It’s amazing how often we have plans to serve people, only to find ourselves being served by them. Sometimes this can be uncomfortable, but I’m slowly learning to embrace the dissonance of that feeling. True service is motivated by love, and love is not a one-way street. It is reciprocal.

Sometimes we start relationships with the intent of “helping this person.” We see ourselves as the helper and even in a somewhat dominant position, if we’re being honest with ourselves. This is dangerously close to framing ourselves as their savior. We are here to lead people to their Savior, not to pretend we are the ones doing the saving.

However, if we nurture a relationship and grow to care for the people around us, we will inevitably find ourselves in the position of being served by them. It may be awkward at first. It’s easy to decide that this is a bad thing, and we shouldn’t take anything offered by someone when it is clearly a major sacrifice on their part. We think we should be the ones always giving because we are in a better position to “share our blessings.”

Is that biblical? When Jesus saw the widow cast her last couple of coins into the treasury at the temple, he praised her (Mark 12:41-44). He didn’t say it was foolish, or tell her to keep her money. He acknowledged her sacrificial generosity for what it was.

It’s more blessed to give than to receive

We’ve read the words in Acts that tell us it is “more blessed to give than to receive”. We love to think about that verse when we are feeling generous for giving to others. Do we ever think about it when others give to us? Why would we try to deny that blessing to them by refusing their gifts or acts of service? Are we too proud to be gracious receivers?

When Elijah was in need of food in I Kings 17, God didn’t send him to a wealthy benefactor. He sent him to a poor widow who had only enough food for one more meal with her child. She was expecting to eat this last meal and then die (I Kings 17:12). When Jesus fed the 5,000 he didn’t transform stones into loaves and fishes, as he certainly had the power to do. He asked his disciples to search for food from among the crowd and used that offering for his miracle. The one-talent man is not excused for his lack of service because he started out with less than his peers. Every person has something to give in the kingdom of God.

If we always insist on being the givers, the doers, and the leaders, we can end up stifling the Spirit in others. We should instead be encouraging their good works. We should allow them to receive the blessing of giving and serving.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

Hebrews 10:24 ESV

A posture of learning

On a recent volunteering day, I was helping a couple with some tasks that took several more hours than expected. The man asked me multiple times if I wanted a coffee or anything to drink. I did the “polite” thing and turned him down. I didn’t really need a drink and felt uncomfortable about him spending the money as he is not in the most comfortable of financial situations. However as the day progressed, it dawned on me that he felt uncomfortable with how much time and energy I was putting into this errand. He was offering the drink as a thank you for my help. I finally relented and let him buy me an overpriced bottle of water from a vending machine. The look of relief on his face spoke volumes.

How often have I been guilty of similar blunders? I turn down people’s generosity or help because of the way it makes me feel, instead of considering how they feel. I have so much to learn about serving others. It makes my heart ache and my ears burn to think of how paltry my efforts are so much of the time. When I give, I still have much left over. My life is comfortable and I always have enough to eat. It feels good to give, and it feels uncomfortable to receive gifts from people who sacrifice for me. But I’m beginning to think that the discomfort of being served and accepting gifts is an important lesson in itself.

Not my feet only, but my hands and my head, too!

Peter had this problem, too. When Jesus began washing the feet of his disciples, Peter was having none of it! He declared that the Lord would never wash his feet. I imagine when he uttered those words, he felt a little smug. He probably thought he was a little better than the other disciples who were allowing Christ to wash their feet. While they let themselves be served, he would not allow the Lord to perform such menial service to benefit him. We know, however, that he was missing the point. He had to submit to Jesus washing his feet. It was all part of the lesson.

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for [so] I am. “If I then, [your] Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. “Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

John 13:12-17 NKJV

I have missed the depth of meaning in the instruction, “you ought to wash one another’s feet.” The obvious implication is that we need to be willing to wash the feet of others. We need to serve each other. It has taken me longer to realize that in order for that command to work, we also need to submit to having our feet washed sometimes. We need to allow others to serve us.

As I’ve dwelt more on hospitality in recent months, the depths of the topic continually surprise me. I’m learning that the posture of loving strangers can encompass many things. Sometimes it looks like welcoming others into my home. Other times it’s an invitation to attend an event with someone to strengthen my relationship with them. And sometimes it is graciously receiving an overpriced bottle of water from a man who really needed that money for himself.