A Heart of Service: Dr. Miles
We all lead busy lives. Full-time students, full-time employees, students who work part time, students who work full time, people who take care of children, people who take care of parents, people who take care of themselves. Few of us have enough margin in our lives, and yet we are called to serve others. Peter explains that Christians “should use whatever gift [we] have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Between school, work, and the everyday tasks of life, is serving others really so important? Is it even beneficial? The answer to both of these questions is “yes!” Serving is important, and there are practical ways to include serving others in your life that won’t require you to move to a planet that has more than twenty-four hours in a day.
Because God commands us to love our neighbors, it shouldn’t surprise us that the God who commands us to love others also created scientifically-proven benefits for people who obey this command. Studies suggest that serving others reduces chronic pain, decreases a person’s risk of depression, reduces stress levels, and prolongs life. For example, a 2008 study at the University of Michigan (Health Psychology) followed a random sample of 10,317 people from their 1957 high school graduation to 2008. They found that people who volunteered for selfless reasons—because they simply wanted to help others—had lower mortality rates than people who did not volunteer or those who volunteered for selfish reasons, like just to escape from their own troubles for a bit or just to feel better about themselves. If you want to live a long, full life, love your neighbor.
Not only does serving others make people healthier, it also makes them happier. Many studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between serving others and happiness (Berkeley Wellness). Serving others enhances our sense of purpose which causes us to feel more satisfied with our lives—that’s happiness.
There are clear benefits to cultivating a life of service, but practically-speaking, limitations remain. Few people have extra time in their busy schedules, so it is important to look for practical ways to serve others in our everyday lives. For example, when you get up to get yourself a cup of coffee, offer to get a cup for a co-worker. Not only does a gesture like this give you an opportunity to serve, it makes your co-worker feel valued. This is a glimpse of the kind of love Christ has for people, so try to think of practical ways you can serve the people you work with. A cup of coffee, an invitation to eat lunch together, a ride to the mechanic when their car is on the fritz—these are all ways you can serve that won’t take extra hours out of your day.
Also consider ways to serve the people you live with or near. If you have a roommate, you might offer to add her whites to your whites to make a full load of laundry. You might pick up a few of her favorite fruits when you are doing your grocery shopping. These little gestures demonstrate your love for your neighbor and don’t eat into your study time or your work time. Things you do every day are ready-made service opportunities; you just have to recognize them.
I also want to encourage you to look for opportunities to serve outside your normal routine. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I had room in my schedule to make meals for people who were recovering from sickness or had just brought home a new baby. Money was tight, so the meals were not extravagant, but I knew they were appreciated. As a working mom with teenagers who are involved in after-school activities, I barely cook for my own family, let alone another family. Instead, I send a card with money for take-out included. This may not be as personal an option, but it is what I can do right now. I don’t want to stop serving just because my evening schedule is often full, so I got creative and you can too.
Think of other things you do in your community and consider ways to serve the people there. Perhaps you play on a sports team. Take Gatorades or granola bars to share with your teammates after the game. You don’t have to do this for every game. Try doing it once or twice as a gesture of love and a reminder of those childhood post-game snacks.
Serving is good for us spiritually and physically, and we really can find ways to weave it into our busy lives. Cultivating a heart of service makes us more grateful for the blessings we have. Serving grows gratitude, and gratitude grows contentment. In today’s world of perfect pictures on social media, cultivating contentment can be a challenge. But when we can honestly and clearly see all that we have and be grateful for it, when we, out of what we have—be it material goods, time, or energy—can share with others and serve others, then we can know what Paul knew in the first century when he was writing to the people in Philippi. We can “experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:7). We can obey God’s command to love our neighbor because it is good for us, and through it, God is good to us.