Serving others is universally considered a good thing, but what does it mean to serve with love? Adding in love to service means more than having good intentions; it means we understand that we are serving a person. The goal is to love that person, listen to their burdens, and to maintain respect for them as we serve them. If we look down on those we are serving, or consider ourselves better, then we are helping a physical need while demolishing the person’s dignity. Serving with love raises up the other person’s dignity.
Years ago, I led a group of suburban youth on mission trip to serve the homeless in Chicago. I challenged them not just to hand out food and blankets, but to engage with people – having real conversations and hearing people’s stories. These young people took up the challenge; they served with love. As the youth heard people’s stories, their preconceptions of homelessness melted away. Homelessness – like all of humanity – is complicated. The youth listened to heartbreaking stories, and – because they were willing to love – they learned to love people even more.
Relationships change everything. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to serve consistently in one place. In Chicago, we went to the same shelter every night. Too many people serve once a year during Christmas or once in their life on a mission trip, and then consider themselves done serving. This isn’t how love works; love is consistent. I have struggled in this area myself. I serve people in my job, but I struggled to serve outside the church. I tried to assuage my guilt by saying, “I have led mission trips and built homes in Mexico,” but I knew God wanted me to serve consistently and build relationships with people. Currently, I preach at the Gospel Mission once a month, and I love it! After I am done preaching, I spend some time listening and encouraging the people who are there. I have grown some relationships with the people there, and even gotten some really good advice for my life.
Of course, we don’t have to go to a shelter to serve with love. The needs of others are all around us. We can serve our family and friends. Sending a card is an act of love. We can make a meal for someone who is sick. We can walk the dog for someone who broke their leg. We can just sit and be present with those who are sad. We can listen and pray with people. Sometimes we need to see the need and serve without being asked. Be aware, though, that serving when it is not needed is actually an insult. If you are visiting a person’s house and offer to clean, it may not be received well. Love listens.
Serving is a blessing, and God’s people have been sent to bless the world (Genesis 12:2). As we bless others, the Holy Spirit moves their hearts to respond to His invitation. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel as you serve. Meet the needs of others in the name of Jesus. Pray with those you serve. Good deeds lead to good will, which leads to a willingness to hear the good news (Acts 2:42-47).
Most people are serving more than they realize. That is good! Find a way to see what God is up to in your life. See how Jesus is in your serving. You may find, like I did, that there is a new area where God wants you to serve. Follow Him and discover the new growth and joy that He has in store for you, and the blessing you will be in the life of others.
In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus instructed him not to tell anyone what had happened. Luke 5:12-14