Modernity and the Spiritual Disciplines: Service

Service challenges self-gratification. It forces us to look outward with the goal of fulfilling the needs of others, instead of the self.

Like fasting, the practice of serving others challenges our natural inclination toward self-gratification, though in an entirely different way. Fasting causes us to look up to God so that we find our ultimate sufficiency in Christ. In fasting we are acutely aware of our own needs (we’re hungry) but we discipline our minds to remember that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God.”

Service, however, flows from an acute awareness of the riches we have in Christ. As a golden nugget from a Veggie Tales episode says, “We give not to make us happy but because we are happy.” Because we have been blessed, we seek to bless others.

But this is far from the only response we might have to an awareness of our abundance. Indeed, there are two possible responses. You can use what you have (and here I am referring to time, resources, money, skills, connections, etc.) for self-gratification or for finding ways to fill the needs of others. Self-gratification is not
necessarily sinful, often it is not. After all, we should enjoy the good gifts
that God gives us. However, the constant practice of self-gratification, unchecked, will lead us down dangerous paths of greed and envy or, worse, will cause us to believe that our abundance originates with us instead of viewing it as a gift from God.

One way to judge our hearts is to ask, “Am I a savings account or a flow through account?” A savings account exists for its own sake. Money flows in and (in most cases) it doesn’t flow out. A savings account is a good thing to have but not a good thing to be. A Savings account person is someone who has no trouble getting but refuses to give freely. He believes everything he gets is for his own self-gratification.

A flow through account keeps a minimum balance. Money flows out at the same rate that it flows in. It doesn’t exist for its own sake but as a tool for the one who uses it. In our relationship with God we are to be flow through account people. As we receive, we give. Service (giving time, money, skills, relationships, etc. reminds us that we have been given abundance, not for our sake, though we are free to find enjoyment in the gifts of God, but for the sake of the One who gives it, in order to be a blessing to the world.