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