Being a servant is not something most people aspire to. To serve another person might feel like a demeaning task, so we avoid it and steer clear. Let’s not get our hands dirty, shall we?
Yet being a servant or having a servant’s heart toward another person or towards your neighbourhood can be meaningful. Choosing to serve another person is not a prison sentence, rather it is an act of love. Choosing to give of your time and resources in the service of another might be the act of humility that changes the trajectory of your life, and for the better.
Martin Luther King Jr. knew the value of service. He believed that serving another person was at the heart of greatness. He said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve… You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Greatness, for King, was about service. It was out of a gracious and loving heart that service emerged. It was the way forward in the tumultuous culture of King’s day, and may be the source of hope for us now.
To become a servant-hearted person is to be aware of the value of service to our own souls. When we operate out of pride and self-service, we hurt ourselves and others. Our hearts might become hard and our vision narrows if we only oursue our own wants and aspirations. Yet someone who takes on the posture of a servant expands their ability to see others, and in doing so lives expansively with their lives. To serve is to come alive. We were made for it.
Years ago I met a retired executive of a major company. We spoke about leadership and we spent some time sharing notes. I asked him what he thought of ‘servant-leadership.’ He did not believe that a leader could be a servant. In his view, a leader is served, they are at the top, and the employees do the serving below him. Today I still believe that servant-leadership is not an oxymoron, but may one of the best ways of describing good leaders. When we seek to serve rather than be served, we change the posture of our heart and the work of our hands.
There is nothing small in the service of God, and doing great things for God often looks like doing simple things for others. Changing diapers, picking up garbage, and paying attention to a hurting neighbour may not feel like earth shaking activities. Yet when we live with a heart for others and our community, we begin to see the ways that small acts of service change our world profoundly.
We begin to serve when we realize that we have been served. Others have gone before us to serve us. We owe a debt of gratitude to so many. That is why Martin Luther King Jr. believed that the most persistent and urgent question of life is, “what are you doing for others?” May you know the joy and hope that comes from living with a servant heart, tangibly loving your your community. May you discover the life that it brings to your soul, and the love that it fills in your heart.