This message gets a lot of play in church. In my church, there is an assumption that serving is so much a part of our Christian life that there’s rarely a Sunday when service of some kind isn’t mentioned.
I almost don’t need to connect this to the practice of developing a Rule because we live by the implied rule that doing for others is Christian or religious or spiritual at its core. It’s hard to live in the world and not care for others, give to others, and serve for others. It’s even harder to be a part of a religious tradition and not serve, because service is a part of most, if not all, religious traditions.
Still, the placement of this in the work of developing a Rule is important because having service somewhere in this instrument of spiritual growth will help us 1) reflect on our service, 2) inspect our motives for service, and 3) discern what we’ll do next as we care for others.
That’s the framework when it comes to questioning or discovering what kind of service needs to be in your rule. Where have I served or given to others? To serve is to be generous; it is to give of one’s self and one’s stuff.
Serving, when paired with reflection, is another way of reflecting upon our motives. We ask, “Why am I doing this?”
Richard Foster wrote, “When the heart is purified by the action of the Spirit, the most natural thing in the world is the virtuous thing. To the pure in heart, vice is what is hard.”
I agree with Foster. For the person whose heart continually turns toward the Divine, sin and wrongdoing and wrongbeing is what’s hard. But that transformation of motivation takes a long time, i.e., a life time.
I’d love to know that rather than jumping at the chance to serve, the people in my church were pausing long enough to question their motives. Not so that their motives would be pure and sacred. It’s impossible to get to the clear ground of a person’s motivation. No matter how long we search or how long we look, we’ll never be truly aware of our motives. But we can survey them. We can question them.
Third, placing service in your rule is a simple way of looking forward to what’s next. There is a host of ways to serve around you. In your family or your apartment building, in your residence or in your workplace, there are countless needs–some of which you can meet. What do you do next? Carry with you your clarified sense of intention, your hopes and expectations, your goals for personal transformation, your awareness of God who works–always–through people.
Then, listen to that voice that’s within you, that voice that either sounds so familiar you gauge that it isn’t God’s or that voice that is so strange and uncommon that it could be nothing other than God’s. Perhaps that voice is the hushed voice of friends who are sure that you should do this or do that.
Don’t retreat from the service others call you to. Inspect it prayerfully. Wonder around in it for a while. See if there’s a place in it for you.
That’s the way I came into ministry. I was headed toward the more effective arena of politics in my earlier view. I wanted to study law so I could write law. I wanted to give my skills over toward the social-political world and have God use me there. I knew I wanted to be of service, and of God’s service, in the world. But I didn’t entertain ministry until others told me to.
I tell people who ask about my “call story,” that the story was written by the community of people who told me to face this way and go that way when it came to my call. I was headed elsewhere, but the persistent whisper emerging in me was repeated, distilled, and clarified in the inflections and voices of church people around me. And they’re as much responsible for my life of service as anybody.
So, for you, what service do you need to start doing? What will you write into that Rule to turn you both inward, toward that inside voice, and outward, toward the world that very much needs you?