Small Things: The Spiritual Discipline Of Service

Small Things {The Spiritual Discipline of Service}

APRIL 3, 2015

I tend to think of service in terms of projects.

You know–going out to feed the homeless, helping rebuild a damaged home or church, clearing the brush and leaves from an elderly person’s yard. Things like that. Service projects.

Truth? I’m not very good at those.

Any time I take one of those spiritual gift inventories, I rank low on the gift of service. Within the body of Christ, I’m not usually one to offer to clean up messes or pull out the extra chairs out on Easter Sunday.

It’s not that I don’t try. It’s just that my brain isn’t wired to automatically recognize a big need and jump in to fill it.

But what if we thought of service differently?

What if we noticed the spiritual act of service in the small, daily things?

  • You know, washing dishes, taking out trash, driving carpool, mopping floors and mowing grass?
  • Or changing diapers, raking leaves, waving to neighbors, holding the door for a stranger?
  • Or pumping gas, offering a drink of water, making sandwiches, smiling, letting someone else go first?

All these “small” things, these ordinary, daily tasks are the boring and necessary parts of life. We slog through them on auto-pilot most of the time, thinking of them as chores or “must-dos.” They are part of what author Kathleen Norris calls “The Quotidian Mysteries.”

But what if small things are the key to the spiritual discipline of service? 

Mother Teresa said this:

“In this life we cannot do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

I received a beautiful hand-written note last week from a kind friend.This sweet lady doesn’t do the internet, but my mother-in-law had given her a print-out of one of my recent blog posts.

This friend sent me an encouraging note, thanking me for the post, reminding me of God’s provision and perfect timing, and challenging me to choose a “small thing” on which to focus for a week.

Her list comes from Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster and includes:

  • The service of guarding the reputation of others.
  • The service of being served and receiving gifts and blessing from others.
  • The service of common courtesy.
  • The service of hospitality.
  • The service of listening to others.
  • The service of bearing burdens and sorrows of others.
  • The service of beginning to care and becoming sensitive to the needs of others.
  • The service of being available to others.

Small things. Simple things.

Kathleen Norris quote

As I type this post, we are preparing for Maundy Thursday service at church. It is the night we remember the last supper of our Lord with his disciples. The evening when he insisted on washing the dirt-encrusted feet of his friends.

Amazing, isn’t it?

  • He doesn’t do some great and noble act.
  • He doesn’t rally the disciples to fight for victory.
  • He doesn’t stand up and give an impassioned pep talk before the big championship game.

Instead, he grabs two everyday items — a towel and a basin of water — and he turns the whole world upside down.

Washing feet, especially in that time and place, was a dirty job. But as we say about dirty jobs, somebody’s got to do it.

It would have been a servant’s responsibility.

So Jesus, the one they call “Master,” turns this last supper into a game changer. He does the menial servant’s job, lowering himself to wipe away the grime.

The beauty that strikes me most is the routine familiarity of it. It’s a daily, necessary chore. But this time the King of Kings takes it upon himself to perform the lowly task.

After washing their feet, Jesus challenges the disciples:

“Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.” (John 13:12-17, MSG)

He says, “I’ve shown you what to do. Now, you go and do it. And this is how you’ll fulfill your purpose in life.”

The small things we do make a difference.

  • Service doesn’t have to be a huge gesture. It could be a simple smile or a friendly word. That’s the act of being kind, of showing common courtesy.
  • Service doesn’t necessarily mean serving a four-course sit-down dinner to important guests. It could just mean taking a few minutes to chat with your neighbor at the mailbox.
  • Service doesn’t have to be spending hours of hard labor for someone in need. It can mean simply being a shoulder to cry on, coupled with a willingness to sympathize and to pray.

Small things are important in the discipline of service, because they remind us that we are constantly faced with the choice to emulate our Savior — or not.

Don’t let the fear of not serving perfectly or grandly keep you from committing to an attitude of service. Let your small things be an offering to others and an offering to God.

Will you begin with me this Easter weekend? Will you choose your “one small thing” and begin to notice as you serve?

signature smaller