Creating Space to Serve

Posted 08/06/2018

Department:
Author: Lisa Van Engen

The film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring begins with the phrase “The world is changed.” The world is changed—and it continues to change with rapid momentum. Keeping pace while living a life reflective of Jesus is challenging. The messages young people see and hear daily draw them to turn the photo lens toward themselves and curate a picture-perfect life.

But as we and our children are increasingly tempted to turn inward, we move further away from the servant heart of Jesus. How can we instead be intentional in teaching children and young people to serve rather than to be served, to look outward instead of inward, to give rather than to consume?

Proverbs 16:3 suggests a starting place: “Commit your work to the Lᴏʀᴅ, and your plans will be established” (ESV). We tend to wear badges of importance that coincide with how busy our lives are. We thrive on being overscheduled. We dangle on the edge of burnout as we work hard to scaffold grades, travel teams, social functions, college admission goals, and Pinterest perfection into our lives.

But in a world that is increasingly loud and busy, our full schedules sometimes cause us to run from the Spirit nudges that make us uncomfortable. Unless we deliberately set out to create space in our lives to be reflective and pay attention, such reflection is unlikely to happen.

We can begin that process within our families by sitting down together and asking some key questions:

  • Why are we choosing the activities we participate in?
  • Have we sat down and intentionally looked at our calendars?
  • Are we realistic about what we do each day?

Asking such questions can provide the young people in our lives with the direction and permission they need to leave uncluttered space in their own lives. Slowing down, being bored, having free days and open weekends can create spacious spaces for God to use. We need spaces where we can be quiet enough to listen to God’s direction—spaces where, underneath the expansive clouds, God might lay a dream on our hearts. When that happens, we have space to linger when a lonely person longs for their story to be heard. When extra hands are needed for a project, we have an hour to spare. When challenges pile up, we have mental space to sort them out. Open space has a way of unfolding and leading us to the place where God needs us most.

Aligning our priorities with the heart of Jesus requires us to love our neighbor. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11, ESV). In a world that molds us inward, we need to push back to turn outward. Teaching our young people to realize that our own lives are not the center of the universe is essential to servant living. What steps can we take to widen our view and place ourselves in a bigger world? Together with our children and young people, we can ask these questions:

  • What can we learn from our neighbors, church family, co-workers, and classmates?
  • What can we read together to help understand other perspectives?
  • How can we expand our boundaries to include people who are different from us?
  • When can we listen rather than speak our own thoughts?

God created each of us with unique beauty, gifts, and stories, and all these intertwining parts are reflective of Christ. Our differences make our lives richer and deeper. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” encourages us to open our lives to the stories of others. When we see Jesus in the lives of others, we can’t help but turn from ourselves to them. In a world full of noise, truly listening to another is a gift in itself. Even better, we often learn the heart of God in the story of a life.

Giving our lives fully to Jesus in this way allows us to find true meaning and joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11 ESV). We long for our young people to live out real, authentic lives where their gifts and unique strengths align with giving back to others—and not just as a task to check off a to-do list. We can help our children and young people discover what gives them meaning and joy by asking questions like these:

  • What interests you? What do you lay awake at night dreaming of?
  • What activities and moments in your life have made you feel truly happy?
  • What do you wish you had time to try?
  • What skills are you interested in developing?

A beautiful gift you can give to young people in your life is helping them find that sweet space where their gifts meet a need in God’s world. Share with them the things you have noticed God doing in them. Expose them to different experiences and provide chances to serve in various ways. Learn about spiritual gifts together. Complete personality inventories and discuss the results. Show them all the ways people make a difference through their vocation, interests, and volunteering. Soon they will grow to recognize small moments and big opportunities to give of themselves. Tell them about moments in your life when you felt the undeniable joy of serving.

We find the clearest direction of this servant life in 1 John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” Jesus cared deeply about people. Keep that example before the young people in your life. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He spoke to the woman at the well. He stopped to listen to Zacchaeus and the demon-possessed man. He healed the man with leprosy, the hemorrhaging woman, the paralytic. He fed the hungry with a boy’s lunch of loaves and fish. He welcomed children. As a family, talk about those examples using questions like these:

  • How can we imprint the stories of Jesus on our hearts?
  • In what ways do you want to follow the example of Jesus?
  • What is surprising or inspiring to you about Jesus’ teachings?
  • What type of people did Jesus care about? What does this teach us?

Deuteronomy 11:19-21 encourages us to keep the Word of God before us while we are sitting and walking and lying down and rising up. Study the intimate passages of the extreme care, humility, and love of Christ together. A heart bent to service was Jesus’ life’s purpose when he died for us. If we long to give our lives to God, Jesus is our guide.

When our family’s worldview is widened, we know that our own lives are not the center of everything. We are moved to serve as we are uniquely designed to do in an open space that allows us to give of ourselves. Our example is the expansive love of Christ.

Yes, the world is changing. But God’s truths never change.

Web Discussion Questions

  1. What are some of the forces in our lives today that may tempt us and our children to turn inward and lose sight of following Jesus’ servant heart?
  2. Try to recall an experience of slowing down and having free time. What was that like? What might you do differently with that free time in the future?
  3. What have you learned lately from your neighbors, coworkers or classmates? If you haven’t learned anything, what might you do to change that?
  4. How do your gifts meet a need in God’s world? Give an example of how that works out in your life and how it makes you feel. What advice would you give to a young person in search of that sweet spot?
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