By Alex Florez
The spiritual discipline of service, or putting the needs of others ahead of my own, does not come naturally to me. In fact, my tendency is to place myself upon the throne of my own heart and prioritize my own needs and desires above all else. Yet, Jesus clearly tells us to beware of this impulse and act differently. He tells us that loving God above all things and caring for those around us are the two divine directives upon which all holy living depends (Matthew 22:36–40).
In 2015, I became an elementary school teacher. Daily, I am given the opportunity to actively serve others, namely, my students. But I cannot love the people around me as God commands if I spend my energy on trying to advance my own interests. Instead, service is a means of turning to Him daily—seeking His strength, patience, and peace—if I hope to serve my students well. In this discipline, God is actively training me to become more dependent on Him and less enamored with myself.
My current position is not something I consider to be a temporary situation that I just need to “get through” on my way to something less difficult and more rewarding, or less costly to my ego and more beneficial to my sense of accomplishment. Rather, He has instructed us to “build houses” and to “plant gardens” in our current spheres of influence (Jeremiah 29:4–7). If that is indeed the case, I must begin each day pleading God’s mercy, submitting to His will, beckoning the Holy Spirit to empower me to serve others first, and then putting these things into practice. When Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26), He’s addressing my heart’s most preeminent idol: myself.
If we subscribe to the world’s definition of greatness—some combination of influence, authority, wealth, and recognition from others—Jesus would have us reconsider what we value. These assets are by no means wrong in and of themselves, but when achieving them becomes our chief motivation, we lose sight of a foundational ethic in God’s kingdom: putting ourselves aside in favor of our neighbor (Mark 12:30–31).
For my part, any success I have in the service of my students, or anyone else for that matter, is not because of who I am or what I’ve done. It’s an act of living out who He is and what He’s doing right now, in and around me. It’s the daily practice of demonstrating my dependence on Him by assuming the role of servant instead of dedicating myself to the pursuit of my own glory.
Written by Alex Florez