“Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Romans 12:9
My college roommate’s parents had the wrong idea about me.
During our freshmen year they came to visit their son for a few days. On their first day at campus they wanted to eat in the cafeteria with their son and myself. Near the end of our lunch, the conversation about school began to wane and their questions turned to me. While their questions were innocent and good natured, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable. I was unsure of myself and a bit nervous.
At the first pause in conversation I quickly shot up and began collecting everyone’s used plates and trays. I cleared our table and headed to the bussing station where I lingered as I sorted the used dishes.
Later that night my roommate told me how impressed his parents were that I served them by cleaning the table. He said that moment put his mom’s heart at ease; to know that her son had a decent roommate. But I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I wasn’t motivated by a sense of Christian duty. I simply felt a bit awkward and doing something was a way to escape the anxiety.
Over the years I have noticed that I have done this several times. Washing the dishes, picking up rubbish, serving in some way that enables me to escape anxiety. At times, I have used service to avoid being still and fully present in a moment. In other words, sometimes it is much easier for me to be a human doing, rather than it is for me to be a human being.
It is easy to associate a call to serve as a call to action. The admonishment in Romans 12:9 to “not lag in zeal” and to “be ardent in spirit” seem to speak of a continual, if not frenetic, movement. Yet I suspect, that sometimes the best way to “serve the Lord” involves just remaining present and letting the Holy Spirit work. God does not need us to be constantly buzzing about, attending to tasks as though it all depends upon us. In the verses following Romans 12:9, the Apostle Paul’s exhortations have more to do with character than with action. We’re told to be joyful, patient, and faithful. We are encouraged to remain in relationship. Paul speaks of staying with those who mourn, being fully present with those who rejoice, associating with people of every class, resisting the temptation to let evil separate us, and ultimately to be at peace with everyone.
I am convinced that, “living at peace with everyone” is less about appeasing those around us through our service and more about being at peace within ourselves because of the conviction that the creative, redeeming, and sustaining love of God holds us all.
“Abiding God, wherever we live, move, or have our being, may we serve your gospel through the ways we act and through the ways we are. Amen.”