It was late. My car was quiet. My children had fallen asleep on the drive home from church. Wednesday night church. But it could have been any night; we were there any time the doors were open. I was driving around aimlessly, praying, crying– discouraged. Years later, I can’t even remember what made me so upset other than that I was exhausted. Exhausted from serving. Exhausted from wondering when it was my turn to be served. Honestly? I was ready to quit.
As I drove around my neighborhood, my car lights hit a church sign with the exact words I needed: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” I read the sign, cried some more, and drove home with a new attitude. My motivation in serving was wrong. In my mind, the people around me were the problem, but in reality, it was my heart. I was working hard but not with gladness, and I hadn’t been glad in a while. My pride was evident; my boundaries were non-existent. I needed to find the right motivation in my service to the church if I was going to continue without burning out.
The scripture from the church sign had come from Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:1-3).
Anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with Psalm-singing. I sang this Psalm many times without applying the truths from it. Psalm 100 gives us guidance not only in our attitude when we walk into corporate worship each Sunday but into our service to the church as a whole. Because the Lord God made us we should serve him– and not merely out of obligation but out of love and devotion because we are his people who he has chosen!
As the Psalm reminds us, he guides and protects us as a gentle shepherd. Jesus has laid down his very life for us, his sheep. When we look to Jesus we see the standard for both service and humility. When we compare ourselves to others instead of Christ we are quick to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. If Jesus is our standard then we will be much more likely to live a life of loving, joy-filled, self-sacrifice.
Our ambition is to be pleasing to the one we are ultimately serving, King Jesus. Why are you scrubbing toilets? Or painting on a church work day? Why choose to teach Sunday school, preach the Word, or play guitar? It should be an easy answer. To please King Jesus. Everything we do in our service to the local church must be for King Jesus which is impossible when we are prideful.
Having the right motivation changes our attitude when we aren’t feeling glad about serving. We will be cheerful in even the most mundane tasks when we remember who we are ultimately serving. When we lack joy in service we should check ourselves. Are we truly aiming to please Jesus? Are we thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought? Are we letting comparison kill our joy? Are our desires aligned with the desires of Jesus?
Having the right motivation changes our attitude about results. We no longer need the validation of numerical growth and visible fruit when our aim is simply pleasing King Jesus. Seeing the fruits of your labor can be so encouraging, but a lack of fruit is not necessarily evidence of failure in ministry if your ambition is faithfulness to Jesus.
Having the right motivation changes our attitude when we are criticized. We no longer need the validation of people when we can be confident we are being obedient to King Jesus. Criticism can be constructive and expose blind spots. We should be open to feedback and consider if that criticism holds truth instead, we often let negative feedback take hold of us, and let it take our eyes away from pleasing Christ. If criticism triggers a feeling of under-appreciation, that’s pride sneaking into your heart. Perhaps criticism makes you decide to quit serving? Pride again.
Having the right motivation encourages healthy boundaries. We no longer need to say yes to everything because we know Jesus himself rested— and he’s the servant we model ourselves after. We also don’t avoid doing less desirable acts of service because we know Jesus took the form of a servant and washed feet. Whether you’re the type of person who says yes to everything, the kind who avoids serving in less desirable ways, or if you just don’t know where to serve, our goal is the same: aim to please King Jesus.
There have been plenty of days since that late Wednesday night drive where I’ve had to remind myself of my ambition and refocus back on Christ. Whether you struggle with burnout, criticism, or laziness in your service to the church we all need to get our motivation right in order to work heartily for the Lord and not men. We can rest in the finished work of Christ and work hard until he returns.