Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Potential Pitfalls of Servanthood

Leslie Basham: As you tackle your to-do list today, do you remember why you’re doing these things? Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: It’s easy when you’re a servant to lose perspective—to get caught up in the what you’re doing (the tasks) and forget why you’re doing it and forget who you’re doing it for.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, June 27.

You’re probably catching this program while busy doing some task or rushing from one place to another. You’re busy doing good things, but there are some dangers that come along with being busy doing good things, which Nancy’s going to share as part of a series called, Developing a Servant’s Heart.

Nancy: We spent the last couple days looking at a little known character in the New Testament who packs a wallop. He has a lot to say for our lives. I found myself so challenged by the life of Onesiphorus, who Paul singled out as one who had ministered to him in prison. Onesiphorus who had come all the way—hundreds of miles over land and sea—from Ephesus to minister to Paul in his imprisonment in Rome.

Paul said he often refreshed me. We don’t know the details of how he did that, but we know that Onesiphorus had a servant’s heart. He practiced biblical servanthood. He was following in the steps of Jesus, the great Servant, the suffering Servant. Jesus took risks, as did Onesiphorus, to minister to others. He did this often. He did it in many different ways, practical ways. How thankful I am for the Onesiphoruses in my life and how I’ve been challenged through this study to become that kind of person in other people's lives.

Now in just a couple of days we’re going to wrap up this study of Onesiphorus. I want to talk at the end of this series about a servant’s reward, and we see that in 2 Timothy chapter 1. But let me take a little parentheses here for a day or two. I want to just insert some thoughts about the dangers of servanthood, potential pitfalls of servanthood, cautions for those who serve. These are cautions we need. These are ways that servanthood can become a burden rather than a blessing.

I want to talk about a few of these and then I’ve got some friends here in the audience today who have been walking through this study with me. We’re going to go back and forth talking about some of these potential pitfalls. But let me just introduce a few pitfalls to you, and then we’ll interact a little bit more about them.

I think one of the first and most dangerous pitfalls is that it’s easy when you’re a servant to lose perspective—to lose perspective, to get caught up in the what you’re doing (the tasks) and forget why you’re doing it and forget Who you’re doing it for. Ultimately we’re serving Christ.

It’s easy when you’re caught up—especially moms, those of you who have husbands and children or maybe you serve in a type of industry where you’re doing a lot of servanthood sorts of tasks. You can get caught up in the daily routines of serving and really lose perspective as to why you’re doing this. It can become so menial, so trivial, and you can think, “One more meal to cook, one more load of laundry to wash, one more time to make this school run,” and it can get really burdensome if you lose perspective.

I think that’s one of the reasons God put Luke chapter 10, in our Bibles. You remember that last paragraph. We’re all familiar with it. The two sisters. We’re so familiar with the two sisters because it’s so us. These two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. That’s a good thing. Martha has a heart to serve. But Martha, the Scripture tells us, was distracted with much serving.

We don’t know what all the “much” was, but you can imagine having Jesus and his band of disciples for dinner. There was much involved. You can imagine if you have guests coming for a major holiday or you have a house full of company, there’s so much involved in keeping a household going. Sometimes it’s just your “much” serving with your own children. You don’t even have to have guests for it to be “much” serving.

It’s easy to get distracted, to get carried away, to get sidetracked and to lose heart for the people that you’re serving because you’re so tied up with the tasks of serving. So Martha gets her toga in a knot, and she just gets hot and bothered. The kitchen’s hot and she’s hot, and her sister who you would think would be helping her isn’t helping her. You just see the steam kind of rising in the pressure cooker, that is Martha.

Again, more of us relate to Martha because I think as women that’s so often where we find ourselves. Then she ends up put out. Put out at her sister. Put out at Jesus! I mean, Jesus is the one she’s serving. Jesus is the one she welcomed into her home. Now she’s annoyed at Him.

“Doesn’t it bother You that my sister’s left me here to serve alone?” (Luke 10:40 paraphrased). She feels like she’s been left alone. She’s lost perspective. She forgets. It’s like the meal becomes everything. The meal isn’t everything. The people are everything. Jesus is everything. The people that you’re serving and why you’re doing it.

So Jesus has to kind of re-adjust her perspective. “You’re anxious and troubled about many things, Martha, but only one thing is necessary. Simplify your life” (Luke 10:41 paraphrased). Now, He’s not saying cooking isn’t necessary, eating isn’t necessary, cleaning your house isn’t necessary.

He’s saying if you can only do one thing, make sure that first thing and that one thing is that you have a relationship with Me. Make sure that you’re in a position where you can listen to Me. Make sure that all the tasks you’re doing don’t distract you from the Person that you’re doing them for.

Do you ever find yourself losing perspective? Forget why you’re doing it? Forget who you’re doing it for? That’s a caution. That’s a potential pitfall.

Then sometimes it’s easy to serve without having a servant’s heart. Do you know what I’m talking about? Doing things for others but without the heart to serve. The apostle Paul talked to the Colossians and the Ephesians about serving with eye service as men-pleasers, doing something just to be seen, doing it only when your boss is watching. So when somebody’s watching, you’re really diligent. You’re going about it. But then when nobody’s looking over your shoulder, you’re not so eager to serve because you don’t have a heart to serve. Serving without a servant’s heart.

Then here’s another caution, another danger or pitfall. I think we all fall into this at times. It has to do with our motives. Why do we serve? So often I have to say in my own life my reason for serving, my reason for doing some act of service is simple. It’s so somebody else will see, so somebody else will notice, so somebody else will appreciate. It’s for recognition. It’s total self.

That is not a servant’s heart. I want to please others. I want to be rewarded. The pure motive is just love for God. Love for others. But there is that tainting of selfish motives I will tell you in almost everything I do. I have to be repenting of my acts of service very often. Only God knows my heart. God’s Spirit shows me my heart and convicts me: “The reason you’re doing this is because you want to be noticed. You want to be appreciated.”

I’ll just say—and you’ve experienced this—if that’s why you’re serving, you’ve got your reward. That’s all the reward you’re getting is other people to see. That’s what Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 6.

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. [That’s the motive—it has to do with why they’re doing it.]

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt. 6:1-4)

Do you want your reward now or do you want it later? Do you want the reward from your husband and your kids, or do you want the ultimate reward from Christ? 

We want to be seen. We want to be known. We want to be noticed. But a true servant is not motivated by the applause of men. A true servant is committed to give in ways that sometimes no one else sees or no one else notices.

I think of people I know behind the scenes who sacrifice perpetually for the good of others, who give themselves spiritually. A mom who chooses to give her life to raise her kids when no one else is applauding her. Our culture certainly doesn’t applaud her. Her children may not applaud her for a long, long time.

You said, “I thought they rise up and call her blessed.” Well, you moms tell me. Doesn’t it take a while for that to happen? They need to be grown before they do that. Now you want to have thankful kids, but I’m just saying a lot of serving is thankless tasks.

It’s a woman choosing to respect her husband whether he deserves it or not. It’s a woman serving as to the Lord knowing that He sees and He knows and that’s enough.

I came across a little poem as I was studying this topic of servanthood. It ministered to me and I think it will to you as well.

You know, Lord, how I serve You with great emotional fevor in the limelight,
You know how eagerly I speak of You at the women's club,
You know how I effervesce at the fellowship group,

And You know my time of genuine enthusiasm at a Bible study.

But how would I react, I wonder, if You pointed me to a basin of water
And asked me to wash the calloused feet of a bent and wrinkled old woman
Day after day, month after month—in a room where nobody saw and nobody knew.

That's the heart of a servant.

If I'm looking for the praise of men, I can get it; you can get it. We can serve in ways that will be applauded, but then we've got our reward. 

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back. She’s been bringing a convicting message about serving for the right reasons. Women who are busy working hard for God’s kingdom need to keep these potential pitfalls in mind because these temptations will return over and over again.

Nancy helps you develop the heart attitude that is necessary to become a servant in the book, Surrender. She'll show you how to submit to God's will and serve Him even in circumstances that wouldn't have been your first choice.

We'd like to send you Nancy's book, Surrender, when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. Your contribution will help Revive Our Hearts stay on the radio. And you'll help us continue providing the program on the web 24/7.

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Nancy’s friends have been listening to this series along with us and reflect on servanthood and motherhood. We’ll hear from Holly Elliff, and here’s Kim Wagner.

Kim Wagner: So many times when a young mother—before motherhood, before that first baby is born, we have all these romantic ideas of motherhood. We’re so looking forward to that baby that we can just hold and sing to and pray over. We have all of these just beautiful ideas—in the nursery sitting with that baby.

Really, no one prepares you for a screaming baby through the night that you do not know what is wrong with that child and you’re so exhausted. I remember about eight weeks into the birth of my first child sitting at the kitchen table totally exhausted, in tears, wondering will I ever sleep again.

I had the Christian radio station on—KCBI in Dallas. They had a special program that week for mothers experiencing post-partum depression. I did not even know what post-partum depression was. As this individual started sharing about different signs of that, I thought, “Do I have that?”

I called in to the radio station to talk to the man. He said, “Well, just tell me a little bit about your life right now.” I started describing nights of no sleep, of a child just crying all night, not knowing how to take care of that baby. He said, “Well, tell me about your day. Do you get up and get dressed?”

I started just bawling. I said, “I am sitting here . . . I can’t remember the last time I got dressed, that I dressed myself for the day. I stay in my pajamas about 24 hours a day. I don’t remember the last time I put on makeup.” I said, “Will this ever end? This is horrible. I love my baby. I love being a mother, but I hate my life right now.”

Holly Elliff: It was a moment when you had lost perspective as Nancy mentioned earlier.

Kim: Lost perspective big time. I am so thankful that at some point through young motherhood—I don’t even know who passed it on to me. I don’t know where I picked it up. I just believe it was the sovereign gift of God that He gave me that little book by Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of Christ. Brother Lawrence talked about the drudgery of working in the kitchen and how he turned that drudgery into times of worship.

Holly: While he was peeling potatoes.

Kim: Peeling potatoes, washing pots and pans. He turned it into just a sanctuary of worship. The Lord opened my eyes to carrying that screaming baby at night, changing those dirty diapers, washing that laundry, over and over and over was acts of worship that I could lift up to Him. It totally turned my perspective on motherhood.

Holly: I think that’s huge for moms because so much of what we do is mundane. You do it over and over and over. You catch up on all the laundry, but tomorrow there’s more and your kids are hungry again. It can get monotonous when you’re doing mundane tasks over and over and it seems they never end.

Nancy: So what can keep you from losing your mind in those moments? How do you keep perspective?

Holly: Well, I think one thing Kim mentioned is just the fatigue of motherhood. It is exhausting. If God gives you several children and you’re in that process for a long time, it really is exhausting.

Bertha Smith, who was a missionary during the Shantung Revival, used to say that Satan’s greatest tool in the life of a mother is fatigue. I believe that because if you get tired enough, you are so exhausted the thought of even picking up your Bible to get refreshment from the Lord seems like another task. I think we have to be wise enough to know where the balance is between what our bodies can physically do and what our spirits need.

Kim: Right. That’s on this series of servanthood. Not only are mothers to be servants, but I hope that there’s some older women listening right now that the Lord might just lay on your heart a young mother in your church that you can tell she’s exhausted, that she needs just a woman to come alongside.

God brought a woman like that in my life. My mother was living six hours away. I didn’t know many people in Dallas, Texas. God brought this woman into my life to bless me. She would just show up at unexpected times with meals already prepared. She would explain to me things that would help me in nursing my baby, just practical ways that she ministered to me. She was a servant to me.

Holly: She was living out that command in Titus 2 for older women to teach younger women how to love their husbands and love their children so that it’s not so hard.

I think another way you can really minister to moms is to take them out of the routine every once in a while.

I have a friend who knows me real well. For my birthday this year, she came and picked me up and took me to a place where we went horseback riding for an hour-and-a-half. I was doing something that was totally different.

Nancy: In case anybody's wondering, I wasn't the friend.

Holly: It wasn't Nancy.

Nancy: I love Holly, but I would have loved her in a different way.

Holly: I would love to get Nancy on a horse. Well, we have. We have video if you want to see it.

It was maybe three or four hours out of my afternoon. We went horseback riding and then we went and got our nails done. In that four hour period, she totally took me away from the mundane things in my life, from the things I do over and over, and it was just fun.

Kim: She refreshed you. Just to step outside that mundane routine.

Holly: Sometime it's just surprising somebody with something that you know is going to lift their spirits and give them a break. Sometimes moms really do just need a break. It may be just stepping in and saying let me babysit for a night so you and your husband can get away for dinner. It can be a very small thing that means a whole lot in someone’s life.

Nancy: I’m thinking also not just of moms, but of single women who serve the church, who serve the people of God, who can have their own form of loneliness. With motherhood at least goes the joy of having a baby. Some women may be listening and thinking, “Yes, I’d love to have those problems.” Of course, we always think that whatever we don’t have would be easier than what we do have.

I know a lot single women and married women as well who are serving the body of Christ, serving in the church, serving in ministries, serving in their communities. I think it would be easy to struggle with “no one sees; no one knows.” Is this really worthwhile? Is this valuable? Does this matter? I’m not getting thanked for this. It can be a downer to think that I’m pouring out my life, but I’m not really getting much to show for it.

You all ever struggle with that? You have both served in church life. What keeps you going when no one else is really particularly appreciative of what you’re doing, and yet you feel like it’s important?

Holly: I think that thing of perspective is really critical. I deal a lot with a lot of single gals. When you’re in a family you’ve got a husband and children who are constantly helping you to stay on balance because they’re noticing what’s going on in your life. The danger for a single is that you don’t have that feedback all the time, and the focus can become too inward.

In talking with them, the danger is that because they’re by themselves more, maybe go home to an empty house, the focus does become inward, and it’s very easy to lose perspective.

I had a single gal say to me one time, "I don't enjoy going to singles' groups because they just make me pitiful and poor because everybody there is focused on on their own need. And you've got a whole bunch of people focused on their own need."

We talked a lot about the remedy for that being taking the focus from yourself and putting it on other people.

You shared that great illustration about the woman who was a widow who chose not to focus on her own need, but began to reach out to the people around her in her neighborhood. There’s some gals in this room that I know well who are single women who choose constantly to meet the needs of others and who know themselves well enough to know when they’re getting too inwardly focused, and then they choose.

One of these gals I know has a list of things that she can do for other people when she realizes her focus is too much on her own self. She begins to serve as a way of combating that isolation that she sometimes feels.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with pastors’ wives, Kim Wagner and Holly Elliff. They’ve been a great encouragement to me to serve in the way God wants me to serve.

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Tomorrow hear about more potential pitfalls of service. Understand the difference between serving and being a servant next time on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.