Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren.
3 John 1:5
Our Lenten journey is just about to get underway. This week, we have been discussing preparing for Great Lent, reflecting on five core values—love, worship, community, learning, service—that are the core values of the parish of St. John the Baptist in Tampa, FL, where I currently serve. These values guide our parish and the decisions we make. These values are also a good steady rudder for a Christian life. And as we prepare to enter Great Lent, they will be a great rudder for a Lenten journey. Today we examine the last of these values, service.
As we approach Lent, most people think first about fasting. And probably most make at least some attempt at some level of fasting. The next thing they think about are the added liturgical services. While most people still do not attend Lenten services (remember my thought of attending one extra service per week, or one Compline, Pre-Sanctified and Salutations), at least people are aware of them, and most people plan to do something extra for Holy Week. There are some people who do some learning during Lent—they either read a book, attend a retreat, or go to an educational program. The thing that many of us forget is to add the element of “service” into our Lenten experience.
To serve means to take from ourselves and to give to someone else. To serve only ourselves is narcissism. What can we take from ourselves to give to others? Here are a few ideas:
1.     Forgiveness—The first thing we are called to do as we begin Great Lent is to offer forgiveness, as well as to ask for forgiveness. To offer forgiveness, even to someone who doesn’t deserve it, is an act of service. The one forgiving benefits also. Because forgiveness frees the one who forgives, as well as the one forgiven. To ask for forgiveness also frees us, whether it is granted to us or not.
2.     Time—The most precious commodity we have, in my opinion, is time. That’s the thing I never seem to have enough of. That’s the thing I can’t get more of. To offer someone time is a sacrificial gift for many of us. When someone else offers me time, that is among the greatest gifts I could receive. Whether that is someone calling on the phone to check in on me, or sending an encouraging text, or wanting to have lunch together, it is wonderful to be served with the gift of someone’s time, and it is wonderful for the one serving also to give the gift of time to someone else, to see them encouraged, to see them uplifted.
3.     Lift someone up—Many people struggle with self-esteem. They have lower opinions of themselves, or they feel unworthy for any kind of compliment. We all know people like this. A great act of service is to lift someone up—this doesn’t take a lot of time or money. It costs literally nothing to pay someone a compliment. But to that person, who might have nothing, you are offer the gift of completeness, for the recipient to feed that they have value.
4.     Volunteer work—Since the most precious commodity we have is time, take a break from something you enjoy doing and gift that to someone else. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. Pass on ONE sports game on TV—that’s two hours. That’s one game of March madness, not the whole tournament, and volunteer at one of the many charitable groups in your area.
5.     Donate a meal—Most of us go out to dinner at least once a week with our families or friends. That can easily be $100 or more. Some of us go out to lunch a couple of times of week because we are lazy to pack lunch (that would be me, I confess)—that’s at least $20 these days. And many people (not me) frequent Starbucks on a daily basis and spend $8-10 for a cup of coffee. Imagine if in 40 days, you gave up one dinner out with family, one lunch and one cup of coffee, that would easily be $125. Imagine if every person or family gave $125 to charity this month. We could feed a lot of hungry people, cloth a lot of naked people, support people who have no homes. Not only would this help other people, this would help us fulfill Christ’s teaching about the Last Judgment, that it is based really on service—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, etc.
6.     Look at your job as a ministry—We live at a time where no one really wants to work. People are all about the paycheck it seems, to me at least. They want the most amount of money for the least amount of work. Hardly anyone seems to see their job as a ministry, as a holy thing, as an act of service. Yes, we all want to make money, myself included. But once we agree to work for a certain wage, then we have to work, we have to serve. We can’t just add up hours and dollar signs. That doesn’t help for whom we work, and it doesn’t really help us either. There is intrinsic value in work, in feeling like we are offering something to the world. Yes, I work for a paycheck. But I also work for God and for others and at the end of the day, that is what brings fulfillment. The paycheck might help buy things that make me happy. But fulfillment only comes from things that money can’t buy. Seeing our jobs as ministries won’t actually cost anything. We give the time and we get the money. Seeing our jobs as ministries will motivate us to help others with more regularity, intention and joy. Seeing our jobs as ministries will also inspire us. Everyone wins.
Lord, thank You for the many opportunities I have to serve others, whether it is in my family, the place where I work, with friends that I know, in places I go, and even to total strangers. Help me to have a servant’s heart—to see the value in service not only for others but for myself as well. Give me eyes to see those who are in need, and the heart of service that encourages me to run towards them. Amen.
Practice idea for Lent: Offer service to others by offering forgiveness, time encouragement.