Can we serve with no strings attached?
We’d like to think so, but it’s funny how hard that can be.
Truth is, it’s easy to get turned around when it comes to helping others. Without intending to, our service to others can become a way of making them behave properly, believe rightly, and act accordingly. We measure the effectiveness of our service by the desired response. We can even hold out whatever we are offering (from food to friendship) as a reward for certain responses rather than as a free gift pointing them towards God.
Jesus calls us servants who wash dirty feet, giving freely from what we’ve been given. We don’t serve and then demand recompense, be it in the form of gratitude, faith, or even life change. We don’t help just once, maybe twice, but no more should our service not invoke the expected response. We keep showing up, keep loving, keep serving–as we have been served by Jesus and by others.
It’s not that we don’t want people to experience life change. We do. It’s not that we aren’t hoping for some kind of response to the love of their Creator for them. Of course we are. But we are loving others as Christ loved us–unconditional, long-suffering, open-hearted, hospitable– inviting people to take a step toward love without smacking them if they are a bit slow to respond or rejecting them if they don’t come at all.
In the church space, it’s easy to get this all mixed up. We offer a program to help people, but people seem content to stay where they are. And we want results! We reach out to show love for a particular community, and we feel uneasy if we aren’t able to identify the specific effects we are having.
Now don’t hear me wrong: I do think as churches we need to think about how best we can help people move into a greater experience with the life, way and truth of Jesus. I think we need to get specific on our expectations and effectiveness. But I do not believe that means our love is limited to a program or a time-frame. Our love for others must reflect the ever-pursuing, always-inviting, never-giving-up love of Jesus Christ. And while we strive to be winsome and compelling in our invitation, we lean into love for each person without demanding that they meet our goals for evangelism or personal growth or life change.
We love, we serve, we invite, just as Jesus does for us. And we let the Holy Spirit lead us all.