"Consider how you can make service and servanthood your way of life and watch the impact it has on your entire being—inside-out and outside-in." By Lt. Erin Wikle

There is no more an iconic work about true spiritual formation than that of Richard Foster in his book, “Celebration of Discipline.”Foster divides these so-called spiritual disciplines into three movements: inward, outward and corporate. While each discipline is unique, the discipline of service is deemed an outward discipline that informs what truly resides inward … and vice versa.

Foster writes at length about the distinction between self-righteous and true service, calling the former “selective, affected by moods and whims, insensitive and aimed at glorifying the individual” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 2018). The truth is, if we aren’t careful, most of us can be prone to place the discipline of service either at the forefront or back-burner of our lives because both convenience (“I don’t have time for this!”) and vanity (“Look how good I am!”) often reflect our true motives and real intentions. Rather than resulting from radical transformation (“I serve because Jesus was the greatest servant of all.”), self-righteous service can disorient us to the true reality of Jesus changing us through and through.

The Heart of Who We Are

Originating in 1865, The Salvation Army has persisted as a doing movement for well over a century. Co-founders William and Catherine Booth found no satisfaction in preaching a theoretical gospel of care and compassion if it had no hands and feet. Instead, their work was rooted in coupling the truth that Jesus was (is) the Way, the Truth and the Life with the work of feeding, clothing, housing, employing and helping fractured humanity heal and become whole. Men addicted to alcohol regained sobriety, reconnected with family and rekindled relationship with Jesus. Women stuck in the vicious cycle of prostitution and poverty found restoration and refuge with those who would regard them as wholly and purely created in the image of God. Misfit youth were entrusted and empowered to pioneer and carry forth the movement of The Salvation Army in a wave of Christian fervor, serving sacrificially amongst the first leaders within this social justice organization.

Within the heart of The Salvation Army, we are movers, shakers, doers, advocates, helpers, justice-seekers and servants. (Our slogan “Doing the Most Good, says it all.)

Within the heart of Jesus, the greatest servant of all, is humility, selflessness, generosity, compassion and availability.

And it is wholly within the narrows of both true service and real humility, that we can be of greatest use in this broken world and for God’s Kingdom.

Jesus At The Center

Foster writes, “Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness” (page 130, The Celebration of Discipline). We see this very idea made manifest in the life of Christ—who, though unmistakably radical and bold in His interactions with people, showed great restraint and obedience to Father. Just read through the Book of John and note the number of times Jesus performed a miraculous healing and did not call attention to Himself, but instead gave glory to the Father. Remember His first miracle—turning water into wine at the request of His mother who appeared to Him anxious that a wedding party was soon to run dry, thus bringing shame upon the family. Given the urgency of the moment, He performs a miracle serving the crowd gathered in celebration and showing honor to His mother, despite the timing not being ideal (John 2:1-11). Recall Jesus kneeling before His closest followers, taking a posture of humility (and vulnerability) to wash and carefully dry their feet, prophetically calling them to do the same with those around them (John 13:1-14).

Jesus wasn’t good at service; He was good at being a servant. Foster continues, “… when we choose to be a servant, we give up the right to be in charge. There is great freedom in this. If we voluntarily choose to be taken advantage of, then we cannot be manipulated. When we choose to be a servant, we surrender the right to decide who and when we will serve. We become available and vulnerable” (page 132).

Vulnerability is not held in high-esteem by the world—often mistook as messy and weak, this upside-down Kingdom value is the exact means by which the Holy Spirit can work in and through our lives, entirely disrupting the Enemy’s hope to keep us puffed up and proud (1 Corinthians 8:1). Choosing to place ourselves at the doorstep of inconvenience says to those around you, “I’m available. How can I serve you?”

Where To Begin

If you’re looking to delve more deeply into the discipline of service, do your research. Spend time in Scripture, look closely at the life of Christ, read up on the many Saints and servants that went before (people like Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi and even Eliza Shirley) and learn from their lives. Why did they serve, whom did they serve, how did they serve?

Take time to research what opportunities to serve are available in your community. Consider contacting your local Salvation Army, reach out to other churches or public schools in the area. Look into other local non-profits that have an express need for a specific kind of help. Get to know your neighbor—how can you serve someone on your own street? Is there a single mom that could use a break, an older adult who could use help shopping for groceries, or a struggling teenager who could use some tutoring help? What vulnerable or marginalized people groups could be shown care and kindness in a practical way? Show vulnerability and availability by feeding, clothing and serving those who are often overlooked. Get creative—is there a need in your community that is not being met? How can you leverage your skillset, training, passion and availability to be of service?

When you start serving, don’t miss the moment. Refrain from pursuing opportunities that only make you look and feel good. Avoid pulling out your phone to Instagram your selfless efforts:  #lookatme. Challenge yourself to give back without any recognition—those likes, loves and DMs can be compelling. Keep your heart, motive and intentions in check.

Spend time in prayer about the opportunities the Lord wants you to pursue. Don’t agonize over it—simply ask, listen and obey. Set aside selfish motives and ask the Holy Spirit to help you give from a place of generosity and without expectation for something in return. While many service opportunities can often present themselves as “one and done,” consider how you can make service and servanthood your way of life and watch the impact it has on your entire being—inside-out and outside-in.

For Further Study

  • Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster: This classic guides you into a fuller understanding of what it means (and what it takes) to really live fully alive for Jesus. PRO-TIP: there’s even a really useful accompanying Journal Workbook you can purchase to go along with the book. So, don’t go it alone. Consider gathering a group and delve into these disciplines, together.

Lt. Erin Wikle is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) who primarily ministers to individuals experiencing homelessness and those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Erin holds degrees in Christian theology and Spanish from Seattle Pacific University (2005) and is a columnist for Salvation Army periodicals such as Caring Magazine and New Frontier Chronicle. Erin resides in Santa Monica, CA where she and her husband, Chris, are raising their four children. Life holds no dull moments.

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