Back in the mid-noughties, about 3 years after I’d become a Christian, I attended a Bible school for a year. It was a strangely fascinating and intense year. For anyone who has ever had to move to a different part of the country to attend a school, or indeed move to a different country altogether, you’ll know that it drags you out of all sorts of different comfort zones. In this instance, my wife, Kathi, and I also lived on-site with a few other students. On top of this, Kathi also worked as PA to one of the college directors. It was a pretty full-on year!
As a relatively young believer, the year stretched me both academically and socially. There were assignments and placements and presentations to be worked through and completed. Things I hadn’t done since college in the early ’90s, unlike some of the other students. I’m quite an introvert, so the social aspects of the Bible school were hurdles I also had to learn how to deal with. It’s not that I don’t like people, it’s just my natural instinct is to stay in my nice cosy cave and only come out when I really need to. And I’m the Pastor of a local Church, God really does like to test us doesn’t he!
There were many times throughout the year that God painfully prodded areas of my life and began to do a work in me to sort through my somewhat selfish and sinful attitudes. Pride, impatience, anger, to name but three. And believe me when I say I’m still working through these and other things, but the point is that I recognise what they are and with God’s grace, I am definitely moving forward. One aspect that God really challenged and changed me in that year was learning to have a heart that was willing to serve.
I wasn’t born into a Christian family, and I didn’t grow up with an active, pragmatic faith that was setting any Christ-like examples. Our family was probably entirely agnostic about it all. This kind of family environment, and let’s face it, cultural context too, doesn’t engender a desire of putting anyone else first other than maybe immediate family members. I grew up with an attitude that the world really was ‘do or die’. You must do what you need to get ahead regardless of the feelings of others, sure, be kind to some on the way up as you may meet them again on the way down, but really down isn’t the ultimate destination. So when it came to serving others, the attitude was that I would do it, but only if there was something to be gotten in return. Quid quo pro as it were.
Meanwhile, back at the Bible school, we were being taught and shown a different way to look at things. One of the ways they did that was by asking the students to do various jobs around the campus. From mowing the lawn and litter picking, to serving at conferences and helping out in the kitchen. I remember being asked one day to wash cars. These were the cars of church leaders and the like. While they were attending a conference at the campus, they had been told that the students would wash their cars.
Now, I don’t know why it was this particular task was the one I really baulked at. Maybe it was because I knew we wouldn’t get a thank-you as the owners wouldn’t know who’d washed their car. Perhaps it was because a lot of those cars looked pretty nice and it seemed obvious, at least it appeared that way to me at the time, they could afford someone to valet their cars properly. Yet here they were abusing me and taking up my precious time by making me wash their vehicles, how dare they!
It was precisely because of this attitude that it was absolutely right that I should be performing this task. Why? Because I was being selfish, ignorant and unwilling to bless others, despite all the blessing that God had already poured out on me in my short Christian life.
What lousy attitude of yours do you find rearing its ugly head in situations or circumstances? Can you identify any significant un-Christ-like character flaws? Do you let people feel they can be honest with you about your attitude?
I really didn’t was to wash those cars. I pushed back at, I argued with, and I debated those within the school that were asking me to perform such a menial and degrading task. They would never force me to do something I was adamant I wouldn’t do, but they kept putting it out there, challenging my thinking and checking where my heart was at.
Eventually, one day, a fellow student and a good friend, gently and graciously persuaded me to give it a go.
It was like a scene from the first Karate Kid movie, wax-on, wax-off, wax-on, wax-off. After a few occasions of washing those cars with my friend, it was like scales fell from my eyes, my heart of stone became flesh. In a moment of revelation, which I felt rather than thought, I finally twigged this wasn’t about me, but at the same time, it was. It was about shaping a young man into someone who better reflected Christ. It was about not expecting anything in return but to serve others. It was about experiencing the very nature of Christ and in tiny, but significant way understanding why that He gave up His own life for the many. For the many, that wouldn’t even know Him and even reject Him if they did.
Everything we do, every decision we make affects our heart and changes how we approach things, how we deal with others. How might you put yourself in a ‘wax-on, wax-off’ situation, where you are forced to deal with your inner struggles and prejudices? A situation where you realise that every seemingly small gesture is shaping the bigger picture and setting you up to see something that is beyond yourself?
I believe we have a Good Father that wants to bless, and as we give freely, we will be blessed in return with the blessings running over. But that isn’t the main reason we do anything for God, we don’t do because we know we’ll receive, that shouldn’t be our motivation. We do what we can to bless others because that is the very nature of God. God, as a Father that wants to continually pour out. So much so that His Son came to surrender His life so that we might find ours in Him.
Let me leave you with this from the Letter to the Philippians chapter 2 from verse 3, “Don’t allow self-promotion to hide in your hearts, but in authentic humility put others first and view others as more important than yourselves. 4 Abandon every display of selfishness. Possess a greater concern for what matters to others instead of your own interests. 5 And consider the example that Jesus, the Anointed One, has set before us. Let His mindset become your motivation.”