Sunday, June 07, 2009

Much obliged

Much obliged! I believe it's safe to characterize this phrase as a southern one. Can't you just hear the southern drawl and visualize the sugary sweet smile of a little old lady from South Carolina cooing, "Much obliged!" when you open the door for her? It's an expression that is meant to mean "thank you" but also communicates, "I owe you one."

You do something for me and now I am under obligation to do something for you. Would it be safe to say there is a certain element of "...whether I like it or not" that is implied in the word obligation?

Here's how Dictionary.com defines the word Obligation: Something by which a person is bound or obliged to do certain things, and which arises out of a sense of duty or results from custom, law, etc.

I bring all this up to beg the question, is service to God an obligation? And when we approach it a an obligation, what might the affect be?

For years, I think I attended Bible study and served on church committees and overall tried to "do good" because I believed I was obliged to do so as a professing Christian. After all, the Gospel writers record Jesus as saying on more than one occasion, those of you who desire to be first must be last and those who desire to be great must be the servant to all (that is a paraphrase, but I think I'm pretty close to the mark here).

But am I obligated to servanthood? Oh, I know, it's semantics, yet I have come to realize what the long-term affect can be if we approach servanthood from a position of obligation versus privilege.

When we "owe" something to someone, when we are required to pay back some service or favor, aren't we just a little resentful? And isn't the driving force behind our actions, "I gotta do this, I gotta do this, I gotta do this." Where's the joy, I ask you? Where is the passion?

Tell me if you can distinguish the difference between these two statements:

"Whoa is me, off to do the Lord's bidding again, will it never end?" versus

"Here I am Lord. Use me."

Do we actually believe that God is unable to bring about his "business" in this world if we do not oblige him? That's like saying if I don't buy a gallon of gasoline today, the entire oil industry will go belly up. It's absurd.

When I constantly go about my business for God with an underlying sense of obligation, in some respects, I put up a barrier to the Holy Spirit moving through me. I create a "God To-Do" list in which with each task performed and crossed out, I mutter under my breath, "Well, that was relatively painless. Now what?"

Huh?? Is that what servanthood is supposed to be like? Again, I ask you, where is the joy? And don't we risk positioning God as the ruthless task master when we believe ourselves obliged to serve?

I am a first-class screw up at times. (Aren't we all?) I don't say this to whip myself, but rather to be honest and keep it real. It is only in the last 4 or so years that my attitude about servanthood, about ministry, has radically changed. It's a privilege. There are plenty of nice people who will say I am a gifted teacher, and truly God has gifted me in this area, but he could just as easily gift the pool chair I am sitting in as I write this to do what I do. I often say to God, "I am your servant; I may miss the mark a great deal of the time, but you know in my heart my desire is to serve you."

I have "escaped" by the grace of God the legalistic thinking that tells me I am "obliged" to serve God, viewing it as some irksome chore. No false sense of trying to even the score with God, which is laughable. No mellow dramatic misconceptions that I have been "called" to "suffer" for the Gospel. No thoughts of, "Oh well, some day all my selflessness will "pay off" when I stand before Him and hear, Well done, good and faithful servant."

No, I'd say my reaction to servanthood these days is, it's the least I can do. I'm thankful to be used. And THAT is a gross understatement.

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