Servanthood in Everyday Life by Br. Ephrem
This is the character of a true servant of Christ. He endeavors to follow Christ in thought, word, and work.
~ George Whitfield
These words from George Whitfield might remind us of the words of Jesus on the occasion of the Sermon on the Mount when He taught his listeners that it was not mere obedience to the law but the obedience of a cleansed heart that God requires – and enables – in His servants. This must also sound familiar to those of us from an Anglican background as Whitfield was. Indeed, we ask God’s forgiveness for sins we have committed in thought, word and deed, both those things we ought to have done and those things we ought not to have done. If God’s call to everyday servanthood hasn’t seemed daunting in the past, I imagine these words might make it more so! How is it even possible to live out our calling to servanthood? This, at least, is what I once thought when I first became aware of this calling that we all share. As it turns out, God has made it not only possible but the very signature of our freedom, in Christ and through grace, as well as a hugely fulfilling part of our journey together. It is a part of what the term “servant-discipleship” means and, though I was probably surprised to learn this when I first encountered followers of Christ in the world, it really all begins with the discipleship part of that equation.
Considering this topic of answering God’s call to everyday servanthood I am always drawn to begin at the beginning of our collective narrative. There are many ways to interpret these stories but what resonates with me is that, in one sense, “Original Sin” may be thought of as not the result of a choice between Good and Evil but rather a choice in favor of “the good” as decided on and determined by man as opposed to the Good of Life in God. It is a seeking of what is good on humanity’s terms without concern for God’s will.
In Genesis 2:9 we see that there are two trees in the garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In this narrative familiar to us all, God decrees that His children are free to eat from any tree in the garden and partake of all that creation offers them but must not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There is a clear choice here. The tree of life is just that, divine life given by God and representative of His will for humanity and all of creation. It is God’s way, the way of life. The tree of knowledge of good and evil is representative of man’s way, humanity’s will for itself, the way of death.
We all know, of course, what happens next as a result of humanity turning away in disobedience. God’s children take it upon themselves to determine their own path, to discern for themselves what is “good” and what is “evil.” It’s fairly straightforward: without the life and light of God, all choices lead the way of death. All good and moral things and all teaching, even with the best of intentions, are a source of death if they are apart from God’s will for us; we may thus receive of the tree of knowledge but not that of the life given us to fulfill God’s purpose. So it is with us as we listen for God’s word and try to fulfill His will for us as His servants in the world. To be a servant begins with proper discernment. It begins with God’s will and not our own. It is, in fact, God’s will which is actually the source of our own growth and freedom from bondage! This discernment, I believe, starts always with prayer and attentiveness to the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives. We must first remember to simply ask if we are on the correct path as we live in openness to God’s word and in gratitude for all He is doing in and through us.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
~ Colossians 3:17
This quotation from Colossians is about works but these are not simply our own works, our will, but works now properly attributed to God the Father and done in the name of Jesus. We know, as disciples of Christ, that we have been enabled by God to listen attentively for His voice. Though we still live in a “fallen,” imperfect world and will stumble from time to time, we have been sent forth to follow God’s will in service to one another. How amazing!
My first real encounter with Jesus that I am conscious of was about nine years ago. I was changed; transformed. I became, as they say, a new creation and was brought unto an entirely new path. He found me (He was always there!) right where I was… deep in the muck and mire of the world… and turned me around to face Him instead. I was literally brought to my knees. Now – I still didn’t get it! It’s a process, also, to come more fully to faith. But I knew just enough to listen (or to at least try to listen) for what God intended for me. I did, I think, understand the value of community and that this must include seeking out the family of His followers and also of serving the larger community in some way. Truly, though, I was completely unprepared for what this new encounter really meant.
I had no idea! How do I respond to God’s will? What does servanthood mean? As lost as I was, this was the first time that this “unknowing” and desire to do His will had happened. That this was the first realization of uncertainty is perhaps illustrative of just why I was so lost in the first place! My own will had gotten me nowhere. Worse than nowhere! So I surrendered. I prayed. And I prayed. God actually “thunked me upside the head” and I started to actually listen day by day. Jesus really IS the door! I was sent to several places in short order: to St. Paul’s in Connecticut, to a mission school in New Haven and to become a Home Health Aide for a gentleman with MS. My whole world really did change! “Upside-down” is an understatement! And it’s changing still.
The horizon keeps expanding and I have come to realize that it really IS all about relationship, an intimate relationship with God and with one another. It doesn’t feel like “obedience” so much as just going with the natural flow of His will through grace. And Jesus, though Himself divine, none the less inverted everything humanity had known about relationship and power to exhibit for us perfect and absolute servanthood. He has both modeled that servanthood and – thanks be to God! – made it possible for us to begin to truly follow His example:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
~ Philippians 2:5-8
I soon came to realize that there is another very important aspect to this work and the very “state of being” embodied by our everyday servanthood in the world as well. God co-labors with us! He works in and through us for our individual and collective good. We read in Romans 8:28, “… that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It has been said that the central purpose and act of the church, all of us as Jesus’ followers and as His missionaries in the world, is proclamation of the Good News of God’s Kingdom. It is news about reconciliation and redemption; of being called to walk upon the path of new life, the Good of Life in God. This proclamation of the gospel (as we may know from that famous quote attributed to St. Francis) can be preached at all times and not only with words.
Ultimately, of course, words too are a necessity. Faith comes by hearing – and in the hearing of our stories – but the imperative to “live out the gospel” is a very real one. It is both that we might live in accordance with God’s will as well as that we, in our servanthood, may be living representatives and examples of God’s Kingdom “breaking into” the world. In the words of Isaiah: “Here am I. Send me!”
God, in Christ, has freed us and sends us out to carry on that work and word of freedom in our everyday life. This is at the root of all of our ministries. There is not a higher calling than truly striving as disciples of Jesus to live out God’s will for us day to day. Let us all, I pray, endeavor to follow Christ in thought, word, and work!
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
~ Matthew 11:28-30