The One We Get To Serve

No matter who we are, we “Gotta Serve Somebody,”1 concludes Bob Dylan in his tune of this title. His refrain emphasizes time and again:

“Well it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”2

The legendary songwriter is onto something. In fact, Jesus says we will serve a master—be it God or money—and that we must choose only one. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”3 So, let’s consider our dilemma: money as our life’s master, or God as the Lord of life.

Money perches precariously “where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal,”4 but God guarantees us an inheritance,5 one that “can never perish, spoil or fade … kept in heaven for you.”6 Wealth conditions our value on a cold calculation of net worth, but God proclaims our pricelessness through the cost of our redemption: “not with perishable things such as silver or gold … but with the precious blood of Christ.”7 Wealth tantalizes the soul through sips of success, but never in quenching quantities, for “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income”8; but Jesus says, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again … [It] will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”9 Of money it is said, “You can’t take it with you”—it drops us off at death’s door empty-handed and barren-souled; but Jesus counsels us to invest ourselves into what lies beyond our retirement years: “Store up for yourselves treasures in in heaven,”10 which surely awaits all who serve Him.

We could contrast these two masters in many ways and for a long time, exposing one and revealing the other, but here is the rich irony of it all: Money robs those who serve it. It would rob us of life itself, consuming our existence today with worries over what we will consume tomorrow. This is not freedom, and we need not squander our days serving the money god who oppresses us under a scepter of fear. Instead, Jesus points to the beauty of creation as the reflection of both the heart of the eternal God and the greater glory to which He raises His people. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?… Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”11

When money is our master, we “gotta” serve it, and we do so in fear. God is the glorious One we “get to” serve, and it is a privilege, it is a joy. For in Him is freedom from the fear of tomorrow; in Him is life itself, today.

Father, I choose to trust you today. I choose to serve you today. I choose not to worry about tomorrow, for you know what I need and you will be my Master then, too. Amen.

1 Dylan, Bob. Gotta Serve Somebody. Columbia Records, 1979.
2 Dylan. Gotta Serve Somebody.
3 Matthew 6:24 (ESV)
4 Matthew 6:19 (ESV)
5 Ephesians 1:14
6 1 Peter 1:4
7 1 Peter 1:18, 19
8 Ecclesiastes 5:10
9 John 4:14
10 Matthew 6:20 (ESV)
11 Matthew 6:28b-30, 33 (ESV)

The Peacemakers

Did you ever notice it takes months of detailed planning and diligent building to erect a magnificent edifice, but only days or weeks to raze it to mere memories? Over seasons of integrity and years of faithfulness is our trust in another established; sudden is its betrayal, however, and we behold its ruins through blurry eyes of bitter tears. We hard-earn honor over lifetime of prudent decisions, only to damage our reputation with an unconstrained word or a me-first choice. So it is, also, with dissension and peace: “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.”1 There are few ways as impactful to “making a difference” than to defuse conflict and foster peace in our small space in the world. Here, then, are some peacemaking observations from throughout the years. Feel free to add your own at the end of this post.

Listen. We often talk when the solution lies in listening. As Job in his agony implored of his friends, “Listen carefully to my words; let your ears take in what I say.”2

Look beneath symptoms. Too, we often stop at the symptom of conflict but neglect to dig to its roots. “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” queried James, “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”3 We do well to stop an honest moment and think.

Stay on point. For a variety of reasons, it is very difficult for some people to accept or admit their own shortcomings, so they marginalize their offenses by pointing to the offenses of another. This gets us nowhere in terms of conflict resolution, so I’ve learned to remain focused by acknowledging impertinent issues, then setting them aside for later conversation.

Find shared values. I think people’s common ground is much larger than their battle ground. Most, for instance, value faithfulness, justice, goodness, honor and mercy. To the extent conflicting parties identify common ground, their differences become more clearly defined, seemingly smaller, and easier to address.

Move beyond detente. Personally, I think detente—the mere absence of conflict—is only slightly better than conflict itself. True resolution settles for nothing short of unity. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”4

Know when to stay clear. “Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own,” advised Solomon.5 I can’t quarrel with that.

Father, give me an honest heart to confess my sin and turn from it. Give me a discerning heart to know when to be—and when not to be—involved in conflict. Give me a wise heart to know how to help calm a quarrel. Give me a patient heart, because peace takes time. Amen.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

Christ in me is peace.

1 Proverbs 15:18
2 Job 13:17
3 James 4:1
4 Psalm 133:1
5 Proverbs 26:17

Watchfulness

When our son Matthew was in college, he and some friends decided to encourage another friend, Andrew, as he ran in the St. Louis Marathon. Each painted on his own exposed torso one letter of the runner’s name, so they could spell it out together and cheer him on as he raced by the half-way point. Marathons are lengthy, however, so they began to pass the time by seeing how many words they could spell with their animated alphabet. When Andrew ran by—grinding out the distance on his own—his would-be cheerleaders were completely distracted and unprepared. It was actually Andrew who got their attention as he sped by, “Hey, guys!” Peggy and I laughed as Matthew related the story, and we asked him, “What were you spelling when he ran by?” “Nothing!” he exclaimed. It was for these merry collegians a short course in attentiveness, if they let it be, and one gained at virtually no cost.

Life lessons aren’t always so mercifully learned. It was Jesus enduring the distance that dark night of Gethsemane, “very distressed and troubled … deeply grieved to the point of death”1 by the punishment and abandonment which lay immediately before Him. He’d schooled the disciples in the importance of watchfulness—remaining attentive over time—and now asked it of them as He implored the Father for mercy and strength. Yet every time He sought their support, Jesus found his friends asleep and Himself alone. His frustration might be tallied (but not fully measured) in exclamation marks: “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”2

“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy,”3 wrote a very sage Solomon. It is true, we can never truly experience the depths of another’s pain or the fullness of one’s gladness; only God can, and only God does. Yet it is inestimably vital that we be there amid cries for help, be they spoken or, more often, silent. “Sit here while I pray,” friends may say, or “Stay here and keep watch,” they fear to ask. Together, then, may our lives spell out, “WATCHFUL,” for the assurance of our presence makes both bitterness and joy a far less lonely place to be.

Father, it is so encouraging when others share my joy and pain, yet I tend to shortchange the value of my presence in their life. Send your Spirit; make me attentive to those who, like me, need someone to be there in the moment with them. In this also, be glorified. In Christ, I pray. Amen.

1 Mark 14:34, 35
2 Mark 14:41, 42
3 Proverbs 14:10