You Were Shaped for Serving God

Ephesians 2:10

November 8, 2003 | Brian Bill

Note: This sermon is based on a message idea by Rick Warren and is used by permission as part of the 40 Days of Purpose Journey.  

Four brothers left home and later became very successful and prosperous.  Some years later, they had dinner together and compared notes about what each of them had given their elderly mother for Christmas.  The first said, “I had a big house built for Mama.”  The second bragged, “I had a surround sound theater built in the house.”  The third said, “I gave mom a brand new Mercedes.

The fourth brother boasted, “You know how Mama loved reading the Bible before her eyes went bad?  Well, I bought her a parrot that can recite the entire Bible.  It took twenty monks 12 years to teach him.  I had to pledge $2 million to the church, but it was worth it.  All she has to do is name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it.”  The other brothers were really impressed and a bit jealous that their younger sibling had outdone them.

After the holidays mom sent out her thank you notes.  She wrote first to her oldest son: “Milton, the house you built is so huge.  I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole thing.  Thanks anyway.”  To her second son, she wrote: “Michael, you gave me an amazing theater that holds 50 people but all my friends are dead, I’ve lost my hearing and I’m nearly blind.  I’ll never use it.  Thank you for the gesture just the same.”  Son number three received his note: “Marvin, I am too old to travel so I never use the Mercedes but I appreciate the thought.  Thanks.”  When she got to the youngest son she wrote, “Dearest Melvin, you were the only one to put some thought into your gift…the chicken was delicious.  Thank you.”

As we come to our fourth purpose in life, it’s important to remember that God wants us to serve not only according to our giftedness, but also according to the need!  You and I have been shaped for serving God, even if that means serving chicken!  

Ephesians 2:10, which was our very first memory verse, says this: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”   Our English word “poem” comes from the Greek word translated “workmanship.”  Warren writes: “You are God’s handcrafted work of art.  You are not an assembly-line product, mass-produced without thought.  You are a custom-designed, one-of-a kind, original masterpiece” (“Purpose Driven Life,” Page 235).  

Friend, you were created to make a contribution, not just to consume.  God designed you to make a difference.  And what matters is not how long you live or how much money you make, but how you live and whether your life matters.  Don’t focus on the duration of your life, but on the donation of your life.  You’ve been saved to serve, and blessed in order to be a blessing.  Someone put it this way: “While we’re pardoned from sin, we’re not excused from service.”

God made you unique but your uniqueness is not for your benefit

Whenever God gives us an assignment to do something, He always equips us first.  Job 10:8 puts it this way, “Your hands shaped me and made me.”  We’re going to learn more about our SHAPE this week in the Purpose Driven Life book (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences).  God made you unique but your uniqueness is not for your benefit.  1 Peter 4:10 is our memory verse.  Let’s say it together: “Each one should use whatever gift he’s received to serve others.”   Your purpose in life is to be who God made you to be, and to do what He designed you to do because He has shaped you to serve others.

The Bible has a word for serving, it’s called “ministry.”  When I say, “minister” most people think of a pastor who only works one day a week!  But the Bible says every believer is a minister.  1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood…” Now, not every believer is a pastor, but every believer is a minister.  Ministry simply means using my SHAPE to serve somebody else in the name of God.  

In the Bible the words “service” and “ministry” are the same word, and “servant” and “minister” are the same thing.  So all of us are called to ministry.  I want you to turn to the person next to you right now and say, “You’re a minister.”  Now, unfortunately I can’t get us all tax deductions on that!   Any time you use your SHAPE to serve somebody else, you are ministering.  

The good news is that God not only saved us for service, He gave us a ministry model.  Just as Jesus is our example in discipleship so we can choose to obey when tempted, we can trust in the midst of trials, and we can forgive those who trespass against us, so too, if we want to learn how to serve, we must look to Him.  Matthew 20:26-28: “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Brothers and sisters in Christ, significance only comes from service.  We’re to give our lives away in order to find them.  If we want to be great, we must become servants.  If we want to be first, we must be content with serving as a slave.  

There are three ways that we can serve like Jesus.

1. Serving like Jesus means being available.  

Right after Jesus talks about servanthood, He fleshes it out for the disciples in the very next passage.  Look at Matthew 20:30-32.  Jesus was walking down to Jericho and “Two blind men shouted ‘Lord, have mercy on us! Jesus stopped and called them.  ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Notice that Jesus stopped.  While it’s important to follow the steps of Jesus, we can learn a lot by focusing on His “stops.”  If we want to be used by God, we must be willing to be interrupted.  If you look at the life of Jesus, many of his miracles and interactions with people were “interruptions.”   His first miracle took place when He was interrupted at a wedding.  Servant-hearted people don’t procrastinate.  Proverbs 3:28: “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’- when you now have it with you.’” Servants are spontaneous and sensitive, and they say “OK, let’s do it now!”  Here’s an action step: The next time you’re “interrupted,” see it as an “appointment” and ask God to help you stop and listen to what He wants you to do.

John Wesley used to say, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, by all the ways you can, in all the places you can, and at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”  We must be available.  We must be willing to step out and say, “OK, I’m out of my comfort zone.   God now what do you want me to do?”  There are hurting people all around us, and the wounded will not wait.  We’ve got to help them now.  Ability is wonderful, but God is more interested in my availability.  Now what keeps us from being available?  Let me mention three obstacles to overcome.  

  • Self-centeredness.  Philippians 2:4 in the Message reads like this: “Forget yourself long enough to lend a helping hand.”  Whenever you see a need right in front of you, guess what?  God is giving you the opportunity to practice serving.  The number one enemy of servanthood is busyness.  And because I’m so busy, I think I don’t have time to serve.  I’ve got my agenda, my plans, my dreams, my goals, and my ambitions.  Many of us hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of our hearts.  Friends, real servants don’t mind being interrupted because they’ve settled the fact that they belong to the Master and their clocks belong to Christ.  You might want to say something like this in the morning, “God, who do you want to bring into my life today so that I can serve them?”
  • Perfectionism.  Many of us want everything to be perfect before we’ll pursue acts of service: “When it’s all just right, when things settle down, then I’ll serve.”  Ecclesiastes 11:4 in the New Living Translation says this: “If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.”  Real servants do the best they can with what they have for Jesus Christ today.  They don’t wait.  Friends, let’s admit something.  We’ve made an idol out of excellence.  We really have.  We may say something like this: “If I can’t do it first class, then I won’t even try.”  Well, there’s a Greek term for that…hogwash!    I’d like to suggest that instead of pursuing perfectionism we should practice the “give your best principle.”  It doesn’t have to be perfect for God to bless it.  If God only used perfect people, what would get done in this world?  Nothing, zip, zero!  We’re all a bunch of misfits.  We all have weaknesses.  We all have faults.  We all have failures.  God uses normal and natural people to accomplish His supernatural purposes.  
  • Materialism.  The third barrier is stated strongly by Jesus in Luke 16:13: “No servant can serve two masters.  You cannot serve both God and money.”  Notice the word “cannot.”  He didn’t say, “You should not serve both God and money.”  He said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” You’ve got to decide whether you want to be wealthy or you want to be wise.  The most important decision you’re going to have to make in life once you become a believer is, “Am I going to be a kingdom-builder or am I going to be a wealth-builder?”  Now if God wants to give you wealth, that’s great but it’s not the number one goal of your life.  You can’t take cash to heaven but you will take your character.  

I like what Warren writes: “Are you available to God anytime?  Can He mess up your plans without you becoming resentful?  Being a servant means giving up the right to control your schedule and allowing God to interrupt it whenever He needs to” (Purpose Driven Life, Page 259).

2. Serving like Jesus means being grateful.

The Bible tells us a story in John 11 of Jesus serving in an incredible way, but before He did anything He prayed out loud in verses 41-42: “Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You heard me.  I know that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here.’”    Jesus had an attitude of gratefulness in everything that He did.  Ministry and miracles always happened in this attitude of gratitude.  Psalm 100:2: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” 

Many of us bump into a couple barriers that keep us from being grateful.

  • A Critical Spirit.  Romans 14:4: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?  To his own master he stands or falls.  And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  Comparing and criticizing makes no sense because we’re on the same team.  Our goal is to make God look good, not ourselves.  Someone has said that the only time we should look down on our brother is when we are bending over to help him. 
  • Wrong Motivation.   Jesus addressed this barrier in Matthew 6:1: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  Self-promotion and servanthood don’t mix, but it’s easy to get them mixed up.  A lot of our service can be self-serving at times.  Let’s admit it, sometimes servanthood is just our way to try to manipulate God or to impress others.

If we want to learn to serve like Jesus, we have to be available and grateful.  There’s a third element to ministry that matters. 

3. Serving like Jesus means being faithful.  

At the end of His ministry on earth, Jesus prayed in John 17:4: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work that You gave me to do.” Jesus was faithful in fulfilling His service.  He didn’t give up and He didn’t give in.  And if you’re going to be like Jesus it means you’re going to serve as long as you’re alive.  You may retire from your job someday, but you’ll never retire from ministry.  In fact, when you retire, you can be redeployed to even more significant serving.  1 Corinthians 4:2: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”  In explaining the job description of a servant, Jesus got to the heart of the matter when He said in Luke 17:10: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”  Friends, it’s our duty to serve; it’s not an optional exercise.  

A true servant is one who has learned to subdue the defiant autonomy of self by subjecting his will to the wishes of another

One of the strongest biblical images of this single-minded resolve to put others first is found in Psalm 123:2: “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master…so our eyes look to the LORD our God.”  When the master moves his finger to give a command, the servant simply obeys.  A true servant is one who has learned to subdue the defiant autonomy of self by subjecting his will to the wishes of another.  What God says… settles it.  When God tell us to, “Jump,” we should say, “How high?” 

Here’s the principle: If we want to become truly great then we must give up personal rights and serve others.  We need to be repeatedly reminded that our central ambition should be to minister to people, not to be admired by them.  Now let’s be honest, much of what we do in life doesn’t matter.  It isn’t going to count next week much less next year or next decade or in eternity.  But any time you’re serving in Jesus’ name, no matter how small, its significant.  1 Corinthians 15:58: “Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort.”  It all matters, even the little stuff.  Matthew 10:42: “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

We have no idea of the significance of small acts.  Never belittle the little because everything’s important.  Real servants do every task with equal dedication because they know it all matters.  Don’t mistake anonymous with insignificant or unnecessary.  It’s like the widow who gave her all by putting her last coin in the offering plate.  Let me give you a little quiz.  Do you know who is teaching your children right now?  Do you know the names of the musicians who were up here a few minutes ago?  Can you list the names of the brave-hearted Junior High leaders?  Do you know the people who are producing this video image for the website?  Do you know who restocked the restroom before you got here?  You should thank God for him!  Do you know the people who stuffed the bulletin you’re holding?  Do you know who keeps the kitchen clean?  Do you know who designed and copied and stapled the Ministry Directory that you have in your hands right now?

Have you ever wondered why you’re here? I’ll tell you why.  You’re here because God knew you had something to give back.  He did not bring you here just to sit and soak and enjoy.  He brought you here to serve.  

When you boil it all down, you can do two things with your life.  You can waste it, or you can invest it in something that is going to outlast it.  A sociological study interviewed fifty people over the age of 95 by asking them one question: “If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?”  One of the top responses was this: “I would do more things that would live on after I’m gone” (from a sermon by David Holwick).

One day you’re going to stand before God and He’s going to say to you, “What did you do with what I gave you?”  You may think that you don’t have much to give.  “Well, God, I was a little busy with my ambitions and plan.  I never got around to serving you.”  And God’s going to say, “Wrong answer!  Did you think I put you on earth to live for yourself?  I put you there to serve Me by serving others.”  

Now you may be thinking that nobody notices what you do, but God does.  I love Hebrews 6:10-12: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.  We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”  When you help others, the Holy One will never forget.  Don’t give up.  Keep on serving to the very end.  Don’t get lulled into laziness but get fired up for kingdom service, no matter the cost.

The most important thing you’ll ever do with your life is serving God.  It’s far more central than your career, it’s far more significant than your hobbies, it’s more important than anything else you can think of because nothing else is going to last.  But this is.  You were put here on earth to serve the Savior by serving others.  Are you ready to accept your assignment?

Accepting Your Assignment

As we get prepare to end our worship service, we’re actually going to continue our worship through our service as we leave this room.  In fact, we want to encourage everyone to head down to the Family Life Center for our Ministry Fair.  God wants us to be available, grateful, and faithful.  Let me give you four practical ways that you can put this message into practice. 

1. Determine to serve. 

Joshua came to a determination point in his life when he said in Joshua 24:15: “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Are you ready to surrender yourself in selfless service to the Savior?

2. Decide where to serve. 

There are opportunities all around you.  Read through the Ministry Directory and visit the different ministry booths in order to gather information.  And then, have the courage to commit to a specific ministry area.  Would you take the time right now to fill out the “SHAPED FOR SERVING GOD” insert?

3. Dive in. 

The best way to serve is to experiment with different areas of service.  Don’t wait for the “perfect” ministry.  When God reveals a need, and you sense the Spirit’s tug at your heart, jump in and say, “I’m ready to serve.  What can I do to help?”

4. Discover your SHAPE. 

I used to emphasize the importance of figuring out your spiritual gifts and abilities before diving in to ministry.  I think I had it backwards.  It’s in the context of serving that we will discover our gift mix.  Each of us has a bunch of hidden abilities and gifts that are never used because we’ve never tried them out.

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I’m reminded that following Christ is not meant to be easy and selfless serving almost always involves a sacrifice.  Listen to this testimony from a Chinese believer: 

“My name is Guizhen Zhang.  I am a 43-year old woman.  In the evening … my family was sleeping, and I was awakened by a loud noise in the yard.  A group of people suddenly broke in and started ransacking the house.  One of them yelled at me, ‘Get up now, and come with us.’  I asked him, ‘What crime did I commit?’  ‘You’ll know when the time comes.’  

The next day I was taken to the detention house to be interrogated by four people.  ‘Do you know why you were arrested?’   ‘No, I don’t,’ I replied.  One of them yelled back fiercely, ‘It is because of you believing in God.  (He cursed at me.)  You’re so stubborn, you deserve a good beating.’  With this, he slapped me hard several times.   I was so dizzy that I was seeing stars, and my ears were ringing.   He shouted at me while he was slapping me, ‘Kneel down!’  He kicked me and knocked me down to the floor.  ‘Are you going to tell us why you believe in God?  Shameless woman, you’re worthless running around here to there.’  

They forced me to raise my cuffed hands up for more than an hour.  Whenever I couldn’t hold up my arms any longer and they fell, the police would kick at my waist, hit my head hard, twist my ears, and pull my hair.  My hair was pulled out and my ears hurt so bad as if they were cut by a knife.  I began to scream…my cell is closed all day with a disgusting smell, because the inmates were not allowed to leave and use the toilet.  It is not a place for human beings.  I am starved every day.   Three days later I was sentenced to two years and I am currently serving out my term.  I was accused of ‘Believing in God.’  

I remain guilty.”  (Guizhen Zhang, Voice of the Martyrs, Special Issue 2002).

Friend, if you were accused of believing in God, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  If you were sentenced for being a servant of the Savior, would you be guilty as charged?   I wonder if some of you are ready for the first time to surrender yourself to Jesus so that you can be saved from your sins, so that you can have the assurance of eternity with Him when you die, and find your purpose in serving today?  In the biblical sense, we’re all guilty before God.  It’s only as we admit that we are selfishly in bondage to sin and that we want to be released, will we be free to become who God has made us to be… servants of His who minister out of love for the Master.

Let’s pray: “Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  I admit that I am a sinner and I cannot save myself.  I now know there is more to this life than the way I’ve been living.  I repent of my sins and by faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth.  With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day.  Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life.  I accept you into my heart.   I believe and now I receive you as my Savior and Lord.  Make me into the selfless servant you want me to be.  I now realize that I was shaped to serve you by serving others.  Help me to see interruptions as opportunities to serve.  Help me to make time for what matters most.  You’ve been so good to me and I want to give back to you.  I am available and I want to be more grateful and I will serve you faithfully to the end, so one day I can hear you say ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’  Lord, I give you my heart.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?