service, be the difference, lifetime

7 Ways to Live a Life of Service

I was asked to give a devotional thought on living a life of service for a community worship night, I quickly agreed but it didn’t take very long for me to question my decision… After all, how can I encourage or challenge a community of believers who are already living a life of service to live a life of service? It’s kind of like “preaching to the choir” isn’t it? After a lot of soul searching, I decided that the keyword in the request was “life.” 

When Barb and I came to Cookson Hills in 1971, we were 24 and the youngest couple on staff. On August 6th we will have been here 50 years and at 74, are among the oldest people here. Occasionally I wonder how we got “to where we are now” from “where we were then” so fast. The simple answer is, of course, ONE DAY AT A TIME.  

Living a LIFE of service, I think, is wrapped up in an old saying you’ve probably heard before… “You just keep on keeping on.” With that in mind, I began trying to put into words what helped us “keep on keeping on” for nearly two-thirds of our lives here at Cookson Hills. As a result, I came up with 7 thoughts I will share with you. I hope they will encourage you to “live a lifetime of service” wherever you are.

1. Remember that others are living their lives serving you.

From the moment you were brought into this world until the moment you draw your final breath, others are serving you. Even if the only thing your parents gave you was life, you have much to be thankful for. Now, think about the doctors, nurses, waiters, waitresses, teachers, grandparents, counselors, ministers, and others who have met a need in your life.

We all can think of situations where our lives were made better by someone who served us. When you remember how much it means to be served, you are more likely to want to serve others.

2. Develop and encourage an attitude of serving others out of love.

“Only a life lived in the service of others is worth living.”

Albert Einstein

Jesus summarized the law in two commandments: 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strengthThe second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:30-31

Barb and I grew up in a time and place where “serving others” was the norm. Service was modeled by our parents, neighbors, and friends.

I remember one time when we were houseparents, taking the whole family with us to visit South Dakota. In the north, you have to change out your windows with the changing seasons. In the winter you have to have storm windows and in the summer you have to have screens. I took the kids out for a drive and we saw an older lady climbing up on a ladder changing her windows. So I stopped the van we got out and I said, “We’re going to help that lady.” After we got done one of the kids asked me why we did that and I told them, “It’s something my Dad would have done.” And that’s not a bad thought. “What do you do just because that’s something your heavenly Father would have done?” That’s service when you get right down to it. 

There’s always someone with a need. Do what you can to fill it. Prepare yourself to serve and then encourage others to discover the benefits of a life of service.

3. Whatever you do, treat your job or your responsibility as an act of service

By definition, “to be of service” means actively helping another or doing work for someone else. No matter what you do for a living, try to focus on how your work serves the needs of others. The question we should ask ourselves is, “What am I giving or doing or making that makes a difference in someone’s life or that makes their life better in some small and meaningful way?” 

Viewing our work from this perspective makes any task more enjoyable. It doesn’t matter whether you are cleaning toilets, washing clothes, doing homework, teaching a class, changing diapers, repairing faucets, doing payroll, weed eating, fixing a flat, picking up rocks, writing a story, counseling a student, filling out paperwork, or mowing the lawn. If you can picture how whatever you are doing is helping someone else have a better day, it improves your attitude about it.

“Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”

Booker T. Washington

4. Remember who you are serving.

Over the years, catchphrases were used on our letterheads, notepads, and even t-shirts to describe what we do at Cookson Hills. Last year, the catchphrase was “Space & Grace” as a reference to Covid and God’s mercies. During our reconstruction period, it was “Building on a legacy of Love.” When we first came to Cookson Hills in 1971, the phrase was, “Serving God, Serving Children.” Although we were serving children it reminded us who we were really serving.

Mother Theresa once said,

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked, and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”

She was referring to Jesus’ words from Matthew 25 where He is telling His listeners about the final judgment. When questioned about the meaning of this parable Jesus answers,

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.‘ 

5. Hang around with others who serve.

First-century Christians didn’t just believe in Jesus’ words. They acted on what He said. When they gathered together to serve others, those who saw them remarked that they “turned the world upside down.” If we purposely meet and work with Christians who are serving others, we can do the same.

Wherever you go, if you want to live a life of service, I think the writer of Hebrews gives some good advice: 

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” 

Hebrews 10:24-25

Although the writer is referring to worship and fellowship, I’m convinced that the longer God tarries the more important it will be for Christians to encourage and challenge each other to “keep on keeping on.” Take advantage of all the support services available nowadays from our social workers, counselors, and teachers. Remember that we are all in this together. No matter where you go, find others who are serving and align yourself with them if you want to live a life of service.

 6. Look beyond discouragement and heartbreak.

Anyone who has served others faithfully for a while will experience discouragement. Sometimes people who live their lives for others will be taken advantage of by those who only think of themselves. It’s especially hard when your parents, children, students, friends, and even co-workers make choices that disappoint or discourage you.

Children occasionally leave before they are ready. Students sometimes don’t live up to their potential. Friends ignore or desert you. Co-workers let you down, Parents sometimes frustrate you. Bosses are sometimes… well bossy.

When you feel like giving up, it’s important to not lose hope. I remind myself… “It ain’t over till it’s over.” (That’s poor English, I’m sorry, but it’s true)

Do you want proof?

I really enjoy following the kids that were here 20-30 years ago on Facebook because a lot of them are living changed lives. It’s good to see them raising their kids like they were raised here. Some of them are even serving on our board of directors. They have made big changes in their lives.

I’ll never forget an email one day when I was in a slump. It’s probably one of the best emails I’ve ever read. It was from a former student who was saying how she wanted to bring her kids to Cookson Hills to show where she grew up because she wanted to raise them the same way that she was raised while she was here. She had a whole big list of things. I used it in my talks when I went around to different churches many times. After telling this story one time Mary Ellen said, “Do you remember that girl when she left?” I said, “no, does she have a great story?” She said, “She stole a horse and ran away.” 

Remember that you are just planting a seed. Sometimes it takes years for that seed to grow and produce fruit. God’s not finished with you and He’s not finished with those you are serving. You may not see the results until you reach heaven’s gates, and you might be surprised who you see there. If you want to live a lifetime of service, learn to be patient!

7. Keep your eye on the goal.

After a lifetime of service, when we see Jesus face-to-face, we won’t hear, “well done good and faithful houseparent or teacher or counselor or grandparent or social worker, or student. We hope to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” – From Jesus’ words in Matt 25– Parable of the Talents

In that parable, you will notice both the man with 5 talents and the one with 2 talents received the same response from the Master when they doubled the value of what they had been given.

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'”

Matthew 25:21-23

In verses 20 and 22 you’ll notice, both men recognized that they had been entrusted with the talents or gold they had been given. “You entrusted me with [five] bags of gold.” It doesn’t matter what gift or talent you have received from the Master… What really matters is how you use what He has given you.

What about the man who received one bag of gold or one talent?

Notice that he said nothing about the Master entrusting him with the bag of gold (talent) and, in the end, by protecting rather than doubling what he had been given, received heartache and loss.

“…I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”         

Matthew 25:25

He was protecting it instead of using it for God’s glory. Maybe that’s another secret of living a life of service… realizing that God has entrusted us with a measure of Himself in the form of our talents, abilities, gifts, and even our finances. It’s up to us, what we do with them. If we use what we’ve been given wisely the blessings are guaranteed!

“One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.”

Gordon B. Hinckley

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” 

Paul wrote in Acts 20:35

The secret to living a life of service…

… is just to “keep on keeping on” – using what you’ve been entrusted with “one day at a time” until you hear the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.”

I happened to hear a man being interviewed on TV.  He was asked to summarize what it means to live a life of service…

“Live in such a way that when you die…Your wife can say you were a good husband, your kids can say you were a great dad, and your community can say you didn’t waste space.”

Last bit of advice… DON’T WASTE SPACE!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Although officially retired, you will probably find Rod Ramsell on the rider mower, testing potential students for enrollment, or helping a student during the resource period. Barb and Rod celebrated 50 years of service on August 6, 2021, having been at Cookson Hills for nearly two-thirds of their lives.