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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Is It So Difficult?

A few days ago, I was enjoying a fine cup of joe and some thinking-space at a local coffee house when the attitude of the cashier/server caught my attention. When I had ordered my drink, I noticed that she seemed a little rushed and perhaps even gruff, but I dismissed this as just a busy time. But it soon became evident that this was more than a busy moment for her; it was just plain a bad day. She called out that drink were ready with a frustrated, almost bitter tone. She prepared drinks and sandwiches with as much moaning and grunting as I have ever heard. But what took the cake for me was when the phone rang. Now, in my mind at least, the phone ringing at your business is a good sign. But the instant this innocent piece of technology began to alert our restaurant employee that someone was one the line, she loudly exhaled, "O, for heaven's sake!" When she answered, she curtly said the name of the business, but with the dark inflection in her voice she might as well as said, "What do you want?"

Now, in all fairness, I don't know this person at all. I don't know if her kids were home sick and she was stressed out about who was taking care of them. I don't know if the business is financially crumbling and she's contemplating a closure. I don't know if her boyfriend just cheated on her with her close friend. All of these, and many more, could be reasons to put someone in a sour mood. But on this day, as an innocent bystander, I found myself thinking, "Really? Really? Is it really that bad?" Is it really so bad that she has a job where she makes fine food and drink for polite customers who pay well? Is it so bad to make money and run a respectable business? I have no idea what had set this surely gal off that day, but I do know that I hope someone else helps me next time.

This experience has me thinking about service. You see, I believe one of the primary activities that Jesus calls His followers to is service. If we want to be like him, we are invited, no commanded, to love and serve others in the way that Jesus himself did. We are asked to put ourselves aside, lay down our wants and desires, and truly care about other people.

How often do I react to service by saying, "O for heaven's sake!" Okay, so maybe I don't use that phrase, but I'm pretty sure that more often than I would like to know or admit, I take a similar posture towards serving others. An office visitor is viewed as an interruption. A need is looked down on as immaturity. I can see the pettiness in others, but not in myself. In so many ways, I become the one who acts like serving others is the worst thing in the world.

I remember a story Bill Hybel's told (pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago) about being asked to fly to a conference in South America. The only problem was that he was in Africa and didn't have the proper paperwork to go straight to South America. So, when he realized how much time this would take to fly to America, get the documents, get back on a plane and go to South America, he begin to complain. But his friends, who were good with grace and truth, said to him, "We're not asking you to die, Bill. We just want you to watch a few extra movies and eat a few extra meals." Bill said that this statement immediately changed his heart and he took the trip.

So today, I'm reminded that service may not always be my favorite activity, but in this world of pain, abuse, wars, famine, and death, I have been put in an incredibly fortunate position. I think of Iraqi believers who go to church and serve one another week after week, knowing each Sunday they could be gunned down on the way home. I think of missionaries who willingly take their families into hostile countries, knowing they could be imprisoned or tossed out. I think of Mexican believers who willingly and happily sit on pews that I view as junk. And sometimes I just need to say to myself, "Really? Really? Is it really that bad?" Is it really so bad that I have been blessed so much that I have extra to give away? Is it really so bad that God has put me in a vocation where it's my job to shepherd and care for others, and I get paid for it? Is it really so bad that Jesus wants me to be more like Him, and so he asks me to serve?

And I hope that when I ask myself these kinds of questions, my attitude, and my heart will change.

And maybe yours will, too.

Journey on, friend.


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