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Duty or devotion?

January 21, 2011

God began softly tapping at my heart early this past year about His call to follow His example and be a servant. So I’ve been praying and watching for opportunities to serve. I’ve even acted on many of them and thanked God for using me. However, God has used my preparation for this post to correct my thinking even more.

There is a difference between doing acts of service and being a servant. The first is accomplished on a case by case basis out of a sense of duty. The second is a life attitude; a change of nature resulting from devotion to Christ.

True discipleship – a life of following Christ – is not simply a set of actions or behavior. True disciples adopt His mindset, His attitudes, His very nature, and then live it out. Jesus was a servant; He did not merely do acts of service. As disciples, we too should be servants by nature, not simply Christians who serve others.

Acts of service are often motivated by a sense of duty. A true servant is motivated by love for Christ. We become servants because Jesus was a servant and calls us to be like Him. We obediently serve because of our love for our Savior and our desire to be like Him.

Jesus clearly defined His role as a servant. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Matthew 20:26-28. Reflecting on Matthew 20:28 in his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote:

If our devotion is to the cause of humanity, we will be quickly defeated and broken-hearted, since we will often be confronted with a great deal of ingratitude from other people. But if we are motivated by our love for God, no amount of ingratitude will be able to hinder us from serving one another.

The practice of the spiritual discipline of service – literally becoming a servant – positions us to experience tremendous spiritual growth. In her book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) wrote:  “There is, perhaps, no part of Christian experience where a greater change occurs, upon entering into this life hid with Christ in God, than in the matter of service.”

Why is that? How does becoming a servant promote such great spiritual growth? Dying to ourselves in order to become slaves of Christ requires that we push aside our pride. And our pride is the source of so much of our sin and disobedience. When we slay our pride in order to become a slave of Christ we defeat one of Satan’s most powerful tactics. Now we are free to live for Christ and others, not for ourselves.

Simply doing acts of service out of human effort can even feed our pride. This kind of service seeks external rewards and grateful acknowledgement. Richard Foster elaborates in his book Celebration of Discipline:

Self-righteous service requires external rewards. It needs to know that people see and appreciate the effort. It seeks human applause – with proper religious modesty of course. True service rests contented in hiddenness… the divine nod of approval is completely sufficient.

When we become a slave to Christ then we become a servant to all. We won’t pick and choose who and when to serve. Our devotion to Christ will guide our service. Our emotions and calendars will not dictate our service. Instead our love for Christ will naturally express itself in service to others. And in that there is freedom. Freedom to love. Freedom to serve.

Am I looking for ways to serve or am I seeking to be a servant? Is my service motivated by duty or devotion?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2011 6:53 am

    Great word, Kathy. Thank you.

    You said: ” There is a difference between doing acts of service and being a servant. The first is accomplished on a case by case basis out of a sense of duty. The second is a life attitude; a change of nature resulting from devotion to Christ.”

    I’ve been thinking along these same lines in relation to parenting. Often I just want my kids to “act right” while I ignore what’s happening in their hearts. I’m trying to go back to basics and remind myself that it’s the heart that needs molded and changed into the image of Christ, that we all need work from the inside out – which is the opposite of what most parenting books teach (how to manipulate outward behavior).

    Sorry for the diversion…but in my little brain the thoughts streamed together this morning.

  2. Robin permalink
    January 21, 2011 8:40 am

    Yes and yes and YES!!! I have searched for my own commitment to servanthood and the Lord has provided.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • January 21, 2011 5:00 pm

      Yes, Robin, I believe when we truly seek to serve out of devotion to Christ, then there will never be a shortage of opportunities to serve.

  3. stephanieshott permalink
    January 21, 2011 8:43 am

    Kathy ~ I love the distinction you make between serving and having a servant’s heart. Duty or devotion – a great filter for examining the motives for what we do! Love it! 🙂

    • January 21, 2011 5:01 pm

      Thanks Stephanie! You’re right, it is a good distinction. I need to continue to keep that in my mind!

  4. January 21, 2011 11:40 am

    These are such good questions, and ones I know I never need to stop asking myself.

  5. January 22, 2011 12:17 am

    I also love these lines ending with this one: “The second is a life attitude; a change of nature resulting from devotion to Christ.”

    Its that change, that transformation, that is so hard, yet so essential. The transformation cannot happen without Christ, and only happens because of God. (I think of 1 John 4:19 here: “We love because he first loved us.”)

    My theme for this year is “humble servitude.” I want and pray for it to be authentic, real, necessary, from and like Christ. Thank you for this post.

    • January 22, 2011 9:12 am

      Caroline, I feel a similar pull from God this year in the area of service. I echo your prayer, thanks!

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