The Outward Disciplines are those actions we perform due to the setting of certain inward realities in our hearts and minds. Simplicity comes from the desire to seek first the Kingdom of God. Solitude comes from a desire to listen without interruption to God’s voice and direction in our life and to enjoy His blessed gift of silence. Submission comes from a desire to free ourselves from the slavery of selfishness and self-aggrandizement to submit ourselves to God’s will in our life through others. Each of these requires a demanding change of our Worldview, a transformation of the inward self. The Inward disciplines setup the internal environment that allow God to work within us so that these inward realities can take hold with our Spirit in the lead over our mind and body. We then consciously set God’s commands in our hearts and view the world through His eyes. This results in the most significant inward reality change that produces an outward behavior that brings obedience to God, and that is Service.
The Discipline of Service is about making our desire be to care for others before we care for ourselves like Submission. The two are indeed closely tied, but not quite the same way that Solitude and Silence are. Submission changes our inner reality to placing others before our own wants through the more conscious act of self-denial (not self-hatred). Service is now about changing our inner reality from pride, the ”pecking order” of society, and the pursuit of the “big thing.” Where selfishness is the pursuit of our own desires over others, pride is the longing for recognition and authority because of what we have done, often for others. We set ourselves up on a pedestal and look to use our actions of good to “lord” it over others to feed our ego. While selfishness is about getting things the way we want them to go, pride is about then using our achievement to boast our status among others. Service is the ultimate tool for bringing our pride and our ego in to check, freeing us from them to obedience to God.
What is Service as a Discipline?
Much of Service has to do with position, authority, and leadership. When we seek to serve another, we are placing ourselves “beneath” the other from the standpoint of worldly values. When we seek to do things for others, we are placing ourselves under their thumb in many ways. We are choosing to allow them to use us for some means to achieve their own good and benefit. In doing such a thing, we are not simply being “unselfish.” Instead, we are viewing ourselves as not the leader, not the one in authority, not the one trying to get something out of others. In doing it, we get to experience God’s blessed gift of joy. When we serve another truly, there is a filling in our hearts of great joy and satisfaction that no other act can bring about.
Service as a discipline is not about the achievement. It is not even necessarily about the act. It is more so about the mindset and the desire of the heart to simply do what is good for another. Self-righteous service is driven by doing the “big deal,” where numbers of those served is cared about. The greater impact being of significance in the mind. True service, however, cares not for the “big deal.” Instead, it simply desires to care, to serve in the little and simple ways. Not in deep and thorough planning (though that is needed at times, no doubt), but in simple action as it is needed. It is not reckless abandon, but considerate and free choice to serve another in their time of need. It does not seek attention. Instead, it seeks to simply serve another without any consideration of who is watching. In fact, it usually attempts to avoid any sort of attention at all! To put it quite simply, true service is a lifestyle.
In leadership and position, authority comes from the spirit, not from the title or the position. Servant Leadership is the leadership approach that is taught within the Christian context of leadership training. A Servant leader does not view himself as being “over” the others, but with the others to help them accomplish the mission. The Servant Leader is there to provide resources and meet the needs of the team so that they can all perform their duties to the best of their abilities. The Servant Leader is not the greatest among the group in terms of importance. In fact, the leader is the least important, as each member and their importance changes day by day, and the leader simply supports them along the way.
Ultimately, the Discipline of Service is about bringing out humility in the one who practices it. Humility is not something that can be pursued for itself. It comes about naturally from the practice of service to another. The opposite of the moral characteristic of pride is humility. As we seek to “crucify the flesh, we crucify our pride and arrogance.” (Foster, Richard p. 130, Celebration of Discipline). As we perform service and set in our hearts the desire to serve others in simplicity, we are transformed internally as the grace of humility is built within us, and we experience a closeness and joy that comes from God with deeper love for Him.
Where is Service in the Bible?
“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant…even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:25-28).
The greatest example of this discipline of course comes from Jesus. The most commonly referenced verse in light of the discipline of service is in John chapter 13. This is the telling of Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples. The end of this section is verses 14-17.
“If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
It becomes clear why service stands out so strongly in Christian teaching among lessons on leadership. This comes after the many reports across the Gospels of the disciples frequently arguing amongst themselves who is the greatest. Jesus abolished the concept of the pecking order, He did not reverse it as many like to claim. He does not remove authority and leadership, but instead He teaches how it is to be done properly. That the leader is to be the servant of the group. While he may have a position of authority (such as in business) he is not to use that authority to “lord” it over the others. “You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,” (Matt. 20:25-26).
There are additional passages in the New Testament that address service, but there is always in them a clear pointing out of pride. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16). Lust here does not necessarily mean lust in the sexual sense. His inclusion of pride here suggests it is that lust for the worldly things, power, authority, position. Doing good things to draw attention to yourself and gain authority over others is not true service, it is self-righteous service. Paul mentions multiple times about his status as a slave of Christ. The ultimate slant against one’s ideal of autonomy (which is of pride) is to willfully submit oneself as a slave to others. Contrary to the popular light on ancient practices of slavery (still present today), the act of willful slavery was a very liberating act for the one who chose to do it. This is the time of slavery Paul is speaking of, one choosing freely to be a slave to Christ. So too are we to choose willfully to be slaves to others. Strong words, because we are talking about something tremendously important.
So How do I do Service as a Discipline?
First, it is important to do one’s acts of service in “hiddenness.” The idea here is that during your regular day to day duties, do not strive to be the one recognized. Perform your tasks, the great and the small, without concern for recognition. Do what needs to be done, the right thing, and don’t do it in front of others, but do it hidden. In so doing, especially when as a team, the whole group feels the blessing of the success. This is certainly one way to serve others.
Then there is the service of small things. Doing the right thing regularly is a life-style. So too is serving others in even the simplest of ways a way to live one’s life. Throughout your day, never hesitate to assist others with even the most simple and mundane of things. Aiding friends and strangers of like with the basics is not a “stepping stone,” to the bigger things. It is the thing. Bigger things come and go, but the opportunities for helping people in small ways is always there. It takes effort to always seek to serve in the small things.
A wonderful service for others is in line with one of the commandments. Protect the reputation of others. It is important to be there to defend people against the accusations that others make. Strive to ensure that the whole person is discussed when others mention the negative about other people. Don’t allow rumors to spread by being the one where the rumor stops. This is not some brazen act that is to be done, of course. It is a simple way of caring for the well-being of another by protecting them from backsliding and betrayal.
One of these ways of service that has been difficult for me in the past is allowing others to serve me. The service of being served, as Foster puts it, is all about giving others the opportunity to do what we are studying to do here! Who are we to prevent another from being able to discipline themselves in putting the check on pride through service? We must always be willing to allow others to serve us out of the kindness of their hearts, just as much as we actively seek to serve others out of the kindness of our own hearts.
An important one as well is the service of common courtesy. In the military, there have been many a young Lance Corporal who has found himself in serious trouble for messing up the rank of one of his seniors. While I was on Active Duty, there arose in my peers a disdain for using rank with one another, even among the Non-Commissioned Officers! I always found this so puzzling. Why is showing respect to someone else something that is so hated? We must not be like that. Courtesy is the best way to serve another in the little things. Its amazing how comfortable and uplifting a simple “Yes, Sir,” or “Yes, Ma’am,” is for a person. This breeds kindness, dignity, and respect with every act.
Hospitality and listening are two additional means of serving another. Being welcoming to people is of great importance. Making your available to those in need of a place to stay is always of great service to another. Listening to their needs and responding appropriately is a great way to be there for someone when they need a “shoulder to cry on.” These two go hand in hand, as when a person stays with you, to be an excellent host, you need to be able to listen to the needs of your guest, and serve them successfully.
Then another act of service to mention is that of bearing another’s sorrows, along with speaking the word of Life to others. We must all be willing to bear upon our shoulders the burdens and sorrows of others. Willing to listen and receive their pains and difficulties is a great way to be there for someone. Responding to it at the proper moment with the word of life creates one of the most tender and personal ways to serve another person.
Service is never done in a manner that results in your own hurt and harm. While one must be able to be content with others “walking all over them,” because you desire to serve, there is no reason for that to be a continued and prolonged experience. When we submit ourselves to others and allow ourselves to be free to serve them, we must be prepared for those times where others will take advantage of our service. But these experiences should not discourage us if we are truly serving. Remember, the concept of “walking all over me,” stems from one’s pride in their nature. “I don’t deserve to be walked all over like this, how dare they!” Easy now. Check that pride at the door and move on. In the end, you have done what is right. The other will bear the burden of their guilt, whether they know it or not.