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 (Manna 68: Succession: Generation Next)
Serve the Lord with Gladness
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Serve the Lord with Gladness

Keoni Yang—Sydney, Australia

“The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows, the more that I love Him, more love He bestows.”

(From the hymn “The Longer I Serve Him” by William Gaither, 1965)

 

The life of a servant is hardly appealing to any person. Yet when we were baptized and entered the fold of God, we also became His humble servants. This was not a contract or a service over a defined period of years. Instead, we chose to serve Him for our entire lives to repay His grace of salvation.

Likewise, when we first entered the workforce, it felt as if we would be working for the rest of our lives or at least for the next forty years. We became a servant to our society, to management; a servant to our mortgages and the lifestyle of this world.

Both secular work and service to God are necessary in our lives, but not equally so. Jesus reminds us: “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24).

To Work and To Serve

There were not any monumental changes to the way I approached church service once I started working. I continued to attend Sabbath services, and completed the church duties assigned to me. My office colleagues came to know the importance I placed on Sabbath worship and church service and they respected me for it, confirming my own view that I was a faithful servant to God.

But six months later, I found myself floundering in the copious amounts of office work and church responsibilities, and unbeknownst to me, the quality of my service and spiritual worship dropped. I faced a challenge that every working Christian faces: I had hit a wall in my spiritual growth and service quality. No longer could I genuinely sing that the more I served, the sweeter He grew.

Entering the workforce marks a milestone in our lives. Not only are we able to earn our own money; we now have the means to start thinking about buying a house, starting a family and making other life decisions. These pursuits then snowball; we are enticed to work ceaselessly for that “idyllic” lifestyle, to invest in the future of our children and even grandchildren, to build up our assets so that one day when our storehouses are full we can sit back, eat, drink and be merry.

However, the more time we spend building treasures on earth, the more our heart will focus on these pursuits instead of on God’s work (cf. Mt 6:19-21). At face value, we still attend church, pray and read the Bible, but actually we face the danger of becoming habitual or even joyless servants. Worse, we may even forgo our servitude altogether.

This danger looms largest over our working brethren, which is ironical since it is this group who is the most able-bodied and ready to be used by God. Like Timothy, many of us have been fed the word of God from childhood. We have the foundation from years of religious education classes. We have the finances to offer and volunteer. We have the strength to work in the field ready for harvest. We are the equipped men and women of God. Yet all this wonderful grace from God will come to nothing, if we serve out of pure habit and without any joy. This kind of attitude will diminish our quality of service, rendering us a useless vessel, a disgruntled servant.

The Habitual Servant

Is there anything wrong with being a habitual servant?

The fact that service becomes habitual reflects our faithfulness to consistently carry out the work entrusted to us. But at the same time habitual service faces the same danger of any other habit we hold—we view service as normal, regular and ordinary. We no longer cherish something that was given to us as a grace, uncommon, extraordinary—a precious gift that motivates us to give our best to God.

Moreover, serving God may also turn into a habit over time and with increasing experience. The longer we serve, the more “shortcuts” we know to preparing church work. Since we don’t need to think much about how to complete our service anymore, it becomes a habit. Consequently, we put less and less effort into our service.

I found myself becoming such a habitual servant soon after I started to work in society. The reverence and significance I used to hold for even the simplest duties such as recording sermons gave way to a mechanical completion of tasks. I allowed myself to continue along this precarious path of service because I saw no immediate rebuke or reckoning for my service. Children still seemed to enjoy the religious education classes, discussions that I led were still fruitful, the church still ran along smoothly, seemingly regardless of whether I served wholeheartedly or half-heartedly.

This is the lingering danger for any believer who no longer serves with the same zeal or reverence. We see no rebuke. Instead we see growth in the church, and we use this to validate that our poor-quality service is good enough for God. The habitual servant is already satisfied with the work he is doing. Such a servant maintains the status quo and thinks that others should take on more responsibilities.

But what was the example that Jesus set for us? Jesus, the ever-busy servant, never maintained the status quo. Instead, He served and preached the gospel even up to the cross.

When I was struggling with balancing work, studies and church, I still had a yearning to serve more. But there was a voice inside me that said, “Enough.” I convinced myself that it was okay for me to let go of some responsibilities, that I was “passing on the baton,” so I no longer viewed service as the grace it was. It became a duty and obligation. Subsequently, my quality of service spiraled even further downward. I became the joyless servant.

The Joyless Servant

When we no longer view service to God as a grace and privilege, it will turn into an increasing burden. Weighed down by our heavy load, we lose our sense of joy in serving the Lord.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). If we offer our body, time, and strength but do so without joy or willingness—can this be a fragrant offering to God?

The joyless servant is one who sits beneath the shade of a plant, witnessing God’s almighty work unfolding before his eyes. Yet he is unable to appreciate the grace and power of God. He can only think of his own troubles and worries, thinking himself to be alone in his burdensome service to God.

When I was faced with such dissatisfaction, I became such a joyless servant. I thought I was the only one having to make sacrifices for God. I questioned whether all this time, tears, prayers, and strength were worth the service I rendered to God. Although I knew my service was not to God’s standard and displeased Him, I did not reflect or try to improve. I would only look at others, thinking that they were serving so conveniently and thus, excusing myself from pursuing further spiritual growth. I justified forgoing church activities and divine work with my heavy work and study load, when in truth I would only spend that time muddling in my own self-pity and self-righteousness. I was a servant without motivation, purpose or joy.

A Faith and Service Rekindled

By God’s unending grace, He made me realize the dire state of my service when I saw how much my spiritual cultivation and faith had been affected. My prayers were weak and Bible-reading was fruitless. I would listen to sermons daily, but I would only be searching for something to move my heart without putting in the effort to meditate on the word of God. So I returned to the basics of spiritual cultivation, making sure my heart was fully prepared whenever I served.

I resolved to pray more deeply and truly meditate in prayer instead of just pouring out my complaints and troubles. I started reading Proverbs and reflected on each Proverb, slowly digesting the spiritual food. I sought to remember once again my true motivation for serving God.

Paul was a leading example in serving unceasingly with the same burning desire. Every day he remembered that it was “the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Every day he remembered and reckoned himself as the chief of sinners. Through all these, I realized once again how blessed I was to be able to serve God. Humbled by God’s word, I once again recalled the sweetness of serving with joy and the pure gratitude that I could partake in His divine nature.

Once my spiritual cultivation became stronger, regular and meaningful, I once again began to view church work as an opportunity to put what I had prayed and read about into practice. I opened my eyes and began to truly observe the brethren around me. Whether they had been serving and working for many or only a few years, I realized I could learn from every servant. Removing pride and contempt from my eyes, I could see their sacrifice and strengths. Time spent with spiritual companions was no longer centered on our troubles, but on improving the divine work we were entrusted, and on encouraging one another to serve God to our best. In this way, I regained joy in serving the Lord.

CEASELESSLY SERVING GOD WITH JOY

As working members of the society, we are particularly blessed with many opportunities to serve God. But with these blessings come responsibility and faith. So, whether we have worked one year or forty years, we need to stay focused on serving only one master: our Lord Jesus Christ. Society compels us to work ceaselessly until we retire. Yet God’s love compels us to serve Him ceaselessly for all the days of our lives.

Therefore, whether we have become habitual or even joyless servants, let us rekindle our faith in God through spiritual cultivation, remembering that serving God is a grace and an opportunity to work for Him.

Let us seek to continuously improve in our service and heart towards God, never forgetting the zeal and reverence we had when we first served.

Serving God with joy and devotion is a banner and testament of a living and growing faith. It will be a sweet-smelling sacrifice to the Lord, truly edifying others and ourselves and eventually making our service grow sweeter every day. All glory be to God.


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Author: Keoni Yang
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