There are some books that I wish I had come across sooner in my life. A friend recommended the book “Serving without Sinking” by John Hindley. I had not heard of this book, which was written in 2013, but the subtitle captured my attention, “How to Serve Christ and Keep Your Joy.” I immediately connected with the author. He admitted that, at times, he had lost his joy. Serving Jesus was now something he resented and a duty to fulfill. The busyness of life had sucked out the joy. The current season of life has challenged my joy, so this book came at the right time.
The central theme of Hindley’s book is that Jesus did not come to be served by us but came to serve us. We read in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He said, “The counter-intuitive truth I’ve come to realise—the truth that prompted me to write this book—is that the only way to get our service of Jesus right is to realise that supremely, we don’t serve Him. He serves us. The way to serve without sinking is to get to grips with the strange reality that Christians are not servants; they are served.” The short book is composed of 13 chapters in 128 pages.
He begins the book by looking at the different motivations for serving Jesus. He talks about how we can have a wrong view of God and people, which distorts our motivations. Motivations include serving out of duty, desiring acceptance by God, to impress others, and receiving God’s blessing. He says, “We can so easily fall into thinking Jesus will love and bless us if we do the right things. Then it is a short step to feeling He owes us. And then it’s not long before we decide He’s let us down.” We naturally feel that God will bless us if we obey and serve him because we forget that God’s favor comes through Christ, not our obedience.
He talks about the positive motive for serving, which is gratitude. He expressed this thought on gratitude, “Gratitude is never a stand-alone motivation for serving either a forgiving spouse or a forgiving God. Gratitude is simply a response to forgiveness. And it provokes two very different motivations for service—one of which is great, the other flawed. Gratitude can create love, which leads to rightly-motivated service because it creates love. Or it can create a feeling of indebtedness, which leads to wrongly-motivated service.” I found his comment on gratitude thought-provoking as I had not considered how it could lead to indebtedness. The point about gratitude leading to love is one of the significant themes Hindley connects to serving Jesus.
There was a warning, especially to those seen for their service. He warned, “What is sad is how quickly “being noticed” can become something we need, and so something we seek. Without consciously realising, we become people who need to be noticed. We want other people to think well of us. We “serve Jesus” in order, in truth, to serve our own reputation.” He says, “When we serve to be noticed by others, we are making them our god.” This is a very convicting comment and easy to fall into. There is a temptation for pastors and other ministry leaders to forget that Jesus is the Savior and that people need Jesus, but we are replaceable. Ministry leaders are not to point to themselves but to point to Jesus.
One may object (as I did in my mind) that Hindley emphasizes Jesus’ service to us but neglects the Scripture that talks about believers as servants and slaves of Christ. He addresses this in one chapter by explaining the many passages about our identity as servants and even slaves. He explains that we are not slaves to a hard taskmaster but one who is a friend, husband, and brother. The reality is that we are all servants, either to Christ or to something else. He said, “We were made to serve. If you are not a slave of Christ, then you will be a slave to an idol—to fashion, career, family, beauty, money, status or a thousand other little gods. We look to these gods to tell us we matter, that we are loved. In return, we sacrifice for them—our time, resources and relationships are laid on their altars.” The choice is not will we serve, but who do we serve? I appreciate that he began by talking about Jesus’ service to us first since that put us in the right mindset for serving Jesus.
There is one last topic in the book that I want to address: the solution to the problem. So what do you do if you feel like you are serving but sinking? What do you do if you are working hard but joylessly? I thought a lot about those questions in my own life. He gave two suggestions. The first was there may be areas where you need to stop serving, realizing that God does not need us. Secondly, he prompted readers to go to Jesus for love. He made this connection, “Spirit-given love is what drives real service of the Son. If our service isn’t an overflow of this love, it will always tend to fit into one of the categories we explored in chapters three and four. It will always produce emotions of bitterness towards God, or pride in ourselves, or annoyance with others. It will weary and burden us.” We cannot create love in our hearts; it comes from a new heart that God creates and sustains. He said, “But remember, love does not come from serving; serving flows out of love. And love is God-given; so if we would have sat in a Macedonian pew trying to avoid Paul’s eye, giving little or giving grudgingly, the answer is: ask God for a heart of love.” He ended the book with a great prayer for this heart of love.
This book would be helpful to anyone who is serving Jesus. There is conviction and encouragement, all while focusing on Jesus, who came to serve us.