When Service Becomes Entangled in Selfishness

Okay, I’ll admit it. The daily grind of ministry, especially among people from other cultures, often has the power to melt my passion into anxiety and turn my stomach to knots.

I’ve dreamed about being a missionary since I was a little girl. So why the sudden freeze up? Why couldn’t I walk up to this thirteen-year-old refugee without feeling completely panicked?

This semester, I have been volunteering at a public middle school through Refuge and Youth for Christ. I help the ESL teachers with whatever they need. I assist in the classroom, do one-on-one tutoring, and attempt to build relationships with these international pre-teens… Pretty basic stuff. But for some reason, every time I go (and I only go once a week) my thoughts begin to cloud with anxiety. So, I began to ask the Lord to reveal to me why this was happening. He has slowly but surely been revealing ugly pieces of my own heart, sins that were keeping me from serving Him with joy. It’s not a brand new, sparkling revelation that he laid in my lap, but rather a struggle common to man:

I am way too concerned with myself.

Unfortunately, every Monday morning when I walk through those big glass doors, down the hallway, and into the small classrooms, the deep-down thoughts can often be less than truly humble.

“What will they think of me? Why don’t I feel useful? Why am I not making an immediate difference in these kids’ lives?”

I was much too interested in making myself feel like I was doing something good, while at the same time I wanted to singlehandedly be the savior for every single teacher and student there. I wanted to see big results so that I could feel successful, and I wanted to see them soon. Of course, I didn’t always consciously think these sinful thoughts, but they were the reflections of my inner heart just the same.

Nothing will keep you feeling bogged down, fearful, and ineffective like a selfish ministry. 

Praise God for His grace.

God, in His patient kindness, has been melting away some of my wicked pride through the heat of his conviction (although I’ve still got a long way to go).

When we serve God from a place of selflessness, we are released from the impossibly high expectation-shackles that we put around our own wrists. It is truly a breath of the most refreshing air of freedom when we can serve God without having to worry about feeding the cravings of our identity and worth consumerism.

I heard this quote in a recent sermon, “What matters is faithful, energetic service; not the size of the return.” The speaker pointed out that the prayer of the righteous is often not, “Lord, I changed the world for you,” but rather “Lord, I was faithful in every single thing you gave me.” –Greg Gilbert

Oh how sweet is the simple embrace of true humility. We are not “called” to change the world, or even to save a single soul. God, in His sovereignty, will do all that. We simply have to be faithful to the daily assignments He has entrusted us with.

It’s one thing to come to this conclusion conceptually; it’s a completely different thing to live it out in the realities of every-day. It’s something I am still figuring out. I still have to ask forgiveness often.

Lord, strip my service of the selfishness that so often entangles it. May I talk to that refugee student with love and kindness. May I serve that teacher in generosity. May I do even the smallest tasks for the glory of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Giver of life and Lover of nations.

John Barnett