When you put on your shirt or blouse this morning, which way did you button it? Did you start from the bottom and work up? Did you begin at the top and work down? Or did you start somewhere in the middle and work your way up and then down? Chances are, you have to think for a moment to answer that question because you button your shirt pretty much the same way every morning.
“But I don’t have buttons on my shirt today!”
OK, fine. How did you put on your t-shirt, sweatshirt, or sweater this morning? The same principle applies. You probably get dressed the same way every morning without much thought because you have done it the same way for years.
But do you remember when you first learned to button your shirt? Can you remember how hard it was? You had to carefully line up the buttons on one side of the shirt with the buttonholes on the other. Your chin was pressed tightly against the top of your chest as you labored to slide that little button with your thumb at least halfway through the hole so that (after grasping the underside of the shirt with the index finger of your “button hand” to see better) you could grasp part of the button with the thumb and forefinger of your “buttonhole hand” and bring it safely through the rest of the way.
But now you can perform this complex behavior quickly, easily, and unconsciously because you have practiced it over and over again. Yet how quickly, easily, and unconsciously do you put on the garment of humility?
The garment of humility
In 1 Peter 5:5 we read, “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” In this case, you are to put it on as you would an article of clothing. And like getting dressed, it’s something you probably need to do every day.
At first, you may have to make a very conscious effort to pick it up, put your arms through the sleeves, button it, tuck it in, and straighten out the collar. In time, clothing yourself with humility should require less concentration. To be sure, you’ll still have to dress yourself in humility every morning. But if you practice, it probably won’t require as much time, effort, and thought as it did in the beginning.
Suggestions for developing a servant’s heart
Here are a few suggestions to help you on your way to putting on the garments of a servant. This is only a short list to get you started. See if you can come up with some more ideas on your own. Ask your family members and close friends for some additional service projects.
1. Make a list of the closest people in your life. The disciples, who were told by Christ to wash each other’s feet, were a tight-knit bunch of guys. Your list should include those with whom you have regular dealings: spouse, children, parents, brothers, bosses, employees, teachers, friends, working associates, or anyone else whom you have regular opportunities to serve.
2. Learn how to talk in terms of what is of interest to them. When we selflessly and sacrificially invest time and effort discussing topics of interest to others, we are demonstrating biblical servanthood. We are “with humility of mind regard[ing] one another as more important than [ourselves] … not merely look[ing] out for [our] own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
During my college years I had occasion to sit next to a meteorologist at a banquet. I picked his brain for close to two hours. I asked him virtually every question I ever had about the weather and weather forecasting. When the banquet was over, he shook my hand and said, “I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed talking to someone as interesting as you.” The truth is we spent a very small portion of our time talking about me, and the great majority of the time talking about the weather. Yet I (a mere college student) was perceived by him as interesting because I focused on what interested him.
3. Learn how to ask them questions with the attitude of a learner and a servant. The servant asks questions because he loves people and wants to meet their needs if he can. He wants to pray for them, to minister to them, to help them grow spiritually, and, if they are not Christians, to proclaim the gospel to them. He also asks questions to communicate his care for them.
As a counselor, I was trained to “establish involvement” with my counselees. That’s a fancy term for “breaking the ice.”
I figure that the best way to establish my love for my counselee is to simply roll up my sleeves and begin helping him solve his problem. I may make a couple of polite introductory comments or ask a few “ice-breaking” questions, but as a rule, three to four minutes into that first session, I’m intently looking my counselee in the eyes, asking vital questions, and listening very intently to what he is saying—trying to diagnose his problem biblically and then to offer help and hope from God’s Word. He has little doubt that I truly care about him—even though I’ve minimized the small talk. In time, he will hear me tell of my own struggles with sin and how, by God’s grace, I’ve been able to implement biblical solutions. The attitude I try to communicate is this: “I’m not an expert—I’m just one beggar showing another beggar where to find the bread. Tomorrow you may be on this side of the desk helping me to solve one of my own problems.”
It is not enough for you to simply learn to ask the right questions. If you want to be a servant, you must learn to ask those questions with humility, not in a condescending “I’m the expert” sort of way. A wise and humble person will sincerely ask questions in the other person’s area of expertise because his heart longs to acquire knowledge.
4. Regularly pray for them and for your attitude toward them. Find out what is going on in their lives (put those newfound question-asking skills to good use) so that you can pray specifically. Place their names on your prayer list. If you don’t know how to pray specifically, try praying a prayer patterned after that of the apostle Paul for the Colossians:
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. Col.1:9-12
Don’t forget to ask God to give you the wisdom, grace, and humility to be the kind of servant you’ve just read about. Ask him for opportunities to serve the people in your life.
5. Make it your goal to help them achieve their God-honoring goals. There is often more you can do to encourage others in this way besides praying. Faith without works is dead! Someone has said that the essence of being a servant is to become excited about helping others to succeed. The greatest area in which we are to succeed is our walk with Christ. Paul seemed to have this as a motive for those he served.
We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. Col. 1:28-29
Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24):
- Who are the people in and around my life whom the Lord might want me to help succeed?
- What are their goals?
- How can I help them meet their goals?
- How can I help them grow as Christians?
- How can I use the gifts, abilities, and other resources God has given me to serve and edify them?
6. Look for opportunities to minister to them. Keep your eyes peeled. Be attentive to what is going on in the lives of those around you. Find out what their needs are. See if God has given you any resources to meet those needs. Endeavor to study and meet their needs so that you might be a blessing to them and bring pleasure to God.
Sometimes on my way to work, I think of the staff at our counseling center (who spend much of their time trying to please their boss, namely me, and make his job easier) and how I might encourage or do something special for each of them. On my way home from work, I might do that same thing for my wife and children. Meditate on ways in which you can become more of a servant to every person you know. Then begin ministering to them.
So what are you wearing today? When you woke up this morning did you make a conscientious effort to put on the attire of a servant? Or did you reach for that uniform with all those shiny medals—the one that will cause everyone who sees it to recognize how honorable and distinguished you are? That is the uniform of a people-pleaser. If you want to be a God-pleaser, do what Christ did: put on the garments of a servant and learn to serve others with a pure heart.