I must confess that as a parent I don’t always model servanthood. Too often I model the opposite. I enter a situation where something is needed, and I feel the urge to take care only of myself. I find myself rationalizing how busy I am, how tired I am, or how much I have already given of myself. I have the time, the energy, and the ability, but I just sit drinking my latte, wondering why things aren’t being done “better.”
We first have to recognize our own bent and that we are not serving in the most basic of ways. When we do, we will better understand why it’s hard to give this type of heart to our children. It’s difficult, even impossible, to give away something we don’t already have.
In order to give this gift to our children, we must become servants, and then our children will see our faith in action. As we walk into situations, even this week, whether it’s in our homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our churches, our communities—wherever it is, we can start by asking ourselves, “What needs to be done?” As you do this, look around you. You will discover how different things appear.
Recently we offered a “serve experience” for our families at our church. We put together individual packets for our families so they could have their own “What needs to be done?” experience. As each family participated in the elements included in the packet, they were guided through reading Scripture, praying, and then driving in their cars or walking through their neighborhoods.
I thought about myself—how many times had I jumped in my car simply with a destination in mind? Almost every time. Very seldom do people say, “Hey, let’s just go for a drive.” That sounds like something from the 1950s. Just to go for a drive is unheard of these days. We use transportation as a means to get somewhere.
What happens when we live simply as “destination people” is that we’re not able to ask, “What needs to be done?” Instead, we’re asking, “How quickly can I get there?” or “Who is getting in my way?” because we’re probably late and stressed out. Unfortunately, when I do this, I miss out on all the things in between.
It’s this “in between” that I wanted for my families in the drive that we asked of them. It allowed them to drive quietly for about fifteen minutes around their community and ask, “What needs to be done?” For me, this was an intriguing thought. I’ve lived in my own community for almost ten years now. Never once have I driven around for fifteen minutes and asked the question of what needed to be done. Further, I wanted to take my staff at church through this experience to see how it would work before we presented it to our families. They were my guinea pigs.
I sent my staff out into our community in little “family pods.” My high-school worship leader was “dad” and I was “mom” in one car, along with “our kids”—one administrative associate and one children’s associate. We had fun as we drove off, watching our kids in the back, who were throwing things at each other and shouting, “He’s touching me,” and all the things we supposed a family would have to endure on their journey of exploration.
We stopped to read the verses, to pray, and to get ready to ask our question of what needed to be done in our neighborhood. We were so eager to serve. We first found an empty lot that had trash, so we jumped out and started cleaning it. We saw a homeless man, and we gave him a sandwich. We went to a park and cleaned bathrooms. We saw a woman carrying groceries to her car, but when we started to approach her, she ran away! Funny. Overall, we were feeling good about it, but we were also thinking about what God might still have for us in this.
We drove past a little café. I had been there only once, but I remembered the owner, an older woman who worked very hard to keep it going. I wanted to stop and just say hi to her. We prayed, “Lord, here’s a woman, here’s a café, what needs to be done?” So we walked in and asked her if there was anything we could do for her. We mentioned that we could clean her bathrooms or wash her dishes. She just looked at us as if we were insane. At first she asked if we were in need of a free meal or something. She spoke in broken English with a beautiful Spanish cadence.
In my best Spanglish, I tried to say, “We just came to serve you. We figured that this would be a busy time for you. It’s right after lunch. You probably have a lot of dishes.” She smiled—and with that she handed us a mop, a towel, and some soap. Off my “family” went, serving. Two of us went into the kitchen and started washing dishes. The other two got mops and gloves and started cleaning toilets and bathrooms. Finally, she came up to me and asked, “Tell me, why are you here?”
I told her that we worked at the church a couple of doors down and that we were asking God to send us where we could go and be of service in our community today. And we felt like God just led us over here to be with her. The woman burst into tears. She began to share her story: “I’m a single mom, and it has always been my dream to own my own restaurant, but it hasn’t been going well, and in fact, the landlord is coming in today to get the keys from me. Today is my last day.”
She continued, “I woke up this morning, and I started praying. I haven’t prayed in many years. I was crying out to God that I needed to have some hope, and I asked Him, would He please send an angel or a messenger? Would He send some message of hope to me so that I would know that He still cared?” And then she looked at us and said, “You’re my angels.”
We started praying for her. We told her this was not the end. We reminded her that although it might be the end of this particular dream, God had something else for her. We told her that we believed God did send us to her that day to encourage her to return to Him and to trust Him alone. We hugged her. We recited Scripture to her, and then we left.
I drove by the café the next day, and she indeed was gone. The doors were closed. But we were able to be messengers of God, of love, of hope, and of service to this woman who desperately needed it, because we simply asked the question, “What needs to be done?”
Sometimes we are privileged to see the end result of these stories and hear the blessings. And sometimes we do acts of service in quiet, where no one sees, and only God knows the eternal impact that we’re making. It’s necessary to train our children that sometimes we’re going to see the result and sometimes we don’t, but either way, it’s an act of spiritual service to God. Service is our act of worship to Him. We’re serving Him by serving others. When we serve Him, we’re obedient. Eternal things happen. Lives are changed.
Originally posted August 4, 2010.
From Spiritual Parenting © 2010 by Michelle Anthony. Published by David C. Cook, www.davidccook.com/. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Michelle Anthony, Ed. D, is a Pastor of Family Ministries of ROCKHARBOR Church in Costa Mesa, California. A former professor of Biola University and Talbot School of Theology, Anthony has written over a dozen resources for Christian Education and Family/Youth Ministries. Michelle and her husband, Michael, have two children and live in Orange County, California.