If there were one single thing that my parents have taught me, it’s that gifts and talent are useless if they are kept to yourself. Consequently, service has been a major theme throughout my life; my mom especially has hauled me (and occasionally my harp) all over creation to make sure that we follow through with one of our primary Christian responsibilities.
Now, I didn’t learn about service from a Christian perspective. I learned that it was good more from watching the joy and peace that it brought my mom. It’s not exactly fun or rewarding for most seven-year-olds to go visit a place like the Home of the Innocents (a home for abused, neglected, and mentally and/or physically handicapped children). But I learned from my mom’s grace, love, and patience with these children, and experienced the glow that emanated from her once we left the building. Not one “Jesus/The Bible/God says we should…” lesson came out of these visits, but I learned the value of service from how my mom conducted herself during and after her time serving. More than anything, I learned that service was good because it is a way to build relationships with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet and a better way to make use of what God has given you than using it for personal entertainment or glory.
All that being said, I didn’t really enjoy volunteering until I got older. When I was little, it was frankly a little scary to be around severely disordered and neglected children. I didn’t relate to them, I didn’t fully understand why they behaved the way they did, and I definitely didn’t understand why my mom visited them every few weeks. I just kind of tagged along with my mom, handed out the shakers my family had made out of plastic Easter eggs to the residents, and sat beside my mom while she played guitar and led a sing-along. But now that I’m older and have gone out more to volunteer on my own, I’m beginning to see the benefits of doing service, and I’m enjoying it more than ever. As a harpist, I like going to nursing homes and hospitals far more than I like playing in solo recitals; when I perform at a tea at a nursing home, or bring the harp to a patient’s hospital room, I play better because I aim for the goal of bringing joy and peace to someone else, rather than perfectly executing a particular piece of music to please myself and gain the appreciation of a crowd. I get more satisfaction from interacting with other people and learning from their perspectives on the music and my playing.
Even though I value service for not-completely-religious reasons, the Bible calls us as believers to do some kind of service, to make use of our God-given talents in order to carry His message of grace throughout the world. Paul articulates it best in Corinthians:
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)
Service is one of our primary Christian obligations. It is also the best way to spread the message of grace, as we are truly putting our faith into action. All too often, however, it is something we forget about, something we say we’ll do but never really get around to actually planning and executing.
So, my challenge for you is to ask yourself what you’re really good at. God has given you a gift (or maybe many) that will further His plan for the world. Then ask yourself, what can you give of yourself to show God’s grace? Once you’ve figured this out, just go out and do it! Even if your service is simply participating in a church function once or twice a month, then you’ve already found a good place to start.
Most of all, don’t look at service as a burden! If you haven’t served before or made it a priority in the past, I think you will find that it brings you joy and a fresh perspective on your life and your faith. You’ll also begin to relate to God in a new way. I know that I can sometimes feel God working through me; it feels as though He takes my hands and guides them, brings more expression out of the instrument so that He can communicate what He wants through the music I’m playing. Though God may not necessarily make the job of serving easy, I think that He will give you the inspiration and the energy that you need to carry out His mission.
And fellow young’uns, I’m looking at you in my challenge to serve. To quote from 1 Timothy,
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity… devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:12-15).
The obligation of service lies most heavily on our shoulders because we are the future of our faith. We will be the ones who will continue to define, exemplify, and spread God’s grace. Service is your opportunity to define your own faith and your own relationship with God, and in doing so, to show someone else what it means to know God’s love and the peace that only He can give.