Nurturing a Passion for Service

By Cory Carwile

How can we nurture a passion for serving others, for loving our neighbors as ourselves? This is a good and important question, and one that deserves a more thorough treatment than can be provided in a brief article. I've often wondered about this topic, and I'd like to try giving a brief description of how I've dealt with apathy toward serving and loving others in my own past.

Few of us feel impassioned about serving others all the time. I know some folks who almost seem to be perpetual motion machines when it comes loving their neighbors — my mother is one such person — with an endless desire for helping others. They have an impressive ability to always squeeze in one more activity, visit one more person, help with one more benefit or prepare one more meal for a neighbor. For most of us, though, a passion for service is more like a roller coaster, up and down: we might be deeply motivated one day, and simply can't be bothered the next. I know that for my part, I often feel like my love toward my neighbor is based on what side of the bed I got up on today.

So what can be done about this? While it's tempting to try to construct some regimen of putting oneself out there to meet one's neighbors or signing oneself up for volunteer opportunities (not that there's anything wrong with either of those things), I'd say the most important thing we can do to inflame our love for others is to cultivate a deep love for God.

Jesus says that loving our neighbor as ourselves is the second greatest commandment, right after loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30-31). Notice that the question isn't, "What are the two greatest commandments?" Jesus is only asked about the Big One: "What's the greatest commandment?" That Jesus with two commands rather than one should tell us something: He's linking the two together. What's the greatest commandment? To love God completely, with your whole self. And (it's implied) if you aren't loving your neighbor as yourself you aren't loving God with your whole self. Jesus is not merely telling us to love God in this passage, He's also telling us in what way we should love God.

As such, I think the relationship between these two principles is reciprocal: we will love God more as we love our neighbors more, and we will love our neighbors more as we love God more. By drawing nearer to God, we also stoke our passion for loving and serving others.

This raises an obvious question: how do I draw near to God, then? That's a harder question. The go-to ways of drawing near to God are typically Bible reading and prayer. But we need to be specific about what we mean when talk about those, because it's easy to fall into a superficial, legalistic pattern of going through the motions on these things. We begin to use the number of minutes we spend praying or the number of Bible chapters we read each day as metrics for our spiritual health. Such standards might let us feel good about ourselves when we exceed our goals, but won't accomplish much for our spiritual maturity. Reading the Bible is good: we need to understand God's revelation to us to understand His nature, our relationship with Him, and what He expects from us. But don't just worry about reading the book; make understanding and comprehension your goal. Just speaking for myself, I get the most from the Bible when I don't worry about how much I've read, but instead focus on understanding the narrative of what I'm readying, and how it fits into the overarching message of the Bible.

Likewise, prayer is always a good thing, and it should be a habitual practice for Christians, but be leery of perfunctory, empty prayers. It's easy to fall into a habit of offering simplistic, half-hearted prayers, often of a vague feeling of thanks. It's great to give thanks, and we should always be thankful for what we have, but we can pray to God about anything. We can voice our worries, our disappointments, we can express anger or love or make requests. Look at the Psalms for the examples of things we can pray about. I know that when I keep this in mind I find it easier to pray, and for longer, not least because I'm reminded that I have things to talk to God about.

So these steps are good for building a relationship with God, but also remember that worship is meant to be performed corporately. We often get so wrapped up in the idea of a "personal relationship with God" that we forget (or ignore) the fact that God intends for His people to live in community and worship together. We are to use our respective gifts to build one another up, to celebrate and weep with one another, and to help each other in times of trouble. Jesus says that our love for one another will be the Church's defining characteristic, the way it is distinguished in the public eye from other religions (John 13:34, 35), and so to make our growth as Christians a solely individual enterprise will inevitably result in a shallow, neutered faith. And, of course, as our love for one another grows as we live and worship together, it can easily overflow into love and service for others outside our church family.

So far as I can tell, there is no straightforward list of "do this, this, and this" to be filled with a passion for service. But I think that's part of the normative Christian life; it's what people mean when they talk about Christianity being a relationship rather than a religion (even though I don't care much for that phrase myself). There are rarely step-by-step instructions, and God means it to be that way. He just says, "Love each other," and "Love me above all else," and when we inevitably ask "Okay, but how?" He doesn't give us a new Law to follow, but instead assigns our sanctification to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

Image Credit: Dan Kimbrough; "Habitat Greenville-58"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Ministry-Church  | Personal-Relationships

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