Intentional Parenting Reprise - Service

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When I wrote about service a few years back, I talked about the benefits of service and how we can model service for our kids. I still think those points are valid. I still think serving others is fulfilling, joyful work. I still think there is so much to gain by serving others.

But as I’ve been thinking about this post since my last parenting post, I’ve been convinced that there is and should be something more to our thoughts about serving others and to what we teach our kids about service.

Recently I read Philippians 2 where Paul encourages Christians to take on a new attitude—one that is completely different from the world around them.

You see, the world around the Christians in the early church was probably not too different from the world around us today. Christians were being persecuted. The secular world opposed the message of Christianity. Everyone was out for Number 1.

And Paul knew that it wouldn’t take much for the Philippian Christians to get discouraged by the world around them. (Sound familiar?)

So he sends them this amazing letter of encouragement. It’s a letter that screams “JOY!” from every page, which is totally ironic when you consider that Paul is writing from a prison cell.

In Philippians 2, Paul gives some practical tips for living together as the church and for living in the world around them.

“Agree wholeheartedly.”

“Love one another.”

“Work together with one mind and purpose.”

“Don’t be selfish.”

“Think of others as better than yourselves.”

Could it get any more practical?!

Well, actually, Paul thinks it can, because he adds one more example, that of Jesus himself, and he tells the Philippians (and us) how to REALLY live.

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Oh really, Paul? What was that?

He tells us: Be a servant.

A servant? Jesus was the Son of God, why did he have to serve others?

And that’s the point—He didn’t.

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave (the ESV says “servant”) and was born as a human being.” (NLT)

In order to get his message across, a message about the kingdom of God and the Good News that people really needed to hear, Jesus didn’t shout it from the mountaintops (OK, maybe sometimes he did that). He lived it. Every day. Humbly.

Jesus showed the people around him that Christianity is very different from the rest of the world. When the world is trying to get ahead, Christians open the door. When the world looks out for selfish interests, Christians make others look better.

When the world spits at Christians, mocks them, hates them, Christians look to Jesus on the cross, the most humbling act of love a person could ever have done.

And there they see true servanthood.

So what does this have to do with intentionally teaching our kids the importance of service? I guess I’m learning that along with the benefits, we need to show our kids that true service comes at a cost.That is isn’t always fun or easy or cheap to serve others.

And we may never hear, “Thank you.”

Oh sure, we can all come together to clean up a run-down playground and feel great about our efforts. We can pat our kids on the back when they take part in a service day through their school. We can feed the homeless alongside our kids for an evening. All of that is great.

But what about the day-in-and-day-out of serving those who are hard to serve? Even those who live right under the same roof as us? 

Sometimes serving our family is harder than serving the homeless.

But we’re still called to do it.

I bumped into a friend the other day, and she told me a story that prompted this post. She and her husband recently moved his elderly parents across the country so that they could care for them here.

It hasn’t been easy (although I’m sure she would say it has had its moments of joy). It has cost my friend time, effort, and money. It requires daily visits to check in on them. And the whole family is needed to help out.

One of my friend’s kids asked her, “Mom, are you getting paid for this?”

Because, of course!

We laughed about that, but we also talked about how her children are getting to see the hardest lesson about service firsthand.

Yes, some types of service are voluntary. Yes, there are occasional rewards. And, yes, serving others can be fun.

But mostly, serving others costs us something. Mostly, serving others is hard. It may take a huge toll on us. And usually nobody else notices.

But then I go back to Philippians 2, which talks about Jesus’ example, and I see the outcome of his sacrifice: that God has exalted him. Not just that, but that one day “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is LORD.” (Phil. 2:10-11)

True service doesn’t do it for the rewards, and obviously we won’t be exalted as Jesus will, but we can trust that God sees our hearts. He knows us completely. And He will bless us for serving Him.

I’ll admit, teaching our kids to have a heart of service isn’t easy. At all. But we can model it ourselves, every day. We can talk to our kids about serving, even their family. We can encourage them to serve as often as possible, even if it hurts.

And we can remind our kids about the greatest example of servanthood ever found—the example of Jesus.