Thursday, August 27, 2009

I serve at the pleasure of ….. me!

I am an avid fan of The West Wing and own the series on DVD. I’m up to Season 2 (of 7) for about the fourth or fifth time. Among the things I love about the series is how it shows the development and value of relationships, and how personalities bump against each other within the context of doing the business of the nation. It’s a high pressure, fast moving environment packed with brilliant, driven A-type extraverts. Conflict and disagreements are givens.

Who do you serve?

A phrase that crops up regularly is, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.” What does this mean? It does not mean that these are “yes” people who merely execute like automatons whatever they are told to do without question. Not on your life! They have strong opinions, varying viewpoints, and hold nothing back. The President (played by Martin Sheen) encourages and invites his staff to share honestly and openly as he weighs decisions. He wants to hear all sides and he is open to criticism (respectfully given, of course). He weighs, values, and considers all opinions.

Then, he, the President, decides. The decisions are hard and the way to go not always clear or easy. But, he is the leader of the nation and knows there comes a time when he must do the hard stuff of taking action. This means he occasionally does things others aren’t happy with.

It’s at these times that you’ll hear the phrase, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.” Even those who strongly disagree with the President’s final choice now set aside differences and turn toward doing their jobs faithfully and with excellence. They respect and trust their leader and each other, and work together to achieve a positive result in line with the President’s direction.

It's a pleasure to serve

Within the context of the Christian walk, in those battles between the spirit and the flesh, conflict and disagreement are givens. And, of course, this flows over into life as expressed through our various personalities.

According to a personality assessment that classifies people as animals, I’m a beaver (2nd highest was golden retriever). One of the weaknesses of the beaver type is “critical of self and others.”

Yes, I am! That’s me to a T. The two inner voices I have to constantly tamp down are criticism and cynicism. To paraphrase Paul, I am chief among critics and cynics. I am truly and naturally gifted in these areas! Sadly, they don’t produce much fruit.

When these two get loud inside me, I try to counter them by thinking about who I am supposed to be serving in that moment. Of course, I’m always supposed to be “serving at the pleasure of Christ.” But what pleases Him in various contexts?

At work, it might be expressed as, “I serve at the pleasure of my employer (or manager, or co-workers).” In relationships as, “I serve at the pleasure of my friend (or spouse, or relatives).” In home groups as, “I serve at the pleasure of others in the group.” And in church, in any leadership or ministry role, “I serve at the pleasure of the head of this expression of the Body of Christ, the Pastor.”

Dying to self to serve Him and others

I am independent and headstrong. But I am trying to always be aware that there is a time for respectfully sharing differing viewpoints, and then there is a time to shut up and do what needs to be done and support those who I am serving, as well as those I’m working alongside of.

Alas, too often, when these two voices get loud inside me, they spill out through my words and actions. What’s left behind in their wake is scorched earth and ashes, metaphorically speaking. I think you know what I mean. When this happens, I am serving at the pleasure of myself to the joy of Satan.

Paul wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and [voice] you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

If you hear me being critical and cynical, you have my permission to call me on it and get in my face a little bit (lovingly, of course). Criticism and cynicism are two voices that defeat unity. I don’t want to be guilty of that. Especially not within the Kingdom.

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At whose pleasure do you serve? Are their inner voices you need to tamp down that are interfering with your having a servant’s heart? You pray for me, and I’ll pray for you. Then, let’s stand and work together.

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