A Theology of Service

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Being a waitress is a challenge. I know, I did it for years. In our culture, waiting tables is just a bit above collecting garbage, with all due respect to garbage collectors. It's honest work, but let's face it, you don't get much respect. The hours are long, it's physically demanding, people can be difficult, and tips miserly. Even with all that, the biggest challenge is the challenge to your self -esteem.

Waiting on someone is the simplest example of service, and it got me thinking about the dynamics of serving. Webster's defines "to serve" as "to be of use, to furnish or supply with something needed or desired" and service as "to be of help, use, benefit, contribution to the welfare of others." Webster's also notes that the word service comes from the Latin root servitium: the condition of a slave.

Service implies there is a lack somewhere, a need to be filled. A waitress serves because someone is hungry. In a way, all service acknowledges that we live in a broken world, permeated with "not enough"—not enough food, time, money, love, attention. The variations on this theme are endless and experienced by everyone.

We live in a world of lack, surrounded by unmet needs and the walking wounded just like us. But even the poorest among us have something to offer, whether it is a smile, a kind word, or five loaves and two small fish. The smallest act of service goes toward patching a hole in the moth-eaten universe we inhabit.

Serving others is a vote for hope. In giving service to others, we ourselves experience lack. We lose something through the giving. It is as though we swing across the abyss of our own need, trusting that the thin thread of compassion will land us safely on the other side with something to offer. We are trusting that we will have "enough" time, talent, or treasure to be of service and still have our own needs met. Most of all, serving others is a vote of confidence in the Creator of the universe, acknowledging that he will provide as we give ourselves away.

Take the simple act of serving someone at a meal. If I "wait" on you, I am risking that there won't be enough food for me. If I serve you first, I am making a statement that your needs take precedence over mine. If I take the risk of serving you, I am trusting that God will provide for me, but I have no guarantee except for his character.

In Luke 9, Jesus was surrounded by thousands of hungry people. There were only the smallest of resources available . . . five loaves and two fish.

He was grateful for what he had and lifted it to heaven with a prayer of thanks. He believed and trusted his Father in heaven for both his ability and desire to provide what was needed. And then the miracle happened. He continued to give out the food. He and his disciples served the gathering of 5,000. One translation says, “They all ate to their heart's content; and when the scraps they left were picked up, they filled twelve great baskets.”

The story of the loaves and fishes illustrates the abundance available through God when we approach him with gratitude and trust. This is how Jesus lived his life, risking, trusting, serving. Let us go and do likewise.

For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. Luke 22:27