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EBS81: The Gift Of Service

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living 81

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on September 18, 1975

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Jesus gave a simple recipe for success based on the nature of His life and work. The disciples James and John, who did not yet really comprehend what His mission was all about, came to the Master to inquire just what sort of position was being planned for them when they all entered the Kingdom of Heaven. These two, the most energetic of all the twelve, were called “sons of thunder” by the others, and their looking after their own futures seemed-perfectly natural to them as it does to some of us who feel that if you want to get ahead you will have to look after it yourself—nobody else is going to do it for you. Jesus’ reply was, “Whosoever shall be great among you shall be your minister, and whosoever among you will be the chiefest shall be the servant of all.”

For many years this statement seemed a paradox, even absurd—then, business made a great discovery, that the key to success is service. What advertising messages are all saying is that more service will be given a consumer from that particular repair company or appliance manufacturer or funeral parlor than from their competitors. I have a businessman-friend who runs a large electric company. He insists that his goal is not to make money and that service and not profits is the legitimate goal of all industry. The motto of his organization proclaims the giving of more and more of a better and better product for a lower and lower price to a larger and larger group of consumers. They do, of course, make a great deal of money, but this is incidental to their service.

Look around you, examine successful enterprises, and you will find they are in the main not those who are interested in quick profits but rather those who are ever striving to give greater value, more work, more genuinely helpful assistance. I can recall talking with a very successful man of the world, whose business was doing well, but who complained regularly of not feeling well. Urged by his wife he had a checkup by the doctor, who was also a social friend of his. It was found that there was absolutely nothing amiss with his body—it was in perfect physical condition. The doctor thereupon informed him: “You are not going to like my diagnosis and my advice; however, based on my long association with you and your family, I know exactly what is the matter with you—your trouble comes from self-centeredness, from your lack of interest in anything or anybody not directly connected in benefiting you.” He went on to cite example after example of actions the man had taken, every one of them for his own advantage or for the increased material good of his family.

The doctor went on to observe that in all his years of practice he had found that those who are the healthiest and happiest are people who were habitually aware of the needs of others and tried to aid and support and give to them in every way that came to their mind. Always, when service to others was substituted for self-service, the result was peace of mind and a corresponding harmony of the body. Self-examination is not easy, but the man engaged in it and discovered that among other things he had never really considered his employees as people but rather as mechanical puppets who moved and performed tasks when he pulled strings. With his family he found that his children’s thoughts, needs, and emotions were strange to him because he had left their rearing largely to their mother on the grounds that he was too busy during the day and too tired in the evening to take any interest or any responsibility for them. Thus, perceiving selfishness all through his life, he began to change his ways, and because of the profound alterations in his manner of life he no longer complains of ill health—he is too busy being a real human being.

The schooling of children should include the idea of service to others. Like animals and birds, most children are concerned mainly with their physical well-being, but wise and responsible parents and teachers try to develop unselfishness and a spirit of service to others in them, which is the key to lasting happiness and success in this basically cooperative world. Unfortunately, the gods of money and prestige and power are held upj before impressionable youngsters by adults and by inference in the entertainment and reading matter to which they are exposed. It is true that any child in America has the opportunity to grow up to be rich and powerful, even to be President, but it is also true, as Albert Schweitzer once said, that the person who would be really happy would be the one who has sought and discovered a way to serve. Their early years are the time to instill in young folks the desire to “be about their Father’s business,” to make a positive contribution to the world and to the betterment of their fellows.

A life is useless unless it becomes an instrument through which some good flows; it may not be the kind of service which is noticed and acclaimed, but it must be done in a spirit of dedication. This is what we need to do—to think of ourselves as a link in the connection through which benefit and service may come to the world. No matter what our work may be, we can think of it from an attitude of service. As St. Francis said, “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace, of Thy creativity, of Thy work.”

If you happen to feel inadequate and to question how you could ever be about the Father’s business in your own life, remember that it is not entirely what you do, but how you do it. Too often we think that the only gifts are materials ones, whereas they are but the evidence of a giving thought that came first. In your work, in your relationships with your loved ones and with the rest of the world, think “give” instead of “get.” Jesus said, “Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” This was in reference to the custom of the occupying Roman soldiers who were permitted to command people to carry their war equipment for one mile. People knew they were obliged to go the first mile, but on willingly and freely doing it for the second mile they became free—there was no longer any obligation in it. Put a little extra into your work, find a better way of performing your tasks; it will take ycu out of the labor class as it were.

Nothing can hold back the individual who thinks “give” instead of “get.” If you happen to need employment, remember that the principle is the same; it is not the need for someone to give you a job, but rather a need for ycu to give someone service. Nobody really wants another name on his payroll, but there are at all times employers that need those who will really help them do their work. You will find work if you sincerely believe that you can be of service and if you convey that belief. It is service that renders our lives vital, that keeps us going.

In what is now Spain, back in 109 A.D., Roman occupiers built an aqueduct into Segovia, and for eighteen-hundred years, serving sixty generations, it carried clear needed water to a hot and dusty area. Came the turn of the twentieth century, and thoughtful Spaniards, wishing to preserve the aqueduct for posterity, relieved it of its usage by laying modern pipelines and stopping the flow of water that had for so long gushed unceasingly through the aqueduct. Thereupon, the blazing sun dried the mortar between the stones causing them to fall one after the other, and the ancient structure lay crumbled in ruin. What ages of service could not destroy, idleness rapidly disintegrated. Meditate on this lesson!

A lifetime of service is the key. Take stock of yourself and determine what you can give to the world. A young man who was to become a professor at Harvard University once sought an interview with Phillips Brooks to find a solution to a problem that had long perplexed him. From the radiant hcur he spent with the great man he came away transfigured, his life was wonderful again, but his question had not even been asked. He had found out, however, that what was needed was not a specific solution but what he received, the contagion of a triumphant spirit. Sometimes the greatest gift one can render or the greatest way one can serve is to go through life doing menial and thankless tasks in a willing and ungrudging spirit, which spirit will be a blessing to and an influence on all around you. Even though you have earned your pay, you have not lived a perfect day unless you have done something for someone who will never be able to repay you, unless you have been somewhat more loving and friendly to others than they deserved, unless you allow the radiant spirit to flow forth from you as a source of joy and comfort and support to all who pass your way.

© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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