What does it really mean to have a “servant’s heart?” A few years ago, I took a quiz on spiritual giftings and scored lowest in the “Service” category. This confirmed my suspicion that I did not have a “servant’s heart”, and for the past few years, I’ve been asking God to give me one.
One of my shortcomings (of which I feel very aware) is that I’m not great at jumping onto a project and figuring out how I can help. I need very specific instruction, or else I find myself just standing by idly without any idea of how to assist. I noticed that some of my amazing friends would jump in and help without being asked. They would automatically do the dishes after enjoying a meal at someone’s home. Or they’d instantly figure out a task they can do to help clean up after church. When they hosted me in their home, they gave me the better bed and make sure that I had all the food, coffee, and water I needed to be comfortable.
Based on these observations, I set out to develop my “servant’s heart”. I worked on being a better friend and hostess, and found it really enjoyable. I might not look very Italian, but it makes up 50% of my heritage, and the “Italian grandmother” instincts definitely kick in when I start cooking for people.
At my old church, we had weekly setup and breakdown. I took a position as the leader of our Sunday School setup, partially hoping to learn a bit more about “helping out”. I came in every week and led our team in setting up the rooms for the kids to learn in. It was a tough job, and I definitely learned a lot from it. I made a lot of sacrifices to be there every week, and it taught me about commitment (something that I still struggle with at times).
I used to serve as a waitress a few nights a week, and I tried to be more patient and humble toward my customers at work. I would come to their ear level when I couldn’t hear them instead of making them talk louder. I tried to complain less about the frustrating things people did. I helped out with the restaurant side work, even the things that weren’t a part of my own job.
In my attempt to be more of a “servant”, I did a lot of good things. I don’t regret doing them by any means (and I plan to keep doing many of them). But one day, I was talking to God and he told me that he thought I had a servant’s heart. Surely I must’ve misheard him.
“I’m working on having a servant’s heart!” I corrected him. “I’m doing all these good things, and I’m trying to help people more and complain less.”
God’s response was this: “These things aren’t what give you a servant’s heart. When I called Samuel, he was lying in bed and he heard my voice calling his name. ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ He sat up in bed and said, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’ He was attentive to my voice and prepared to obey the words that I spoke. When I talk to you, you listen. When I ask you to do things, you obey. This is why you have a servant’s heart. This is what pleases me.”
How many of us have thought that serving God means doing great things and being a great person? Are good deeds wrong? No, they aren’t. But what good are our deeds if they are not the ones that God desires? I could start ministry after ministry, talk about God to thousands of people, and serve on every team at church. But none of that matters if the one thing God is asking of me is being totally ignored.
From a young age, Samuel heard from God and obeyed him. Later in his life, he found himself the adviser to Saul, the first king of Israel. Saul and his army had just overtaken the Amalekites in battle, and were commanded by God to destroy everything and take no spoils. Instead of obeying, Saul took the choicest cattle and plunder from the land. When Samuel arrived and questioned Saul about his disobedience, he tried to argue that he had planned to sacrifice the cattle as a burnt offering to God.
But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams.”
The church today is much more like Saul than we can even recognize.
We are caught up in the things we are doing for God, and we don’t take the time to pursue his voice.
We need to get out of the lie that we ought to be doing more for God and instead, draw close to him and learn to hear him. The desire closest to his heart is not that we do more works, but that we obey him. The result of our obedience is nothing short of a miracle: instead of us doing great things for God, He will begin to do His great works through us.
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There’s something so humbling about this realization. God’s delight in me has nothing to do with my own greatness, my own talents, or my own sacrifice. There are people who will influence millions and people who will influence five other lives. Our purpose and usefulness has nothing to do with the quantity of works we produce. It has everything to do with our decision to make ourselves available to God. Before we had desires, he had desires. Before we made plans, he had a plan. Are we making ourselves available to God as vessels? Are we saying to him, “You can use my words, my actions, and my body to communicate to your children?”
How excited is our God when his children come before him and say, “Show me what your desires are, so that I can be a part of making them happen.”