When Margaret and I first got married, just over 20 years ago (and, yes, I know how long ago it was), I was an awesome husband. It’s true. I did so many things to serve my wife. I did everything that I wanted to do for her.
Read that last sentence again: I did everything that I wanted to do for her. In other words, I tried to tell her how she wanted to be served, and I decided what I needed to do to serve her.
For some reason, she did not recognize my service as being quite as awesome as I thought it was. You see, my wife needed me to serve her (just like I needed her to serve me), but not in the ways that I was serving her. I was doing things that I wanted to do – things that I would consider service. But, I never stopped to consider what Margaret considered service.
I wish I could say that I’ve learned perfectly how to serve Margaret in the last 20 years. I haven’t. I think I’m better at serving her than I was when we first got married, but I still have a long way to go.
What changed? I started paying more attention to Margaret. What did she appreciate? What made her feel appreciated? What needed to be done that she couldn’t do or didn’t like to do?
I noticed something interesting. Previously, I had served Margaret primarily by doing things that I wanted to do or liked doing. Often, however, I learned that I needed to serve Margaret by doing something that I did not want to do.
Let me give you a silly (and fictional) example. Suppose I got up every morning and fixed coffee for Margaret. That would be great, right? No, not all. Why? Because Margaret doesn’t like coffee even though I love coffee.
I found that Margaret appreciated service such as washing dishes, cleaning toilets and tubs, washing and folding clothes, etc. I didn’t like to do these things. But, I learned to do them because I wanted to serve my wife.
This brings me to the church. I’ve found that Christians also often serve people only in way that they enjoy serving. Teachers like to teach. Encouragers like to encourage. Givers like to give. Administrators like to administrate. But, are we willing to step outside of the things that we like to do and even are gifted to do in order to serve others?
You see, if we are gifted at teaching, we are not called to only teach. If we are gifted at contributing, we are not called only to give. Instead, as an expression of love – both God’s love for others and our love for others – we should seek to serve people in a way that demonstrates that love – not simply to serve people in a way that we WANT to serve people.
It’s easy to toss a service someone’s way without thinking about the person at all. This is especially true of “important” forms of service (important as defined by the modern church) like teaching or administrating.
Instead of simply serving others in the way that we want to serve (or are gifted to serve), we must take the time to get to know people and to learn both what they want (in terms of service) and what they need (in terms of service). This is difficult. It takes time and effort and intentionality.