Service: The Gift of Giving Yourself


“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” –Mark 10:45

 “Make it a rule, and pray to God to help you to keep it, never, if possible, to lie down at night without being able to say: "I have made one human being at least a little wiser, or a little happier, or at least a little better this day." -Charles Kingsley

 I was in quite a hurry on the rainy day we pulled up to a stoplight in Nashville and saw a weather-beaten man on the curb holding up a dripping sign. I had both of my boys with me, they were seven and five, and we were late to their weekly music lessons. Windshield wipers thumping, streetlights gleaming through the rain, I glanced at the bedraggled figure standing outside our car, but I couldn’t stop today. There simply wasn’t time.

“Mama,” Nathan’s voice piped up from the backseat, “look at that man in the rain. Look, he has a sign. He must be cold.”

“’Homeless: anything helps, God bless’.” Joel read the words off the damp sign. “Look Mom, he only has one leg.”

For a moment, Joel contemplated this with a solemn, sad little face, and then he turned to me, eyes big and urgent.

“Mom, we should help him. We should buy him a hamburger!” I glanced at my watch and scouted the busy street for fast food restaurants. There were none in sight. But Joel, seeing the hesitation in my face leaned forward from the back, straining against his seatbelt, “come on Mom,” he urged “he really needs our help and you said we should always help the people God puts in our way.”

So I did. Clay and I were always telling our kids to keep their eyes open for the people God might put in their lives who needed their help or kindness. We wanted our kids to see themselves as servants, to have an identity as givers. I couldn’t contradict Joel’s impulse to give. I decided that music lessons would simply have to wait and I rolled down the window.

“Hello sir,” I said as the man moved stiffly toward us, “my boys want to buy you some lunch.”

“Ask him if he wants hamburger or chicken,” called Joel, while Nathan added his own high-pitched command to be sure of his favorite drink. The man told me what he liked and we took off as the light turned. By the time we found a McDonald’s, ordered the perfect meal (with many directions from my boys – “supersize it Mom, he looks really hungry!”), and made it back around to the stoplight, the rain had lifted a little and the man shuffled over to meet us.

As I handed him the bag of hot food and the supersized coke, the boys piped up from the back with “we got you a hamburger like you said, and lots of french fries!” The man took the food, then put his hands on the window and leaned into the car.

“Boys,” he said looking back at each of them, “thank you so much. You’re the first people who stopped all day. What are your names?” the boys told him, and the man nodded, “well thank you Joel, thank you Nathan. God bless you.”

“What’s your name,” piped up Nathan from the back as the man turned to go.

“Michael,” he said simply, and with a nod to me, walked away.

That night, as I put Nathan to bed and prepared to pray for him, he looked up at me with a very serious face. “Let’s pray for Michael, Mama,” he said, and that began a month in which the boys prayed fervently for Michael, “their homeless man,” every night. As I watched their little hearts ache for the loneliness and hurt of another person, I thanked God that I had taken the time to stop, to live out the message I was trying so hard to teach them every day in our home: how to have the heart of a giver, the heart of a servant.

From the time our kids were old enough to listen, Clay and I told them over and over, “I wonder how God will use you in the world. I wonder whose heart you will heal or what truth you will bring.” We wanted our children to think of themselves, even when they were little, as someone who had a responsibility to give, love, and to serve the people around them.

You can find the rest of the chapter and more encouragement in: 10 Gifts of Wisdom.