If there was a point in my life that I knew I was growing in the Lord, it was when I started to serve. I was 17 years old. I had been a Christian for 9 months and my best friend volunteered me to lead the singing for Vacation Bible School – by myself! In all fairness, my buddy had to go to summer school and he was the regular guitar guy for VBS, and I was the next best guitar player at the church (having played a total of six months). But I had a blast with those little kids! We sang all the favorites (The BIBLE, This Little Light of Mine, Jesus Loves Me). My favorite was “Little Red Caboose,” a song with absolutely no spiritual value, but the kids loved following me around the classroom as the Red Caboose went all over the world.
There were three things I noticed when I served at VBS:
– It stretched me beyond my comfort zone
– I learned how to rely on God (I actually had no choice!)
– I felt more alive than any other time in my life
My experience with VBS was one of joy and growth. I left with a greater passion for God. It drove me to want to know more about the Bible – for myself and for others. I realized that if I want to grow in Christ, I need to serve joyfully. And I haven’t stopped serving since then.
Joyful Service is a cornerstone activity of energizing spiritual growth in Christ. The Apostle Paul takes it a step farther by teaching that when we serve (when each member of the Body does its part), not only do we grow, but we help grow the entire church into the fullness of God (Eph 4:11-13). The converse is then true: when we don’t serve, we not only stunt our own growth, but we also hinder the Church from growing and our witness of Christ to the world suffers.
But joyful service is harder than it looks and there are challenges. Here are some things that I’ve learned about joyful service over the years.
1. Take notice when serving ceases to be joyful. Serving, when done in the right way and at the right time, is naturally joyful. If we lose the joy of serving, there could be a number of reasons why. It could mean that there is something wrong. But it could mean that you are burnt out. Or it could mean that God might be calling you to do something else. Or perhaps God is teaching you something deeper about yourself. Don’t jump to conclusions when the joy of serving departs, but take notice of it and make it an issue of discernment through prayer and godly counsel.
2. It is important to grow from “doing what I like to do” to “becoming a servant, like Jesus.” When I first started serving, it was all about using my spiritual gifts in something that I liked to do. But as I’ve grown in the faith, I realized that God’s plan was for me to learn to be a servant. That sometimes meant doing things I didn’t like to do, but doing them because it was what God wanted me to do. Jesus told Peter about this in John 21 when He said, “When you are older, someone else will dress you and lead you to where you do not want to go.”
You might be thinking, “Hey, I thought serving was supposed to be joyful!?”
When we mature in the faith we begin to discover a greater joy than just doing what we like to do: the joy of becoming like Jesus. When we serve doing the hard things, we begin to understand what Christ went through for us. We experience a special “fellowship” with Christ. Our character begins to change when we serve in hard places. We become more loving, more patient, and being more free from having to have our own way (and, friends, that is true freedom). When Christ calls us to be servants, it’s not a “downward” call; it’s an upward call, an elevation, a promotion, a privilege, because it’s a way of seeing life from the great perspective of love and humility. That’s where we discover that when we serve the “least of these” we are actually serving the King of Kings. And that’s when you experience the deepest joy you can ever have.
If you’re not serving, ask yourself, “Why?” and think about where God might want you to serve and to bring joy into your life (as well as the lives of others). And if you do serve, start thinking about how you can discover a deeper joy in becoming more like Jesus – a servant – as you serve. One of the Biblical words translated as “worship” also means “to serve” (latreuo). So as we joyfully serve the Body of Christ, we are also joyfully worshiping God with our whole lives.