At Your Service
Dr. Connie Befus
“A la orden,” is how I was greeted by waiters, waitresses, or store clerks when my husband and I lived in Colombia, South America, for several years. Translated literally, those Spanish words mean, “At your orders.” A better translation would be, “At your service.” Here in the U.S., service personnel might say, “What can I do for you today?”
But the fact that those words in Spanish are slightly different made me stop and think. First of all, they remind me of the attitude of Mary, the mother of Jesus when the angel Gabriel told her she had been chosen to carry in her body the Savior of the world. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered” (Luke 1:38). In other words, “At your service.”
But is that what my attitude is? Is it yours? Are we really at our Lord’s service?
Sometimes we might act more like the administrative assistant of a boss who came into the office and said, “Good morning! We have a great deal to do today. So, I would like you to finish typing those reports left from yesterday, and then pay all the outstanding bills.” And the assistant responds, “Well, I’ll do the reports, because I like doing them, but someone else can pay the bills, because that’s menial and not fulfilling for me…”
You can imagine the boss responding, “Who’s the boss here?”
Getting Our Attitude in Line
The New Testament makes it clear that we are not the boss. Instead, as believers and disciples, we are called to be servants, to have an “at your service” mentality.
Once, when Jesus’ disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest, Jesus rebuked them. He explained that while it might seem normal to want to be in charge and lord it over others, he wanted his disciples to be different. “Instead,” he said, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Then, the night before he went to the cross, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, explaining that he did so to set an example for them, so that they would learn to wash one another’s feet. In Jesus’ day, washing feet was a servant’s job—low status. Streets in that era were made of dirt and were conduits of waste of all kinds. Washing off the muck of the street was a necessary but menial, sometimes disgusting task. That is a strong metaphor for what Jesus wants us to be willing to do. We can “wash the feet” of our children, our spouses, our roommates, our neighbors, our clients.
Paul, the Apostle who wrote many of the letters in our New Testament, often referred to himself as a bond servant of Christ. A bond servant at that time was in a permanent role of service and was often considered someone’s property. Paul had no problem identifying himself as the property of Jesus Christ, gladly in permanent service. He wrote to believers in the Corinthian church, “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
And he encouraged us to have the same attitude Jesus had, who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2: 5-7).
So, yes, we really are supposed to be God’s servants, ready to do anything he asks.
Sometimes This Is Fun
Often, being our Lord’s servants is joyful and fulfilling. We help others knowing that whether they appreciate our service or not, we are being obedient to our Lord. And helping others often gives us a warm feeling of being who, or how, we are supposed to be. It is as if we are helping right the world against wrongs, if only in a small way. In fact, helping others produces good feelings so predictably that counselors often recommend that depressed people “do something for someone else” because doing so can help them feel better!
With that in mind, it is wise, when possible, to choose a vocation, or full-time job, that serves our Lord by serving others. Frederick Buechner captured this idea well when he wrote:
“Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, “to call,” and means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done…The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
What About When It Isn’t Fun?
But all of us know that no job, no calling, is fulfilling and joyful all the time. Even the most meaningful kinds of service have their drab or annoying aspects and can drain us dry.
Also, God may well give us “service assignments” apart from our job or vocation that we just don’t love. When he does, it can be challenging to keep an “at your service” mentality.
At such times it might help to think of the prophet Elijah, who God sent to tell Ahab, a wicked king of Israel, that there would be no rain for the next few years. The Lord then instructed Elijah to go hide out by the brook Kerith, to drink from the brook and be fed “bread and meat” morning and evening by the ravens. This was not five-star accommodation, my friends! Ravens are scavengers and eat carrion. I wonder what the menu was like…? Let’s just say Elijah had several years’ experience of primitive camping. (He’d probably do well in any Survivor series today!) His obedience brings new meaning to the “at your service” mentality.
And then there’s the fact that the Apostle Paul referred to himself, while in jail, as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:1). Technically, Paul was a prisoner of the Roman Empire due to complaints by Jewish leaders. But Paul chose not to view himself that way. If he was imprisoned for doing what his Lord wanted him to then he saw himself as “Jesus’ prisoner.” I have never been in prison and can only begin to imagine the tedium and stress: not being able to come and go, to eat or do what I like, to be with friends or family… And Paul faced the threat of imminent death, too.
Then there’s Jesus’ service for us. Coming from heaven’s glory to be human, and then enduring mockery, torture, and death. We are called to be ready to follow his example.
So, really, who are we to complain about any acts of service God asks us to do?
When I question my assigned tasks or the value of my service, a review of the Bible passages mentioned above helps reset my perspective. So does this quote from Eugene Peterson in the The Jesus Way:
“God’s way, always, is to use servants. Servants: men and women without standing, without accomplishment, without influence. The core element in a servant identity is NOT being God, not being in charge, not taking the initiative. Or, to put it positively, a servant enters into what has already been decided by another, what is already going on, alert to the gestures and guidance of the Master. The servant doesn’t know the whole story, doesn’t know the end from the beginning. The servant’s task is to be competent in the immediate affairs that have to do with what he knows of the desires of his Master. All the while he is also aware there is far more going on, both good and evil, than he has any knowledge of. He lives, in other words, in a mystery but not in confusion. A good servant is ever eager to trust and obey and honor God as the sovereign who is always personal and present–YAHWEH: God here and now.”
We are just servants. Not in charge. We may not understand why we are given a particular task or how it fits into God’s overall plan. But that doesn’t matter. We do know we are dearly loved. We also know we can do any task he gives us because he will guide and help us. And we know it is a privilege to participate in a small way in the brilliant, loving plan of the King of Kings.
So may we willingly say, “At your service, Lord.”
Dr. Connie Befus
Congregational Care Coordinator
Dr. Befus began serving as Congregational Care Coordinator at FPC in May of 2017. Before moving to Lakeland, Connie, who is a psychologist, served as Director of Member Care for missions organizations. Connie and her husband, David, also served in various ministries in Latin America for more than 17 years. Connie earned her Master’s in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Miami, Florida. She grew up in Africa as the child of missionary parents and has lived in seven countries. David and Connie have a son and daughter, both married, and one grandchild. Connie enjoys occasionally consulting or providing workshops for mission agencies and loves to read, walk, or garden.