About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post called “Listening, learning, serving“. The purpose of this post was to encourage believers to listen and learn from people before they jump in and try to serve them. As I’ve learned to do this, I’ve heard time and time again from people, “Usually when people come to our neighborhood to help, they do things that don’t really help us.” Are you willing to spend the time to get to know people and then serve them in ways that actually help?
I’ve had an ongoing conversation over the last few days with my wife, Margaret, and a good friend of ours (Theron from “Sharing in the Life“). Actually, for me, the conversation started a couple of days before that when another friend of ours made a comment about some ladies that we have not seen lately, whom we have tried to serve, but for some reason, we have failed to serve them. This comment led to our continuing conversation about service – particularly about serving people who are different from us: people from different cultures, different ages (generations), different beliefs, etc.
Theron and I began talking about serving people from foreign cultures: specifically, how would we serve people if we lived in a foreign culture? I realize that many people who read this blog deal with this question (and similar questions) every day of their life. Theron suggested that before we could serve someone, we would have to know how to serve them. In other words, in different cultures service may be different (and probably is) than service in our own culture. Thus, it would be necessary to listen to people and to know them before we could truly serve them in ways that matter to them – in ways that impact their lives. Certainly, this does not mean that we should sit around doing nothing, but there is a learning process before serving becomes as effective as it could be. Also, I would never remove the important role of the Holy Spirit in this. The Spirit certainly leads us to serve people in ways that we may not understand, but in ways that may be extremely important to the ones being served.
The necessity of the process of learning to serve others is fairly obvious when serving people in foreign cultures. But, what about people in our own culture that may be from a different generation or have a different set of beliefs or even from a different background. Could it be that we miss opportunities to serve – and at others times offend people when we attempt to serve them – because we do not listen and learn about them before we begin to serve? We have attempted to serve some people who are older than us recently, without much success. Why? Because I don’t think we knew them enough to know how to serve them. Why didn’t we know them? We didn’t begin by listening to them.
Margaret reminded me that a few years ago, when we lived in another state, we were able to successfully serve some older ladies. We would spend time with them in their homes, listening to their stories, sharing tea and snacks. When she reminded me of this, I immediately thought, “That’s not serving! That’s just hanging out!” Of course, this is exactly the point of my post. To me, spending time talking with these ladies was just hanging out, but to them, it was serving them. We demonstrated our love for them by spending time with them. I viewed service differently than they did. They viewed service differently than me.
If I spent all of my time, energy, and resources serving them in the way that I wanted to be served, then I would have wasted much of that time, energy, and resources. Why? Because they were served by us being with them, not by us doing things for them.
I began to think about my son and daughter. In a few years, they will be living on their own. I wonder, what will they consider service? How will they serve others and how will others their age want to be served? What about the men and women who are several years younger than me today? What do they consider service?
Similarly, many times we try to serve people the way other Christians want to be served. But, what if our neighbors are not followers of Christ? What if our coworkers are not Christians? Do we serve them in the same way that we would serve Christians that we know? Or, should we actually spend time listening to them and getting to know them, so that we will know how to serve them?
I realize that this is obvious to many people. However, for those of us who are learning what it means to serve people who are different than us, then this may be something that we need to consider and contemplate. I know that my family is learning to serve others – especially those outside the body of Christ. We are thinking about what it means to serve and love those who are of a different ethnicity or cultural background, those from a different economic class, or even those with different beliefs. We want to provide a cup of cold water in a way that benefits them the most – not in ways that benefit us the most.
So, as we serve others, we must begin by listening to them and learning from them. We must get to know them. Then, we can serve them as God leads us and strengthens us – we can serve them in a way that brings God glory.