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"Serving the Lord with Gladness"
What a great privilege it is to serve the Lord! Great joy belongs to those who serve Him with gladness. Indeed, may all nations know the joy and peace that comes from serving the Lord! Here, in the opening words of Psalm 100, we read an exclamation of joy on the part of the psalmist in his own service of God. It is exhibited in his desire that 'all lands', that is Gentiles as well as Jews, would come to know the joy of serving the Lord in gladness. What the psalmist desired has been realized in this gospel age. People from all over the world are now, through the gospel of grace, serving the Lord with gladness. Believer, as a person in covenant relation with the Father through faith in His Son, you are greatly privileged and blessed to be numbered among those that may serve the Lord in gladness.
Let us consider together the nature of our glad service by answering several questions. First, what does serving the Lord with gladness mean? How might we serve the Lord in gladness? What happens when we cease to serve the Lord with gladness? And finally, how may we restore gladness to our service to the Lord?
I. What is it to serve the Lord with gladness?
Serving the Lord with gladness describes the manner in which the people of God enjoy themselves as they live out their lives for God's glory in God's presence. God's people experience gladness when they are confident that God has good designs on them and that their work rendered to His cause is approved and appreciated by Him. This is the privilege of the people of God. 'And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart' (Acts 2:46). Gladness of heart is the normal and fitting manner in which the people of Jesus Christ live out their daily lives.
Although we ought always serve the Lord in gladness, there are times when the people of God experience special times of gladness. After the Lord has wrought some answer to prayer or has brought some special deliverance, God's people are filled with gladness. For example, after the Lord brought an end to a great plague in Israel, the people rejoiced greatly.
Similar occasions in Israel brought similar responses from the people. In the days of Esther, after God had wonderfully saved the Jewish people from annihilation by their enemies, the Jews rejoiced with great gladness.
The people of God also experience great gladness when their future appears bright before them. They sense that God has visited them with His grace and they anticipate their future as a secure and blessed one. This was the experience of Israel when Solomon was made king over Israel. God had given His people rest from their enemies; the kingdom was established. With Solomon installed as king, it was apparent that God's favor was upon them for their good.
There are also times of gladness when some great work for God and His people has been accomplished. The rebuilding of the ruined walls of Jerusalem was such an occasion. "At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps" (Neh. 12:27).
Gladness of heart is something that God grants His people. He desires that they who live in faith and obedience before Him may experience blessing of heart before Him. The psalmist celebrated God as the Giver of gladness when he sang to God, "Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased", and, "Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness" (Psa. 30:11).
II. How might we serve the Lord in gladness?
We might begin by asking, what does it mean to "serving the Lord?" Some view serving the Lord in a restricted manner; to serve the Lord is to do church-related work. They wrongly divide life into two categories, the sacred and the secular. However, it is error to departmentalize life. The Christian should view all of life as spiritual. All work, whether in the church or in the 'secular' workplace, is spiritual in nature. One may serve the Lord as a butcher, another as a pastor, but both do serve the Lord and both may do so in gladness. Some Christians despise their work because they long to be in a 'Christian' workplace. Although a workplace that is characterized by ungodliness and unrighteousness will certainly be distressing and unpleasant for the Christian, nevertheless, he may serve the Lord with gladness even in that place as he believes and rejoices in the fact that he is serving the Lord there. Paul stated that even slaves might take heart and serve God in gladness before their unbelieving masters:
Gladness should be the normal way the Christian, who is in fellowship with His Lord, approaches and lives out every day of his life.
I have a friend, Jaraslov, who was raised in the former communist country of Czechoslovakia. His father became a Christian while living under that oppressive system. While unsaved and drinking in a bar, he agreed for a fee to translate the sermon of a Hungarian preacher who came into the bar to preach the gospel. Through his own translation of that and other sermons, Jaraslov's father was wonderfully converted to Christ. He sought to work and live before the Lord with gladness of heart, raising his four sons under communist rule. When he was a young boy in the 1950's, my friend Jaraslov remembers the morning that 500,000 Soviet troops poured over the Ukrainian border and imposed rigid communist control upon his country. His father lost ownership of the family farm to the communists; all private property ownership was outlawed. All of his property, including his farm animals and equipment, became state property. He no longer owned anything except his clothing and some personal possessions. But the new government did not want to remove Jaraslov's father from the farm. Instead, they commanded him to remain there and work as before, only his harvest would belong to the state. Essentially, He had become a slave to masters on what was formerly his own property. Jaraslov told me how his dad refused to commit 'sabotage' like the others of his farming community did. Others in his community put forth little effort and energy in the work that was imposed upon them, dragging their feet rather than serving their taskmasters. Jaraslov's dad saw that whether he owned the farm in his name or the communists, he was serving the Lord Jesus Christ. He purposed to serve with all his strength and might as he had done before, for he knew that in so doing he was serving his Lord. He could have become bitter and complaining, but instead he became a stellar witness to the gospel in that place. The father refused to become a member of the communist party. His friends and neighbors told him that to refuse to do so would permanently impose poverty and obscurity on his four sons. They would not be permitted to obtain a higher education if their father did not join the party. Jaraslov's dad took this as a challenge to his Lord. He prayed for years for his sons that they would receive an education. God showed Himself powerful on behalf of this family. All four sons graduated from college. All four received master's degrees. Three of the four obtained PhD degrees from Soviet institutions. My friend Jaraslov is a nuclear physicist specializing in molecular colliders and accelerators. He has been a visiting lecturer at Columbia University in Manhattan for the past two years. Of his three brothers, one is a research physician in Vienna working in cancer research, the other brother has his PhD in mathematics. The fourth brother with 'only' his master's degree is an economist working for OPEC. The point of the matter is this, Jaraslov's dad saw his calling to serve the Lord with gladness in a very oppressive 'secular' occupation. The Lord not only reward his glad service but he left a great testimony and legacy for his children and his children's children.
The sum of the matter is this: you may serve the Lord with gladness where you are presently serving Him now. Do you see that He has called to the place you now find yourself? Do you see that you may joyfully serve Him and be blessed of Him even if your conditions appear bleak by human standards? As Paul and Silas could sing praises to God while in shackles in a dark prison cell, so we may serve the Lord with gladness wherever God's providence has wisely placed us.
III. What happens when we cease to serve the Lord with gladness?
When we fail or refuse to serve the Lord with gladness, not only do we experience sadness and disappointment, but we also tend to alienate ourselves from others who are also serving the Lord. Serving the Lord without gladness leads to weariness, bitterness, and failure to serve the Lord properly and effectively. When we serve the Lord without gladness, we ourselves become discouraged in the work. We become disappointed with others and their service to the Lord. We become self-centered and characterized by self-pity. 'I, only I, am serving You as I should' is the thought of that one.
What are the major causes for deterioration in the quality of our spiritual service? First, serving the Lord out of wrong motivations will not bring gladness. Some 'serve' Christ because they are looking for some means to 'atone' for their sins. They wrongly think that their giving of themselves and their service commends them favorably to God. This will not engender gladness, but smugness. Second, some serve the Lord out of a servile fear toward God rather than gratefulness to Him. These are like the first example, that their motivation is unsound. Some religions obtain most of their laborers through instilling this mindset in their people. People are told that by rendering service to the church or to the poor that they may be relieved of their fear of God's judgment. Third, some serve the Lord for the praise of men rather than love for the Lord. When they do not receive the appreciation they believe they deserve, they become bitter and discouraged. Lastly, some serve the Lord because they see that much needs to be done and there is simply nobody willing to step forward and fill the gap. They are quick to step forward, but they do so grudgingly and certainly not with gladness.
Ultimately, and I want to emphasize this, the major reason that some do not enjoy gladness in Christian service is that they have failed to maintain their ongoing fellowship with their Lord. Perhaps they have been busy doing things, but they have neglected the daily and necessary discipline of being with their Savior in quiet prayer and Bible reading. As previously mentioned, gladness in service occurs when a believer views his service conducted in the presence of the Lord and when it is rendered unto the Lord. But this understanding and awareness only comes when one is closely walking and talking with Jesus. Christians enjoy their Christian service most when they sense the presence of Christ with them while they are laboring. If we lose sight of Him, of His presence with us, the gladness of heart that the Lord gives is not present. We soon become weary and discouraged. Disappointment and disagreement with others follow shortly.
The story of Mary and Martha entertaining the Lord Jesus in their home illustrates quite clearly what we are saying. It reads as follows:
Our Lord was near Jerusalem, in the little town of Bethany. He stayed at His friend's house, the house belonging to Martha. Her sister Mary and their brother Lazarus also lived there. In this account, however, only Martha and Mary are mentioned. We read that Martha was serving Jesus and her other guests. She was doing a good work by preparing a meal for them. She was serving the Lord. Mary was not serving with Martha; rather, she was sitting at Jesus' feet, learning from Him and communing with Him. Jesus commended Mary for what she was doing, saying, 'But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part.' Serving is important, but sitting at Jesus' feet is the one thing needful. Mary was right in sitting before serving, and Martha should have been doing so. Here was Martha, serving faithfully and energetically. But look how distressed she became! She was not serving the Lord with gladness, but instead she was discouraged and became a complaining woman in her own household before her family and friends. She should have been alongside Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. So it is, that when Christians attempt to serve the Lord without first sitting before the Lord, their service becomes burdensome to them, and sadly, it may become troublesome to others. Martha made an unpleasant scene, embarrassing herself, shaming her sister, and probably disappointing her Lord. Jesus , gently rebuked Martha and said, 'But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.'
What occurs when we attempt to serve Jesus before sitting at His feet? What happens if we try to do Christian service without taking time for Christian devotion? Jesus said to Martha, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.' Consider some of the problems that Martha brought upon herself because she failed to sit at Jesus' feet before she began to serve Him. First, Martha was distracted from her Lord by all her serving. Now, we do not see Martha doing a bad work. She was attempting a good work, but no good work will be accomplished in a good manner unless communion with Christ is sought first. Her neglect of communion with Jesus was not due to sinful pursuits, it was because she was focused on service to Christ as a priority over communion with Him. She was distracted from fellowship with Jesus by her service. Second, Martha was discouraged because she had failed to sit at Jesus' feet. She eventually did come to Jesus (v. 40a,b), but it was not to commune with Him, but to complain to Him. She wanted Jesus to do something for her when she thought that she was doing something for Him by her meal preparation. She was in no frame of mind for communion, for she was discouraged. There would be no relief for her until the Lord gently rebuked her and set her straight. Consider the trivial matter that brought her such discouragement! Fixing a dinner for her guests! If our hearts are not right with the Lord, little things become big problems. Third, we also see that Martha was distant from her Lord because she failed to commune with the Savior. She asked Him, ' Lord, do you not care?' When you neglect fellowship with the Savior, you, too, will soon doubt His love and concern for you. Had you been in God's Word, assured of the promises of God in Christ toward you, you would not doubt His love and concern for your well-being. But if you fail to walk in fellowship with Him, even the disagreement with a sister will bring doubts to you about the Savior's care. Fourth, Martha was also distant from others because of her failure to commune with Christ. Martha had become angry with her sister Mary. Notice, she did not come into the room and ask Mary to come and help her. She was not even speaking to her sister. She was angry and distant from her. Mary was not fulfilling her duty, or so Martha thought. As far as Martha was concerned, Mary was slothful and unloving toward her in sitting while she was doing all the serving. Had Martha been sitting alongside of Mary at Jesus' feet, no doubt they would have had a blessed experience together before the Lord that would have brought them closer to one another. If you do not feel close to Christ, you will not feel close to those near Christ. You will think that they have abandoned you, when actually you have abandoned them. They are at Jesus' feet where you should be, where you would be enjoying their fellowship as well as His. But through your neglect of being with Jesus, you yourself now feel neglected and forgotten by both Him and others. What was Martha's remedy? Jesus said, 'But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part.' Fifth, Martha was deceived in thinking that she alone was doing rightly. It is amazing that we can think that only we are true to God and that all others are in error. But that wrong thinking is the result of failing to be with Jesus. Martha had thought that all depended on her. If she failed in her duty, everything would become unraveled. Nobody else was there to take over or lend her a hand. This occurs when one emphasizes serving to the neglect of sitting at Jesus' feet. Spurgeon once said it well, 'A fly sitting on a rafter in an arena may as well think he controls the cheers and jeers of the crowd, so as we think that we govern the work of God.' But listen to poor Martha, 'my sister has left me to serve alone.' And sixth, Martha determined that her difficulties were caused by others rather than her own neglect. And here is an amazing thing: Martha comes into the room and starts commanding Jesus to set her sister straight. She was now commanding Jesus, 'Tell her to help me.' She was thinking that she was serving Jesus, but she was now demanding that He serve her. She is playing the Lord now. She is telling Jesus how He ought to direct His servants in service. She new better than He, or so she thought, how and when others should be serving. 'Make her come and help me.' Poor Martha was now blind to her condition. She was self-justified in her mind. She was ignorant to her own failures while convinced of the failure of others. But what did Jesus do? He gently rebuked her and set before her what her priorities should be. Martha was in error. She was troubled. Mary was the one doing rightly; Mary was sitting at His feet. Martha thought well of herself, but thought ill of others. She should have thought ill of herself and have given others the benefit of the doubt. She thought that she was loving the Lord by serving Him. She could have been truly loving Him by first sitting at His feet. She had become more concerned about herself than her Lord. She had broken the greatest of commandments, to love the Lord her God with all her heart, mind, soul, and strength. She had also broken the second great commandment, to love her neighbor as herself. The sum of the matter is this: Martha should have been serving the Lord with gladness, but because she had neglected to be in communion with her Lord, she lost all joy in her service. Her service had become a burden rather than blessing, serving Jesus had become a troublesome and lonely task to her, for her failure to sit at Jesus' feet.. Fellowship with the Lord is the ground of all gladness in our service.
IV. How may we restore gladness to our service to the Lord?
Very simply, we need to do as Mary did, we need to spend time with the Savior, listening to Him speak and teach us through His Word, the Holy Bible. If we find ourselves as Martha, much distracted, discouraged, distanced, and deceived, let us humble ourselves and confess to our Lord where the true problem lies. We have been neglectful of our duty and privilege to spend time in Bible reading and prayer with Him. We have not listened to Him humbly and attentively when His Word was taught and proclaimed. We have failed to meditate upon His Word, and perhaps neglecting to be with others when times of fellowship are available to us. Purpose to correct this in your life. Then trust Him to restore your wayward condition and bring you back to where you once again enjoy His presence, so that you might truly delight in the service that He has called you to render toward His name.
May the Lord bless each and all of us so that we might all 'serve the Lord with gladness' and come together 'before his presence with singing.' Amen.