I often wish I were better at having a servant heart. I’ve decided the two qualities to prompt that are being more observant and then being bold to act.
For example, recently I was driving by myself in the neighborhood and saw an older woman (younger than I am!) walking along the unpopulated part of the street with a small bag of groceries. My first impulse was to stop and offer her a ride. But I didn’t. Even if she’d said no, she might have felt pleased at the offer. I was disappointed in myself for not stopping, but it was not a situation where I could have stopped and backed up.
I know several people who seem to have been born with a servant heart. One is my son-in-law, Stephen. In any group, from Christmas dinner to watching a Bengals game, Stephen notices who needs a drink refill or another napkin or more food—and quietly supplies it. Much of it is because he is very observant and acts on the needs he sees.
The first time I was aware of this was in June of 2004. My sister-in-law, Liz, was hosting a surprise 50th birthday party for my brother John. I’d driven down to Hendersonville, Tennessee, that Sunday morning and arrived just in time for church, sitting with friends in a place where John couldn’t see me.
The “Surprise!” was over and we’d eaten our fill and sung “Happy Birthday,” offering a cake with candles. Liz asked me to serve the cake and ice cream, and I soon saw that cutting and serving cake and then scooping ice cream on each plate was a bit much for one person to handle. Just as I was thinking I should track Kelsey down and ask her to help me, her then boyfriend Stephen was at my elbow, grabbing the scoop and deftly adding ice cream to each slice of cake. “Looks like you can use some help,” he said, already at work. We were a good team, and have worked together this way many times since.
If I take a couple of plates from the table, it’s Stephen who immediately gathers more and takes them to the dishwasher. He’ll put the food out of the way for me to store later and we’ll get the dessert served smoothly.
Everyone else is always glad to help, whatever guests we have. Many guests offer to help, some rather half-heartedly, but some with an enthusiastic, “Now! I’ve washed my hands. What can I do to help?” Stephen sometimes asks, but more often he just shows up and starts doing what needs to be done. I love that.
Our friend David Miller is very much the same way. Since I’ve been around David even more years than I have Stephen, I can see his growth in serving others. When he was a college intern in 1994, he was always eager to help, but it was more in terms of cutting up wood for our fireplace or climbing up to the roof to retrieve a frisbee. In more recent years, I wonder when he gets to eat because at meals he is always noting what someone needs and supplying it.
I really shouldn’t leave Steve off this list, for he serves me daily. He does the laundry (including drying and folding), empties the dishwasher, vacuums after himself, cleans the kitchen daily, and, of course, takes out the trash and recyclables. The most sacrificial service he offers me is making homemade freezer ice cream, which we did last weekend. Delicious!
Maybe all these guys stand out because those servant roles historically belonged to women.
Steve and I both work at it, but we are more enthusiastic volunteers than observant servants. We keep working at it, of course, for Jesus set no better example than for us to serve each other.
“… the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28