Service: The Ministry of the Towel

This chapter of Celebration of Discipline almost leaves me with a sick feeling, so convincing and convicting is Foster’s argument. My husband works a lot, he is in the midst of earning an MBA, and we have three children–the youngest of whom is home every day. These were my feeble rationalizations for why I could not, presently, lead a life of service. But Foster really puts to shame my wrongheaded thinking.

The “ministry of the towel” demonstrated by Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet is a high standard. He sacrificed the honor due him to engage in the humble task of washing feet. Isn’t it interesting that right then the disciples were bickering about who was greatest among them? It’s clearly not that they earned a good foot-bath for their loving and selfless support. Yet we often want to serve the deserving and we want credit for our efforts. Contrast that with Jesus: He served his undeserving disciples and then instead of being grateful they fell asleep when they were supposed to be praying and then denied even knowing Him. Even so, we are somewhat comfortable with the idea that God’s system is not merit-based. The real struggle is applying this economy in our own lives. If we deign to serve someone, we don’t want to be slapped in the face in return. But Jesus example illustrates that we should be okay with that. As Foster says, “If we voluntarily choose to be taken advantage of, then we cannot be manipulated.” Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) p.132. Incredibly countercultural, and I must admit that the very idea of being taken advantage of stirs a proud defiance in a dark corner of my heart.

So I need to start by being much more available and vulnerable. And I need to bear in mind that my stage of life is not an exemption, especially since “Service is not a list of things we do…but a way of living.” Celebration, p.134.

I also really liked how Foster broke up service into different components. We can all minister to others by listening. I’ve been learning the importance of “listen, love, pray.” Sometimes we are so quick to give advice, when what the person really needs is a listening ear, a loving heart, and a thoughtful, believing prayer.

May we daily pray, as Foster suggests, for someone to serve in some way. At the very least we can listen, love and pray.

2 thoughts on “Service: The Ministry of the Towel

  1. Kristie, I just love the heart in you that's showing here! The wake-up call for me was when I had my second child and felt so overwhelmed. I backed out of ministry thinking I had my plate full. Then a friend with two little ones brought me a meal.

    Since then it's occurred to me that even when the day comes that I'm too old and weak to get out of my wheel chair, I can still be praying. Thank you for pointing out that a listening ear and loving heart are also needed–not just when we can do nothing else, but now!

    “Where the heart is willing, it will find a thousand ways. Where it is unwilling it will find a thousand excuses.” ~ Dayak Proverb

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I'd also add that you have 3 little Jacksons who require lots of serving every day, and God sees every homework you help with and every diaper you change as a holy object of service—whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for Jesus, so you are in fact serving the God of the universe with your every action.

    And I'll bet those 3 little Jacksons don't deserve it all the time, and they don't always say thank you either…you are becoming more like Jesus than you can ever know…

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