Servants Go Last

Everyone wants to have a close family, but it is rarely seen.    It doesn’t have to be this way as the  Bible teaches us how to do so.    It isn’t the result of merely spending lots of time together, but how you behave during those minutes and hours.    If we would obey God’s principles concerning personal relationships we would enjoy the positive results, one of them being closeness.

Closeness in a family is not discovered as much as it discovers you.   It is the byproduct of a climate in the home.   One way this climate is established is through practicing the various “one another” commands given in the Bible.

I have been writing about one such command that we are to “serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).   The last post I stated that the best servants should be those with the most authority and they should “go first” when it comes to ministering.   They are to take initiative in meeting needs.  Being a leader is not about attaining a position, but responding to a call to serve people.   This means the best leaders sacrifice the greatest and are the first to help.

Here is another simple thought (at first it sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but I’m not) and that is that a servant leader is not only to go first, but to put himself last.   We go first when it comes to initiating meeting needs, but we also to put ourselves last in matters of comfort and reward until those needs are met.

A true servant doesn’t fight for the first and best place, but places himself last intentionally.   He seeks the lowest place.   This is not normal because of our depraved nature which is fearful that we will be left out if we fail to fend for ourselves.

As Jesus watched how people jockeyed for position and the best places in the pecking order, He spoke to us about not seeking the best place, but the lowest, most humble place.  These are convicting words, but powerful and practical words for the servant-leader.

“When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.   But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.  For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”    (Luke 14:8-11)

It cannot be any clearer.   A test of being a servant is whether or not he values symbols that communicate his high position in the hope that others might serve him.   This is anything but service and it is not done because you love others, but because you love yourself.  The Bible teaches that “…charity vaunteth not itself…”   (I Corinthians 13:4).    This simply means that true love isn’t self-promoting.

The more this attitude of “putting yourself last” is practiced the less stress it places in an environment.   When all are trying to meet the need then there isn’t a bulk of work left for one person, there is gratitude for those that pitch in, and those whom we serve know that we love them by our actions.   This can happen in our families!

What happens in a community that behaves this way consistently?  There is a closeness and chemistry that comes that reminds others that Christ Jesus is at the heart of this home.

The reality is that very few families have this type of sweet environment because individuals simply don’t want to live like this.   It is costly to “go first” in taking initiative to serve and “being last” to enjoy the benefits.   But the price paid is worth the benefit of a sweet and close family.   Those that practice going the second mile enjoy the benefit of a close-knit family.

It is the exception rather than the rule that families abide by God’s command to “serve one another”.  However, when a husband, wife, and children purpose to live this way it is clearly evident, because of it’s rarity, to others- and one primary testimony to it is the closeness of that family.

When I was in high school I played football and our preseason practices in the summer were brutal.   It was hot and humid and we practiced twice a day.    One day before going to practice I put some cokes in the refrigerator so I could have something cold to drink when I came home.

Of course, at practice we had a lot of conditioning (running, grass drills, and other forms of torture) and worked on formations, plays, defensive alignments, and blocking and tackling.    We practiced in the morning from 6-9 a.m. and in the afternoon from 3-6 p.m.   Early August in the south the humidity is incredible in the afternoon. So, I was already fatigued from the morning practice, but I was especially thirsty in the afternoon because of the oppressive heat.   One of the things that kept coming to my mind were those ice-cold soft drinks waiting on me at home.

Finally, and mercifully, practice concluded and I went home anticipating downing a couple of those Cokes I had put in the refrigerator many hours earlier.   I was so excited that after pulling in the driveway I raced inside and opened the refrigerator door and reached in and…….they were all gone.    Oh, man, I was so disappointed.   What had happened to all of those soft drinks?   I had put six of them in there and they were all gone.

While standing there contemplating what had happened I heard something in the back yard.   I looked out the kitchen window and there was my brother, Hoss, and all of his friends and they were drinking my Cokes! 

I hurried out the door to the back yard to confront my brother as to why he had taken “my” Cokes.   I was tired, hot, and frustrated because of the inequity.   It was me who had bought those drinks; it was me who had put them in the refrigerator; it was me who had so looked forward to drinking them all during practice!    Very upset and angry I came to the fence at the back yard and called my brother over to ask him why he had been so thoughtless.

With a big smile he came toward me while his other pals were talking and laughing and then I noticed something that changed everything.    As Hoss walked toward me I looked at his hands and he didn’t have a Coke.   He had taken the drinks and distributed them to his other friends and he didn’t take one.

When he got to the fence where I was waiting he said, “What’s up,?”   Immediately my spirit had changed from being angry and upset to being broken and ashamed at my selfishness and wrong assumptions.    I replied, “Oh, nothing.   I was just seeing what y’all were doing”.

I went back to the bedroom Hoss and I had shared for all of our lives (he’s my dearest friend) and dropped on my knees beside the bed and confessed my sin to the Lord.   To this day, I remember one of the things I prayed, “Oh, God, please make me like Hoss, willing to give even when I am not benefiting or gaining”.    Hoss was living like Jesus, putting Himself last.   His heart of service drew my heart to his and it made me closer to him and love him more.

On vacation in 2010 at Orange Beach, Alabama with my sister, Melanie, and my brother, Hoss.

Would you consider going the second mile in being a servant to those in your family?   I can assure you that you will be in rare company, but the blessing and joy is worth it.   Zig Ziglar said, “There is no traffic jam at the second mile”.    It is true.   There aren’t a lot of people, even within the walls of their own home, that want to serve.

I think the dominant reason is that we fear that we will be taken advantage of and left out of the blessings that we are providing for others in our family.    Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” calls this a “scarcity mentality”.   From his book he writes, “People with a scarcity mentality tend to see everything in terms of win-lose. There is only so much; and if someone else has it, that means there will be less for me”. 

It is this fear of being stuck in a “win-lose” result that paralyzes us from initiating service. That is, you believe you lose by going first in taking responsibility to serve and by being last in enjoying the benefits.   This contradicts what the Bible teaches.   Serving is a “win-win” result.   When you serve others and help them (a win for them) you not only enjoy the fulfillment of living beyond yourself, of being Christlike and building bridges where you can be closer to that person (a win for you).

Years ago I came across a poem written by a pastor that addresses this fear of being left out after giving so much.  He had been counseling and helping people while he had some serious needs himself.   The same truths in the poem apply to an office worker, a housewife, parent, spouse, or sibling.    May these words be an encouragement to you to “go last” and enjoy a fresh closeness with those in your family.

“The Pastor’s Heart”

“I have a burden, Pastor, that
I’d like to lay on you.”
I listened, tho he never knew
I had a burden too.

I took a tearful look toward mine;
Then his came into view.
‘Twas plain to see my burden was
The larger of the two.

I saw his load alongside mine,
And, tho they both were real,
The yoke he bore was made of wood,
And mine was made of steel.

To him I said, “Come unto me;
I’ll gladly carry thine”;
Then whispered unto selfishness,
“But who will carry mine?”

I softly laid my burden down
To help him his to bear,
While knowing that my heavy load
I’m not allowed to share.

I’ll help him with his burden, then
Regain mine after while,
When I will sigh and weep once more,
While now I force a smile.

I felt the CHAINS OF BONDAGE till
A CAPTIVE came to me.
He bade me help him break the bands,
And aid him to be free.

I saw the fetters binding him,
And felt a pity pain.
For his were made of little rope,
And mine of heavy chain.

I laid aside my heavy chains,
So he, my help, could borrow.
I’ll help free him of bondage now,
And think of mine tomorrow.

A DOUBTER knocked at study door;
I had an urge to groan,
“Why bring your pebble doubt to me,
When mine is made of stone?”

I smiled at him and listened, while
Believing in my doubt.
I laid it down reluctantly,
And feigned a happy shout.

I sat ALONE in darkened room,
And felt a shadow’s knife.
Another came to share with me
Some darkness in his life.

As I compared my night with his,
His dark possessed a lack.
For his was just an evening shade,
While mine was midnight black.

I slowly laid my nighttime down,
To help him seek for light.
I’ll tread my dimming path again,
When I have made his bright.

A TROUBLED SOUL came to my door,
A problem to confide.
I had a problem, too, that day;
‘Twas hard for me to hide.

My problem was a mountain steep,
And his was just a hill.
My problem was an ocean wide,
And his a tiny nil.

Yet, ’tis my lot to fill his need,
And put mine on the shelf.
For I must lay my heartache down,
And hide it from myself.

He told me of a broken heart,
While mine was breaking too.
I told him of a mending God
Who maketh all things new.

He told me of his thirsty soul;
I gave him living water.
He said he was a broken vase;
I told him of the Potter.

Another came when I was SICK
To say he had the flu.
His fever was a hundred-one,
And mine a hundred-two.

Another came when I was FAINT,
To say that he was weak.
Another came when I was DUMB,
To say he could not speak.

Another WEEPING SEEKER came,
For me, his tears to dry.
I went alone and wiped my eyes,
Then told him not to cry.

Another came when I was TIRED,
To say he needed rest.
I lifted him with weary arms,
And tried to give him zest.

AND NOW, IT’S LATE, and all have gone,
Each one to his abode.
So I must find my problems, and
Regain my heavy load.

Where is the burden I had borne?
I had it while ago!
Where is the problem I must solve?
I left it here, I know!

Where is the darkness I once knew?
I now see only light.
The chains, the tears, the pains, the fears,
Are nowhere now in sight!

I cannot find my broken heart!
Where is my fevered brow?
I have a song! the tears are gone!
I cannot find them now!

My sickness, now, bath turned to health!
And trust replaceth fright!
Assurance covers all my doubts;
My darkness now is light!

I heard a voice from Heaven say
“My child, ’tis always true:
When you take care of others’ needs,
I will take care of you.”

About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 41 years with seven children and nine grandchildren.
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