The Futility of Our Service

So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.-Luke 17: 10

“Don’t be a hero!” A relative said these words to me just I was about to embark on a plane to Brazil more than twenty years ago. I was a little offended by this statement. At first I thought it was a little random and then the implication hit me. The person must have thought that my motivation to be a missionary was fueled by a messiah complex. I was really mad. In my mind, I believed that I just wanted to be a simple missionary but in the hidden corner of my heart, lurking behind all the good intentions, was a budding messiah complex. Today I see the wisdom in those words. I am not saying that in any shape or form that the person who uttered these words was wise. He still remains an annoying person for saying such a thing. Nevertheless, God used these words to say something profound to me. He does not need a messiah to serve Him. He does not need us to save the world from sin and destruction. There can only be one genuine Savior in this world and He has already done a perfect job. My role is entirely different. It is not just my role but it is the vocation of anyone who has been touched by the Love of this Savior. Our task is to be His servants. God does not want us to be heroes but just mere servants.

The world likes heroes. It gives this title freely to anyone; even minute things are conceived as an acts of nobility. On the contrary, God just wants servants. The difference between a hero and a servant is that a hero is a volunteer, whereas the servant serves out of duty. Those who want to be heroes want their acts to be recognized. A servant is just doing what it expected. The servant does his or her duty. The word, duty, is an unfashionable word in some religious circles. Many think that it sounds dry and cold. I used this word in a religious setting once and someone accused me of these things. Well, the words of Jesus in the above verse do not seem to be warm and fuzzy. They sound harsh, but they are the necessary truth.

We need to know that when we serve God, we are not doing Him a favor. We are just doing our duty. There is no extra privilege or honor. The honor and privilege lies in fulfilling our duty; nothing more, nothing less. This does not mean that it cannot be joyful and rewarding. It does not mean that it is forced upon us. Our free-will is still very much in the center of fulfilling any duty. This also beckons another important question; does God need us to serve Him?

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.- Genesis 2:15

This was the first mandate given to humanity. This was before the Fall. Prior to this, we read that God created the world perfectly. The land produced plants and trees without any assistance from humanity and everything in nature was in harmony. Nothing was competing for survival. Everything in existence was moving along perfectly according to the will of God. There was nothing humanity could do to ameliorate this already perfect world. What kind of tending and caring could humanity provide to contribute to its perfection? The world moves along God’s plan. His plans have been already perfected because He rested on the seventh day. Everything will reach its perfection in the end. Therefore, what is our role in of all this?

From Genesis onwards, we read the stories about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the kings and the prophets; we find a whole list of names and activities. Some were good and others were bad and most of them were somewhere in-between. They made good and bad choices but nothing they did jeopardized or enhanced the will of God. This does not mean that we should surrender to a fatalistic attitude. I don’t believe in determination in such a way that forfeits free-will. God created humans with free-will and therefore, He must have perceived it as a good thing. Most importantly, free-will is an essential part of Love. However, we must not think that our free-will can control God’s actions. The people in the Bible fulfilled God’s plan of action in this world; even in some cases, the person did not do it conscientiously. Even people who deliberately act against God end up fulfilling His will. I am not saying that God is responsible for tyrants and murderous leaders and peoples in the world. God does not interfere in our actions but our actions also do not interfere in His will as well.

God fulfills His goodness in this world despite our actions, good or bad. This does not mean that we do absolutely nothing or we do whatever we please. We can do both these things in our lives and we will end up being miserable. It is in our human nature to participate in the projects of this world. Our sense of fulfillment comes from being involved in what God is doing. The other extreme is to think that the future of the world lies in our hands. Some Christians think that If we do not preach the gospel, then the world will die in sin and destruction. This is worse than doing nothing. It is taking on something which God has never given to us. It is trying to take over God’s role of salvation. We don’t have what it takes to fulfill this role. This does not mean that we do not attempt to work for a better world. We have to remember that God is the only One who moves this world into perfection. He invites us to be part of the process. He invites us to His servants and not His co-messiahs.

It is actually a joy to know that we are just servants. Jesus said that we should consider ourselves as unprofitable or unworthy servants. This is even better. It should be a relief to consider ourselves as unworthy servants. Being unworthy servants means that we are not capable of fulfilling the task that is given to us. It is freeing to know that as I go into the streets everyday that I am not really qualified to do the task God has called me to do. Despite this, God wants me to be there. Not because He wants me to feel inadequate. He wants me to be in the streets because He loves me.

And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

Last Sunday, as Mary and I were walking home, we saw a man and his six year old son sweeping the leaves from his allocated parking space in his apartment building. The father was actually doing the job and the little boy took a tiny stick and started pushing the leaves to the side. He wasn’t really doing much but his father stood next to him and allowed him to help. The boy made a mess and the father cleared it and made sure everything was the way he wanted. The little boy just wanted to be with his father and participate in whatever his father was doing. This was sufficient. I imagine thirty years from now, this father would remember this moment with fondness. The boy would also treasure this moment and would do the same with his own child. Most likely, they would not remember if they did a good job clearing the space. This is irrelevant. Rationally speaking, the little boy was wasting his father’s time. The father could have gotten everything done quicker. The boy delayed the task. However, when you add love into this relationship, the time wasted was a moment gained in eternity.

God has everything under control in this world. Rationally speaking, all our service is futile, but it does not mean that it is insignificant.

We sit and talk with the children and teens everyday. I know that I don’t have the answer to their problems. The social situation is not going to change because of our presence in their lives. We know that God has called to us to be His servants here. We also know that we don’t have the solutions to their problems, but God is doing something here. He is free to reveal His perfect will according to His timetable. Therefore, what is left for us to do is to discover and know the people behind the problems. Sometimes we can get so obsessed with problem-solving that we fail to see the human soul behind the social issues and situations. Social problems steal the humanity of the people who are affected. It would be really sad if those who reach out to these people get so obsessed with problem solving that they fail to see their humanity. Being an unworthy servant helps me to see the humanity of the other person. It frees me from the burden of being the world’s messiah and helps me become a mere human being who wants to know and love another human being just like me. Being a servant helps me get down from my high horse and become one with the ones God has called me to serve.

God calls us to serve not because He needs our help. He calls us to be His servants because He desires to include us in His project in this world. Our joy comes from being part of something eternal. Our ideas and efforts are not going to make a big difference in this world. We are not the saviors. However, we are His servants. As we serve Him in our imperfect way, we discover the perfect Love of God, not only for us and also for the homeless and neglected children and teens. This does not mean that we do absolutely nothing. It means that we are aware that the future of these children or teens does not depend on our actions. I thank God for it because I don’t have much to offer along these lines. This is irrelevant. I don’t have to have answers to serve, just serve to be close to my Master. I serve because it is my duty. It is a joyous duty because we serve a Master who allows us to be imperfect and yet He includes us in His project of Love.