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Helping Children Serve Others

soupWhat does the Bible say about serving others, and how can we encourage our children to devote some of their time to service? I decided to spend some time researching ministry this week, and here are some things I learned:

1. Real religion is characterized by service to others.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 58:6-14, NIV)

This passage lists several important kinds of service to others:

  • Loose chains of injustice
  • Share food with the hungry
  • Provide the poor wanderer with shelter
  • Clothe the naked
  • Not turn away from your own flesh and blood

2. Service to others is more important than merely doing religious-sounding activities (such as fasting) so that we look “good” to God.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke? (Isaiah 58:5-6, NIV)

3. Service to others is a wonderful way to spend our Saturdays.

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the LORD…. (Isaiah 58:13-14, NIV)

Isaiah 58 has really impressed on me that true religion is evidenced, not by good words but by good deeds. James echoed this when he wrote,

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

4. True service goes beyond mere physical needs and also cares for the person’s eternal soul.

This is a very important point. One day when Peter and John were going to the temple for their habitual afternoon prayer time, they met a man who had been crippled from birth. He had loving friends who carried him to the temple courts so that he could beg for money. God-fearing Jews would have happily helped this man financially, since God’s law taught that they should care for the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-11).

However, on this day, neither Peter nor John had any money to help this poor man. Did they just sigh and keep walking? No, they stopped and healed him, in the name of Jesus. They then used this opportunity to share their Messiah with all who would listen.

James tells us,

“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17, NIV).

If we merely share the gospel with people, never taking time to help them with their physical needs, we are wrong. If we merely help them with their physical needs, however, never taking time to help them with their eternal sin condition, we are also wrong. I think this principle will help us as we choose to partner with various relief organizations. We need to ask, “Will I be helping both this person’s physical and spiritual needs?”

5. God’s Word tells us who to help first.

Our passage from Isaiah 58 mentioned that we need to always start by helping those of our own “flesh and blood” (verse 7). It is not the church’s responsibility to help our own family members. It is certainly not the government’s responsibility to help our own family members. It is first and foremost our responsibility.

Therefore, as a mother, I need to remember not to neglect those of my own home so that I can do ministry and service for others. A verse that helps me keep a balance is Exodus 20:9, which says,”Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” I need to be working hard to care for my own dear husband, children, parents, and other relatives for six days of each week. As I am careful with my time and energy, being a wise steward of the abilities and resources God has given me, I can trust Him to provide for my own family.

“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God… Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever… If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need” (1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16, NIV).

However, as Isaiah 58:13-14 said, the seventh day is an excellent time for both me and my family members to turn our eyes from our own pursuits to care for those who have no family.

We should start by helping those within our own local assembly of believers:

“Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need… The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help” (1 Timothy 5:3, 5, NIV).

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10, NIV).

God’s law then shows how our neighbors should be helped next. Finally, we should care for the oppressed wherever we find them. The Israelites were even instructed that they should set aside a special tithe just to help the poor, and we see that the believers in the first century were instructed to continue to be obedient to God’s command by setting aside a portion of their money for the poor, each time they were paid.

“Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, NIV).

6. Even at our poorest moments, we can still show hospitality.

Even when we’re low on cash, low on time, or low on energy, we can still “provide the poor wanderer with shelter” (Isaiah 58:7). As the widow in Zarephath gave her last meal to Elijah (1 Kings 17:7-16) and as the wealthy woman prepared a special guest room for Elisha (2 Kings 4:8-10), we all have some way in which we can open our homes to others.

Hospitality involves two things:

  • A vertical trust in a God who always supplies our needs (Philippians 4:14-19).
  • A horizontal love for others and a willingness to share whatever God has given us (Luke 11:11-13).

The Bible is good to give us many examples of how to serve others, such as these:

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”  Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them” (Acts 9:36-39, NIV).

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds (1 Timothy 5:9-10).

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering (Hebrews 13:1-3).

I would love to hear of ways that your family has been involved in ministry and service to others. In our home, my husband and I try to pencil in our plans for the next month or two, because we’ve found that if we don’t schedule service, we’ll never get around to it. We also set aside about 3% of each paycheck for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Some of this money goes oversees to children in the Bridge of Hope program or for other needs we hear of, but most of it stays local, to be used in our own church and neighborhood. We keep a special guest room that we try to keep ready for any unexpected guests. I keep some meals in the freezer in case someone needy pops in at mealtime. I have ingredients on hand so that I can quickly bake a loaf of bread and take soup to someone who is sick. We read biographies of God’s servants, to inspire us and increase our love for others. Finally, we pray for the needy in our town each morning during our family devotions. (It’s amazing how God gives us opportunities to serve if we’ll just ask Him.)

Let’s offer “true religion” to our Father by showing real love to His creatures.

~Anne

P.S. Here are two personal friends of mine who are working with their children to serve others. I encourage you to visit their websites and help them out or use their examples to come up with your own ideas.

  • My friend Jo is a midwife who is working to provide sleeping mats for poor women in Uganda. She and her children collect plastic shopping bags, cut them into strips and wind them up into balls of plastic yarn (“plarn”), then crochet them into rugs that can be washed and kept clean. They can be cheaply mailed to Africa, but her family is sending them with a missionary family they know. (Read more about it here.)
  • My friend Melanie sponsors children around the world, and her children raise money for the monthly sponsorship in many creative ways. They have baked and sold cookies, packed AIDS caregiver kits, and helped packed food at distribution sites. Her oldest daughter is crocheting scarves and selling them to raise money. (Read more about it here.)

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