Prayer is often about burdens– the burden of need; the burden of sin and guilt; the burden of worry and distress. We bring our burdens to God, to the “throne of Grace;” we bring them “in Jesus’ Name,”, and we bring them to “Our Father.” But how often do we bring them to “Calvary?”
Not the victorious empty cross on the hillside with a beautiful sunset in the background, but the bloody, hot, dry and dreadful Calvary of the crucifixion? How often do we make the pilgrimage to that rocky outcropping with the smell of blood and sweat and death and agony? How often do we cry out to the one who was lifted up, struggling to breathe, pierced, wounded, broken and humiliated? When do we reach out to touch the scars and bruises he received in our place?
It is at Calvary that we get the real story of Grace, Mercy, and forgiveness–the real cost of victory and peace. It is at Calvary that we see the full extent of God’s Holiness married to the full extent of His Love. Holiness demands justice; Love demands intimacy– together, they require sacrifice.
And it is at Calvary that we find, in the darkest and most hopeless of moments– God forsaking Himself, giving all He IS to bring justice and reconciliation for all we’ve done–that we trade our burdened souls, our worries, our despair for God’s embrace. Arms stretched so wide they are pulled from their sockets; blood spilled from head to toe; breathless and exposed in His passion for your soul and mine–that’s what God offers at Calvary.
Why do I pray? I am ambushed and overwhelmed and enraptured by such a love. God had no need to suffer even a moment’s discomfort. He owed nothing to His rebellious creation; no mercy, no explanation, no hints as to His character (or ours). The creator of galaxies had no need to lift a finger to save one puny planet or any of its inhabitants from His own right to un-create them and blot out even their memory. Instead, He showed the greatest act of Love across all of space and time–to me!– At Calvary!
“Life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving–
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon…”
(Be Our Guest from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast)
Philippians 2:3-8King James Version (KJV)
3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
1 Peter 2:13-19Revised Standard Version (RSV)
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,[a] whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. 17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
The English word serve has at least seven different definitions, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary see here, and that’s just the intransitive verb form! The concept of service and serving is often misunderstood and denigrated. Our culture (especially American culture) in general has a low opinion of servants. Value is placed on independence– neither needing service nor being required to give it to others. But service is much broader then “servitude”, and good service requires that we place our value on interdependence, rather than independence.
Good service requires a lot, but I think there are three key ingredients–obedience, humility, and love.
I don’t normally recommend Disney as a source of moral instruction, but just in the short two lines of lyrics above there is a great example of a servant’s heart. A good servant isn’t reluctantly or resentfully dragged into service. (Oh, there are days or circumstances that are trying and tiring, but that’s the exception, not the norm.) S/he is eager to serve, and even restless when unable to be of service. A good servant is also personal. Their service is not given by rote, but with attention to the individual “soul” they are serving. It’s hyperbole, of course, but the verve and giddiness found in the singing and dancing dishes of a Disney movie should be reflective of the kind of service we provide at work, at home, and at church– “Be our Guest!”
As followers of Jesus, we should also look to His example. Paul reminds us that Jesus did not seek fame or attention or demand respect or recognition during His time on Earth. Instead, He gave up all the glory of Heaven to become a man– and not just a man, but a helpless baby born in obscurity and growing up without entitlements and comforts; the child of a working-class family in a small town under foreign occupation. He lived as a homeless itinerant teacher, and died as a common criminal under shameful circumstances– naked and bloody, displayed in public, to be mocked and used as a warning for others. But Jesus wasn’t a doormat–he was humble, he was meek–he CHOSE to submit to the pain and humiliation and even the injustice of a rigged trial and a death sentence by mob rule. He had opportunities to grab the glory, to turn the tide, to escape his unfair fate, and/or to become a great political or military leader. He didn’t take those opportunities– instead, he was obedient to the Father. He showed love and compassion even to those who mocked him, betrayed him, and murdered him.
It’s frightening to serve with that kind of abandon. It’s not humanly possible to let go of one’s life with joy for the sake of those who have taken it from you. My human desire is to grab hold of life and get as much out of it as I can. Even when my intention is not to hurt anyone else, it is not in my nature to put someone else’s needs and comforts ahead of my own. But it needs to become part of my nature.
I want to serve like Serena Williams–slamming my passion at the speed of a bullet train and earning trophies. (And this is not meant to be disrespectful– I am a great admirer of Serena’s talent and drive, and I think there is much to learn from her perseverance and excellence.) But tennis, while fun to watch and good for exercise, does not teach good “service”.
I’d like to serve like a CEO– guiding a company to greater success and huge profits. I might even help hundreds of people by creating more jobs and increasing their wealth. But in the end, this is not the kind of service that has everlasting consequences, or “soul” benefits.
I honor those who have served in the military; those who work in service industries, or provide emergency services. And those who have served in government, whether local, state, national, regional, provincial, or other. Many have served selflessly and given their lives, willingly, in combat or rescue missions. For every story of someone who has abused their office, or fled in the face of personal danger, there are many more stories of courage, compassion, and sacrifice. Such service should also “serve” as an example to all of us.
I enjoy serving customers at work– helping them find something they want or need, or answering questions. But that’s my job. I get a certain gratification, and a paycheck, that help motivate such service.
God wants me to learn to serve from the pure joy of service– pouring myself out with abandon to help others succeed– rejoicing with them when they reach their goals; grieving with them in their loss. And, like Jesus, God wants me to do it, not in my own limited strength and wisdom, but in obedience to His will– not becoming a dupe or a doormat to anyone who wants to step on me, but discerning what is best for others and cheerfully doing what I can to bring it about.
That’s a tall order, and it requires that I take time to ask God and trusted friends– How’s my Serve?
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
I work at a small retail shop, and I have come to recognize at least three different types of shoppers. There are the browsers– they have no clear idea of what they are looking for, and they spend their time looking at items and chatting. They may end up buying items, but they are just as likely to pick up an item, consider it, and then cast it aside if something else catches their eye, or their friends are ready to leave.
Then, there are the lookers. They pick up certain items, look at the price, look at the color and size, hold it up, try it on (if it can be worn); they may even ask their friends’ advice. They have a particular need, and they are looking for an item that “fits” that need.
But the seekers– look out! They march in, come right up to the counter and ask me a host of specific questions. Do you have_______________? They have a description of the item they’re seeking– size, color, brand or label–often very specific and they insist that nothing else will do. If I assure them that I do not have that item in stock, they turn tail and walk away. If I say that I have something similar, they may reluctantly let me bring it out for inspection, but one glance is all it takes for them to make up their minds. If I suggest something else, they are likely to shake their head(s) and walk away. They may come back in a week or month, or even next year, looking for the same item, or something else, but they come with the same pulsing energy, and excitement. Price is generally no object. The fact that I don’t have the item they’re looking for does not diminish their excitement or desire to find “that one item” that brought them through my door.
We live in a world of browsers– in fact, our search engines/internet information-gathering applications are called “browsers”. We enter a keyword, the application brings back dozens or thousands of possible sites, and we “browse” through our options until we find one that seems to give us the information we want or need. This is fine if we are looking for general information. It becomes frustrating if we are looking for an exact website, unless we know its domain name or URL.
In pursuing prayer, and “seeking” a closer relationship with God, sometimes, I stoop to browsing– I’m not really seeking His face, just looking around for encouragement or validation or a vague warm, fuzzy “feeling”. God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Earnestly, diligently, fervently. We are not called to browse idly, but to seek boldly.
I used to work with teens. Sometimes I would organize a scavenger hunt, or a treasure hunt. Teams would form, clues or lists would be given, along with a time limit. Students would run, climb, dig, crawl, scamper, push, sweep, turn things over, and under, and all around–all in the pursuit of a clue or an item for a game. How much more might we see God’s response if we brought this kind of energy and passion to our prayer life?