The Blessing of Serving
Isaiah 58:10-12; Proverbs 11:25
Coleridge's " Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" begins with these gripping words:
" It is an ancient Mariner
And he stoppeth one of three.
By the long grey beard and glittering eye
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?"
The mariner detained the unwilling listener with a tale of a south sea voyage on which
he had shot an albatross, a large sea bird regarded by the early sailors' as the bringer of good fortune.
As a punishment for his "crime," the Mariner had been made
to wear the heavy bird around his neck.
One day, weary with his heavy burden, the Mariner saw a school of sprightly, multicolored fish
swimming just beneath the surface of the sea.
He was so moved by this unusual sight of brilliant, glittering fish that he raised his heart to heaven
and " a spring of love gushed from my heart and I blessed them unaware."
"Then, a curious thing happened.
The albatross fell off and sank like lead into the sea."
The story is an allegory.
It is also a powerful message that we should reach out to others (in this case by prayer)
to relieve ourselves of our own burdens.
What Coleridge said in rhyme is what the Bible says in principle.
To help others is to help myself.
To share in the healing of others is to bring healing to myself.
King Solomon summarized this in his remark about sharing:
" A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed."
This kind of helping is reflected in the kind of help given by the Good Samaritan.
The person who cares for others is like the Good Samaritan who helped an unfortunate victim
who had been left for dead, robbed and wounded on the road. (Luke 10:33-35)
The Samaritan asked for no reward, sought no advantage; he helped a stranger in distress
simply out of the concern of his heart.
As Christians, we believe that healing resources are available in the gospel and in the church.
We believe that faith in God is the greatest ingredient in emotional health,
and the second ingredient in emotional health is the resources of the church.
God's power can be applied to us directly or indirectly through the body-life principles
that operate within the church.
Bearing each other's burdens.
Loving one another.
Encouraging one another.
Praying for each other.
Helping the weak and the afflicted.
All of these are practices enrich us both spiritually and emotionally.
The church must be a loving fellowship where we can come with their wounds, our bruises, our failures,
and our needs, and be knitted back together, bandaged up, prayed for, and loved back to wholeness.
Then we can go out, healed and whole and capable of loving again.
Following Biblical principles of behavior will keep us emotionally stable.
If we suffer emotionally, we can return to these Biblical principles and find healing and restoration.
God's relationship to us is a healing relationship, designed to give us mental and emotional balance
as well as robust, spiritual health.
The prophet Isaiah understood this dynamic.
Isaiah 58 describes how the prophet urged the Israelites to return to God's principles of behavior.
He reminded the Israelites that if they would inwardly and outwardly conform to God's will
that He would heal their brokenness.
" If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." (Isaiah 58: 10-12)
Notice, this passage begins with a condition, and ends with its consequences.
" If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed."
Other translations of this condition are:
" If you minister to the hungry and satisfy the soul that is bowed down." (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary)
" If you extend your soul to the hungry." (NKJV)
" If you pour yourself out for the hungry." (RSV)
The key word in this passage is the Hebrew word, "paw-uk,"
whose basic meaning is " to furnish or to provide."
The thing provided is one's self.
Whatever the means, whether love or food or money or time, this gift originates from deep within the soul.
Georgia Adam Smith understands this to mean deep Christian commitment:
" Tear out what is dear to thee in order to fill his need."
The Hebrew word, "paw-uk," says Dr. Smith is
the " strongest Old Testament expression for self-denial."
This self-denial it is the same self-sacrificing love described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
We are to share ourselves with others as the widow shared her last bit of bread with Elijah.
We are to share as Mary shared her flask of ointment, and as the Good Samaritan shared
his oil, wine, and money with a victim of a highway robbery.
If we share ourselves this way, the rewards will be great, not only for the ones whom we benefit, but also for us.
If we share ourselves with others, we will be given light.
Verse 10: " Your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."
Note, that this light is in contrast to our darkness.
If we walk in the darkness of confusion, sharing with others will help diffuse the darkness
and bring understanding.
If we are experiencing the darkness of depression, living for others will help banish that painful darkness.
If we are gripped with the darkness of resentment, offering ourselves in loving ministry to others
will directly affect that bitter darkness and dissolve it away.
In poetic language, Isaiah tells us that the best therapy for an unhappy, confused, meaningless life
is to live it for others.
If we share ourselves with others, we will be guided.
Verse 11a says, " The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame [your bones]."
The Lord's guidance here is purposeful,
He guides us from something to something.
When we are drying up in a scorching land, He will guide us "to springs of water." (verse 11)
When we are fainting with weariness because of life's piled up troubles,
He will lead us to strength and vitality.
The simple principle here is that as we pour ourselves out for needy people,
God will replenish our ability and strength to share so that we will continue to increase in the ability to share.
The supply will not run out.
The well will not go dry.
The bush will continue to burn without being consumed.
The self-centered life is a wasted life.
It lives for the moment, spinning around and around in an inane desire to please itself.
The self-centered person is bound to become emotionally crippled because God never made us that way.
We became that way because of sin.
People who are dedicated to Jesus Christ and to the needs of others are focused people.
If we share ourselves with others, we will become fruitful.
Verse 11b says " You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."
Spiritual and emotional help comes from offering our love and help to others.
This kind of Christian grows rich and life becomes joyful, by the acts of service with the warm heart of love.
A Biblical example of this fruitfulness is Joseph.
" His father, Jacob, described him as 'a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring,
whose branches climb over a wall." (Genesis 49:22)
This is a remarkable tribute to a son.
Jacob likened his son to a fruitful vine because Joseph was a self-sacrificing, generous person.
Despite his family's hatred of him, Joseph served his brothers.
As a young boy, he served them in the fields.
Years later, when he was a leader in Egypt, Joseph reconciled himself to his famine-stricken brothers
and provided food for them.
Later, he made a home for them in Egypt.
Joseph poured himself out for others.
Some might be tempted to say that Joseph was a special case.
But Isaiah's promise is addressed to everyone.
Becoming a sharing person requires compassion, not gifts.
Jesus commanded all believers to share.
If we share with others, we will become Repairers of Brokenn Walls.
This means we become constructive and useful.
A sign on a fixit shop said: " We mend everything but broken hearts."
But God can mend broken hearts.
He also does this by using people.
When Jesus lives out His life in us, we can expect to be changed into " heart binders,"
" prisoner releasers," and "grief comforters" as Jesus was.
The basis of the ministry of Christ is compassion, and compassion pulls down the destroying walls
and heals the walls of peace and safety.
Jesus is the Mender of Brokenn Hearts; and He invites us to join Him in that ministry
of repairing and restoring.
" Love one another" is a command designed not only to keep us spiritually alive,
but also to keep us emotionally alive.
How can we reach out?
How can we share ourselves with others?
We can serve by listening.
We must not listen judgmentally or distainfully, but listen emphatically.
This means to put ourselves in the shoes of the speaker and to identify with him or her.
We can add a new beatitude:
" Blessed are the listeners, for they shall enrich their own hearts also."
We can serve by bearing.
In Galatians 6: 2 we are commanded: " Carry each other's burdens,
and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
Bearing means something different for every person.
For some, it means paying another person's rent.
For others, it means caring for someone's children.
For others, it means a listening ear.
One way to bear the burden of another is simply to understand.
Henri Nouiven once said: "When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives
mean most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures,
have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand."
From the days of the Job to the present, one of the greatest needs of the human sufferer is to be understood.
We don't have to have identical experiences in order to understand.
Jesus doesn't know what it is to sin, but He is the great Comforter of sinners.
We comfort people by simply indicating by word or gesture that we feel the pain they feel.
We can serve by talking.
Hurt people don't want to keep on getting hurt, so they avoid the people and the circumstances
that are likely to produce further hurt.
However, this avoidance only compounds the problem.
We could advise a depressed friend to go out, see people, do things.
We would probably get the response, " But I don't feel like it."
We could reply, " Exactly, and the less you go, the more you won't feel like it."
A general rule for a topic of conversation should be -- make it affirmative.
Negative, critical comments are like a runaway virus that spreads and worsens as it goes.
Affirming, supportive comments (without the platitudes) are like a tonic to the suffering spirit.
We should not preach: " But you shouldn't feel that way!"
That is poor advice for sufferer.
It simply expands the guilt.
Another poor conversation starter is, " I know how you feel."
No, we don't!
No human being knows exactly what another human being is going through.
We are so different from each other.
It is so much better to say, " I don't know what you are going through, but I can feel your pain,
and I sympathize."
Or, " I don't know, but I care."
Saying something of that nature will be doubly effective if the person we talked to is
convinced of our sincerity and unselfishness.
The power of healing conversation is powerful.
Isaiah described it this way: " How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those
who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation [deliverance],
who says to Zion, " Your God reigns."
Our words must be positive!
We serve by helping.
A help can be anything from giving another person a small gift to baby-sitting.
The value of such help is not in what is done or contributed, but in the effect it has on both
the givers and the receivers.
The receivers are benefited because their lives are made easier.
The givers are benefited because they have toned up their feelings of self-worth.
In Luke 6:38, Jesus said: "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down,
and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.
For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again."
Simply stated, to share with others is to receive.
To talk to others is to benefit myself.
To extend a helping hand to others is to receive the same help in return -- only multiplied.
It is by losing our lives that we find them, and by dying for His sake that we live.
Matthew 20:26: "... But whosoever will be great among you,
let him be your minister (deacon).."
God help us to carry each other's burdens.
To love one another.
To encourage one another.
To pray for each other.
To help the week and the afflicted.
God help us to serve!
Sermon adapted by Dr. Harold L. White