“. . . whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” – Matthew 20:26
My old company once revised one of its long standing internal policies. I protested furiously, convinced that this newly dictated procedure would severely handicap our department’s ability to transact business. So upset was I that soon I became obsessed with proving that I was right and “they” were wrong. Unfortunately my anger and obsession began to cause me to lose sight of my real purpose, that of serving the customers and employees who I was charged to serve. Only when I realized that my bitterness was robbing me of my true purpose did things begin to improve. The new policy proved not to be nearly as inhibiting as I had predicted, the work environment improved dramatically thanks to my changed attitude, and business got back to normal.
There’s an old, rather comical description of heaven and hell which you’ve probably heard. It begins with a scene from hell where its residents are gathered round a banquet table set with an abundant and scrumptious feast, not exactly what one would expect in hell, until a closer look reveals an atmosphere of bitter agony due to the fact that their arms could not bend so they could feed themselves. Surprisingly, the scene from heaven was identical including the unbending arms. The difference was that there was an atmosphere of great joy as the inhabitants used their stiffened arms to feed one another.
Although this fable may have been intended to create an image of the hereafter, it may actually be even more descriptive of the here-and-now. How often do we become obsessed with surviving or thriving – or proving we are right like I did – when our real purpose should be to serve? Surviving, thriving, and proving ourselves right is all about us, and focusing on “us” will ultimately lead to misery as demonstrated by the stiff-armed inhabitants of hell. Serving, however, is about others, and serving others is what leads to joy like the inhabitants of heaven experienced.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer once claimed that “the only really happy people are those who have learned how to serve”. Or as scripture teaches, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”