Excerpt from The Making Of An Ordinary Saint

Service as a Christian spiritual discipline is difficult to capture in words. We learn about service best by watching it in action over an extended period of time. 

When we see someone intently listening to another human being, we are witnessing service in action. When we see a person holding the sorrows of another in tender, loving care, we are witnessing service in action. When we see someone actively guarding the reputation of others, we are witnessing service in action. When we see simple, everyday acts of kindness, we are witnessing service in action. It is in these actions and many more like them that we begin to get a picture of service. 

These tiny corners of life are the genuinely significant realities in the kingdom of God. There is no flash, no glitz, no titanic anything. Today’s celebrity culture, captive to its pretentious egoism, simply finds such realities hard to grasp. 

The towel and the basin are the icons of service. I am, of course, referring to the well-known story in John 13 where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. In doing this he redefined for them—and for us—the meaning of greatness. After Jesus’s startling act, he says, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord— and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:12-15). 

Now, the specific act of washing feet has genuine punch because it was simply a continuation of the whole of Jesus’s life. From the hidden years in Nazareth to the self-sacrificing love of Calvary, all that Jesus was and did was a seamless robe of service. Do you remember that it was said of Messiah that he would not “break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” (Matthew 12:20)? Jesus, you see, would never crush the needy; he would never snuff out the smallest hope. This is service in action. 

Of all the spiritual disciplines, service is the most conducive to the growth of the grace of humility within us. This is good news indeed, for we all know that humility is not one of those things that comes to us by trying to get humility. No, we must come at this most prized virtue through the indirect route of routine acts of service. 

William Law, in his classic work A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, urges us to make every day a day of humility. And how are we to do this? Law counsels, “Condescend to all the weaknesses and infirmities of your fellow creatures, cover their frailties, love their excellencies, encourage their virtues, relieve their wants, rejoice in their prosperities, compassionate their distress, receive their friendship, overlook their unkindness, forgive their malice, be a servant of servants, and condescend to do the lowest offices to the lowest of mankind.”1 You see, it is through simple, daily acts of service that the grace of humility will slip in on us unawares. The risen Christ beckons us to the ministry of service. Such a ministry, flowing out of the inner recesses of the heart, is life and joy and peace. 

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Foster, Nathan. The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines. Baker Publishing Group.

For each chapter in Nathan’s book, Richard Foster writes an introductory essay—like this one from the chapter on Service.

[1] William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Originally published October 2014.