Last week, we finished up the Small Groups part of the Discipleship Path series. If you missed last week, I really encourage you to go to YorkSpringsUMC.org and watch or listen to the message. It’s one that will absolutely speak to everyone and is something every single one of us needs to hear.
How to be a Servant
Today, we’re starting on another step on the Discipleship Path, Service. And we’re going to continue this discussion over the next two weeks because Jesus gave us such a great example of how to be a servant, not only for Him but for everyone, that there’s a lot to unpack. The goal will be to examine how Jesus was a servant Himself while He walked this earth, and how we can reflect that servanthood in our own lives. And I feel sure that by looking at the service of Jesus, we’ll discover how we can each serve in our church and in our communities.
I’m going to get heavy right off the bat. We’ll lighten the load later, but let’s just get this heavy part out of the way. Near death experiences. You’ve all likely heard a true story or two, maybe you saw it on TV, read it in a book, of someone who came close to dying or even was dead and then came back to life. Maybe you know someone personally who experienced this, or maybe even you have experienced this.
These kinds of moments often become life defining moments for the person who experiences them. Many times, these moments make people do a total 180, and they see life in a totally different way. Even just hearing their stories, and especially if you walked with them through that time, has a way of changing how we see others, how we see God, how we see our past decisions, and how we want to live our lives from here on out.
Many of you have probably heard of the poem or saying about the dash between the dates on our gravestone. It’s not the date of our birth or the date of our death that matters, it’s what happened in between that matters – that’s what the dash stands for.
Much like these kinds of life experiences, there are alerts in the Bible that should literally grab our attention and should make us really think about how we live every single day of our lives.
For instance: 2 Corinthians 5:1, 9-10:
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.
9 So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him (the Lord). 10 For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.
Remember the line in the Creed about Jesus that says: “from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” Meaning first off, Jesus is going to be coming back, and secondly, He’s going to judge us, all of us.
While eternal life is a free gift given on the basis of God’s grace, each of us will still be judged by Christ. He has been given authority to judge all the earth. Although His judgement is already working in our lives, there is a future final judgment. Whether that happens when we die or if Christ returns before our earthly bodies die, everyone’s life will be reviewed and evaluated.
This is not just for the unbelievers. Christians too will face a judgment. As believers, our eternal destiny is secure, but Jesus will look at how we’ve handled the gifts, the opportunities, and the responsibilities He has entrusted to us.
In Matthew 25, Jesus gives an illustration of the Kingdom of Heaven by telling a parable about man who went on a long trip and entrusted his money with his servants while he was away. He gave 5 bags of silver to the first one, two bags to another, and one bag to the last one – dividing it in proportion to their abilities.
The first and second guys work hard and double their master’s money. The third guy, decides to play it safe and protect himself from his master’s judgment. So he buries the money and does nothing with it, didn’t even put it in the bank to gain interest. Basically, he was selfish, thinking only of himself and his master’s hard judgement. What Jesus is telling us in this parable is that, this servant had no heart for the work of God’s Kingdom, so he did nothing with what he was entrusted with. So when the master returned, what he had was taken away from him, and he was punished for his disobedience.
But the two guys who doubled their master’s money, who diligently prepared for Christ’s return by investing their time and talents to serve God were rewarded. And Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s happiness”
So whether it happens today or in twenty, thirty, fifty years, we will all one day stand before God and give an account for our lives. Jesus may return in a few weeks or a few centuries. We don’t know when that day will be, but we do know that we will not be here forever, and we will face a judgement day. We can be certain of that.
In Matthew 16:27 Jesus’ words were,
“For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.”
It is only by faith in Jesus that we go to heaven. But there are three things you can affect that will last beyond your time on earth: 1. Who you become in Christ, 2. The glory you bring to His name, and 3. The impact you have on other people.
Now look, you, God, and everyone else are all eternal. Because God’s glory endures forever, everything we do to add to it, endures forever as well. Because you last forever, everything you do to change, grow, and become more like Jesus will go on forever too. Because the people around you are eternal, every time you touch someone’s life, that impact will go on and on and on.
Today, I want to focus on the impact you have on others because what we do matters. The way we touch lives matters.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10–11, where Paul said,
“For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” He continues, “Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others.”
What we do with people doesn’t get us into heaven—but it will go with us into heaven. Everyone who believes in Jesus goes to heaven, and everyone who goes to heaven will be rewarded according to what we’ve done with other people.
And what are we supposed to do with other people? “We try to persuade others.” Meaning we work hard to tell others about the good news of Jesus. Every person we lead to Jesus will spend eternity with Him. Therefore, there is really no better use of our time and our lives than to help others get to know Jesus.
I wish I could give you one simple formula for persuading people that would actually work every single time. However, if just telling people how to get to heaven would actually convert them, the job would already be done. The problem is that different people are at different stages in their journey towards Jesus. Some are ready to hear the Good News. Some are directly opposed to it. Some are seeking Jesus, some are too busy being distracted with their own pleasures and the pleasures of this world.
Even though, I don’t have an exact formula for you to use, I do have a place where you can start with just about anyone. It’s five easy-to-remember words that Craig Groeschel, a pastor, author and teacher of leadership, uses for his volunteers. However, they are actually five great words to reach out to anyone. These five words open doors with atheists as well as Christians who have just sort of drifted away.
They are, “I notice, and you matter.”
You may not have the right answer for every question. You may not have a persuasive speech or a world-rocking testimony. But you can notice people and let them know they matter to you. Almost everyone responds to being considered. Your efforts may or may not lead to their eventual conversion, but at least it’s a place you can start with anyone.
The Little Things
After Jesus told the parable of the loaned money, where Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s happiness”, if you go down a few more verses, Jesus gives a little more explanation of the day we are judged.
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”
On the day you meet Jesus, more than anything, you’ll care about where you stood with Him on earth. The next thing you’ll care about is how you touched the lives of others. The cool thing about it is the bar is not set that high for touching a life. It’s not too hard to make someone else feel like they matter. Jesus made it clear it’s not difficult at all to receive a reward on the Last Day.
In Matthew 10:42 Jesus said,
“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”
Did you hear that? That counts. A cup of water counts. I love it! It’s like Jesus is saying, “Just get beyond yourself in any way, and I’ll take it.” You opened the door for the guy in a wheelchair? It counts. You smiled at that grumpy lady with the yippy dog next door? It counts. You complimented your husband? It counts. Even a little tiny compliment can have an eternal impact. In fact, a little tiny compliment can be a big deal.
But here’s my problem with this. Most of us are, sadly, self-focused. I kind of see it like there are different tiers or levels of self-lessness. I’m not saying God sees it this way. I’m just sharing this idea to explain how I want to grow and where I want to go in this area of my life.
Let’s call the starting level the Kindergarten of Kindness. The Kindergarten of Kindness is when you don’t shove other people out of the way anymore to get to recess, and you no longer have to be the smartest or strongest person in the room. I feel like most of us have graduated from Kindergarten Kindness. But I know, some days we wonder.
I would guess a lot of us are actually stuck at the Elementary School level. That’s the kind of self-lessness where you can let other people go before you. You can share with others. When people are with you, you make an effort to put them first. But like a grade-school kid, when they are out of sight, they are out of your mind. Maybe you’ve been sitting at this level for a while and are ready to go beyond that.
That would take you to the High School level. (We don’t do middle school in this scenario.) The High School level of self-lessness is when people aren’t with you, yet you think about them, and you pray for them, and you consider how you can be a blessing to them.
The College level of kindness is not only to think about other people often when they aren’t with you, but also to sacrifice your own well-being, your own comfort, your own stuff to help them. These are the people who turn their families into orphanages because they just can’t quit bringing kids into their homes. These are the people who move to a third world country to bring people into the Kingdom of God. Of course, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of this level as He sacrificed His own life for us while we were still enemies of God.
Again, I am not saying God sees selfishness in this tier sort of way, but it does give us an idea of how to examine our own kindness and how to grow in it.
If reaching out to others begins with “I notice, and you matter,” then how does it go to the next step? How do we get beyond the Kindergarten of Kindness to the upper levels? Again, I don’t have a perfect formula, but I do have a method. You should know, however, that if you actually do what I am about to tell you to do, your life will be different from this moment on. It’s super simple, but it’s going to change everything—and it’s going to radically change what happens on that day when you must give an account for how you touched the lives of others.
Now you might not be surprised to hear it’s a prayer. But it’s not a say it and be done prayer. You don’t just say it once and move on. This actually has to become a new spiritual discipline. It has to become a regular part of your prayer life and a regular part of every day. Pray it every time you see someone in pain. Pray it every time God brings someone to mind. Pray it every time you notice someone and want to make sure they know they matter.
I promise you, if you will honestly pray this prayer every single day about someone, your life will change. Are you ready for it? Are you ready to graduate from high school? Here it is: “Lord, what do they need?” And there’s a second part to it: “What should I do?”
Let me show you how it can work. Let’s say you have a friend who lost a loved one a month ago. What do you do? If you’re like me, you say, “I am so sorry. Let me know if I can help in any way?” And what do they say? “Just pray for us.” So you promise that you will, then you forget, and not much actually happens except you feel a little awkward the next time you run into the friend because you know in your mind you didn’t actually pray for them.
Now imagine after you find out about that person’s loss and before you say anything, you pray, “Lord, what do they need?” Then a thought comes to your mind. “They need to know they aren’t alone.” Then you pray, “What should I do?” Not long after your prayer, you have an idea to take them to lunch. So when you call, you don’t give the usual, almost impossible-to-answer question of “How can I help?” Instead, you say, “Can I take you out to lunch?” And just like that, you’re serving.
This prayer is so small, but it is so big at the same time. Think of how our lives, our church, and our communities would change if we all would make this a regular discipline where every day we pray for someone else. What if this prayer was as much a part of your every day routine as brushing your teeth or combing your hair? There’s no way we can do this for everyone. But we can easily do this for someone, anyone.
It works at so many levels. It can work for the mean person who is working at the government office while you are standing in line. “God, what do they need?” I think they might need a little compassion. “What should I do?” I could tell them that I notice and appreciate how hard they’re working. It counts.
This prayer can work instantly. You can see a homeless guy and right there pray, “God, what does he need?” Dignity comes to mind. “God, what do You want me to do?” I think God might want me to go over to him, look him in the eye, shake his hand, and ask him if I can pray for him. It counts.
This prayer can be repeated for weeks for big issues. You might pray every day, “God, my daughter is struggling. What does she need?” One day it comes to you: “She needs to know I’m there for her no matter what.” Then you can pray, “God, what do You want me to do?” And the idea might come: “Find a way to reach out to her every day and keep praying.” It counts.
It can happen with the jerk at work or school that whom nobody likes. Pray, “God, what does that jerk need?” If God says, “He needs a hug,” you can pray, “Well, God, please bring someone who will give him one.” I’m kidding. You go give him a hug!
It’s an effective prayer. But I want to warn you that it’s also a dangerous prayer.
James 4:17 says,
“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
The danger with praying this prayer is that as things come to mind, you need to follow through or you’re going to be like the third servant in Jesus’ parable.
So what if your prayer went like this:
“God, what does that couple You brought to my mind this morning need?”
“They need a car for their daughter.”
“What do You want me to do?”
“Give them one.”
Wow! All of a sudden, we’re playing with the big boys of faith. That’s College-Level Kindness.
So look, would you consider joining me in this? Would you start by finding one person every day where your actions say, “I notice and you matter”? Then would you pray this prayer just once a day for just one person a day? Maybe even pray for the same person every day for a few weeks.
God may not immediately answer every prayer. And I don’t think you’ll have to buy anyone a car. But I’m certain that sooner or later God will bring some ideas to mind. And if you will do it, on that Last Day, you’ll be so glad you did. And until the Last Day, your life will be packed full of testimonies.
Let’s try it every day this next week and see if anything happens. If this could be a daily discipline, I believe every single one of us will have scores of stories to tell about how God used us, included us, probably even scared us, and came through for us. Then next, our joys time should be so full that it takes our whole worship time.
I don’t want this to just be a nice sermon today where people say, “that was a great message Pastor Trish.” I am honestly praying that this changes your life, my life, and the church.
If you follow Jesus, the conversation on that day when you meet Jesus face to face is already loosely scripted. Jesus said it will go something like this: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” Matthew 25:23
Let’s pray: Father, thank You for the kindness You have shown to us, especially for our salvation. We pray that You would help us notice others simply because they matter to You. Remind us to seek Your will and Your plans for our part in your story. Please show us how we can make a difference and touch one life every day. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.