Serving others

So much of an evangelical’s life is spent towards service to others, and the church will often emphasize this point. You are to think of g-d and others first then you stop to consider yourself and your own needs. A true Christian lives for service to g-d. Anything that solely servers to benefit you is often discouraged. I would make an argument that this goes all the way back to the original founding of the church. For an example see the story about Judas confronting Jesus about the cost of the perfume that was used to anoint Jesus’ feet. With particular note on the statement of how much this could have been sold for to feed the poor.

“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

John 12:5 NIV

Also many evangelicals get caught in the idea that we need no pleasure or entertainment “in this life.” Because g-d will reward us in heaven for the things we do in this life. So time spend “in this life” is best spent “laying up treasures in heaven.”

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21 ESV

“Laying up treasures in heaven,” having left the church I now realize how odd that may sound. Let me explain it a bit. The idea is that you suffer and give to g-d while you are alive to build up eternal or heavenly rewards. I was taught that after a Christian dies g-d will judge his people and give them rewards in heaven like “crowns” or better “heavenly mansions.” While you aren’t punished for not having these things, it was always presented to me as a status type of thing. God loves all Christians, but those that serve him better will find more “favor” with him.

Add on top of this mentality a focus on saving those around you from eternal damnation. As anyone who is not “saved” will be cast into hell. This puts a lot of focus on eternal destination.

Both of these cause a lot of intense focus on the eternal realm. A Christian’s life is focused around saving others from hell and working towards their own rewards in heaven. I think how one could see how the present and everyday life becomes neglected. Why worry about “trivial” matters here on earth when the “life to come” will be forever? And the quality of that life is dependent on our service to g-d and the church while we are alive.

As part of this mentality of “storing up treasures in heaven” Christians are expected to look to their leaders and church to find ways to “serve.” It may vary church to church but most churches I’ve visited or been a part of have made it clear that you aren’t a “true member” unless you are volunteering in the church. It was never outright said, but the cultural expectation was there.

Serving others and meeting other’s needs is prioritized above your own well-being. If you’ve been following my Elisabeth Eliot Passion and Purity book series, I think her mentality also helps to increase understanding on this point as well. One of her main points in the book is that we must be willing to suffer for g-d. Suffering on this earth is to be expected as part of your Christian “walk.” This is a mentality that is fairly common in the church, that we must suffer and serve for g-d. In the “next life” our suffering and service will be rewarded by g-d.

A evangelical Christian is not expected to find life easy or fun. And if a person has problems keeping up with these demands for service they are suppose to find inner strength and encouragement from g-d. Voicing that you are overwhelmed or can’t help is often countered with the idea that if one trusted g-d they would be able to have the courage and energy to do it. The below quotes are two different examples of this.

“First, as one who wants to do all the good you can, you observe what tasks, opportunities, and responsibilities face you. Second, you pray for help in these, acknowledging that without Christ you can do nothing—nothing fruitful, that is (John 15:5). Third, you go to work with a good will and a high heart, expecting to be helped as you asked to be. Fourth, you thank God for help given, ask pardon for your own failures en route, and request more help for the next task. Augustinian holiness is hard working holiness, based on endless repetitions of this sequence.”

Desiring God – Quote attributed to J.I. Packer

John Piper also adds in his own version of this.

“Memorize a few promises that are so universally applicable, they will serve you in almost every situation where you face a task to be done ‘by the strength that God supplies.’ Then, as those tasks come, admit you can’t do that on your own. Pray for the help you need. Then, call to mind one of your memorized promises, and trust it — put your faith in it. Then, act — believing that God is acting in your acting! Finally, when you are done, thank him.”

John Piper How to Find Strength in the Strength of God | Desiring God

Okay I’ve explained enough, and my inner cynic is dying to be let out. This teaching that you just need to pray through it or believe harder in order to make it through hardship is complete BS. Suffering is not a need. You do not need to suffer for any deity, and any deity that asks for your suffering is not worthy of worship.

If I’m being completely honest about how I currently believe, I see this a form of self talk. You are convincing yourself that your pain is temporary and that you will have a reward when you make it through the suffering. Unfortunately a big part of this is ignoring your own feelings and needs. You push your own pain down to help “serve g-d.”

Religion should be something that helps you grow, not something that is a burden. If you feel the need to suffer for your religion that is not a healthy place to be. I would encourage people in these environments to seek out a place that allow you to practice your faith in a healthy way. A place that allows you to choose when to help or server without being pressured into it.

Also for those that need to hear this, you don’t need to power through it. You don’t need more faith or more time spent talking with the divine. It’s okay just to say that you are overwhelmed and can’t help right now. It’s okay just to take care of yourself. You do not always have to be serving or caring for others. If your body and mind are overwhelmed stop and give yourself time to rest.

2 thoughts on “Service

  1. This is so true – the inner voice inculcated in me since the age of 8 screams at me that I’m not allowed to practice self-care, that self is selfish. But it’s really not: as a teacher (currently) at a Christian school (ditto), I retain the desire to help others but not at the cost of myself, my health, my family. Not any more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, this is a perfect mentality. Take time to take care of yourself first. And never buy into the lie that taking time to meet your own needs is selfish.


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