You understand that you get to choose who will be in control of your life, and it’s 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. But when you choose to surrender to Christ, well that’s when you begin to understand what real freedom is all about. Surrender is where we find what we are made for and we begin to live the deeper life. Unless God is Lord of your life, you are just splashing around in the puddles of self centered desire and never find the fullness of experiencing the depths of Gods presence.

The only way we will find real freedom is by learning to serve a better master. Any other relationship that tries to exclude God or pushes Him to the background of our lives only results in oppression and pain. Real freedom is found in living under the will of God and 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. Maybe you remember the Bob Goff quote I shared with you a few weeks ago, “It’s time we quit calling it ministry and just start calling it Tuesday.” That’s the point, when we live lives of service we don’t have to draw attention to it, it’s just life.

One more quick point here, 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 choose the freedom of being a slave to God then we will find the ability to be hospitable, compassionate, and live a life of love.

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. You are no longer working for a boss but for the Lord.

At the end of the day, it’s about who is in control. When you came to Jesus, you were saying, I’ve tried to do this on my own, under my own power, under my own control, and I messed it up. So, I want to try something better, I want to follow God, because He loves me and wants to lead me into quiet pastures and beside still waters.  We sing this song because we need God to take control.

Sing Lord Take Control

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