Mark H. Maxwell

In a world filled with hate, division and disconnection, serving astounds the world.

College freshmen are lectured about it on their first day of class. Young professionals race to one more boring party so they can be seen and shake hands with someone that might be able to help them – just like the business books and podcasts have instructed. Young musicians are chronically obsessed and depressed with their number of likes, views and followers on their social media.

Today, for almost any definition of success we might identify, there is one common path to achieve it that is being shoved down our throats – networking, or cultivating relationships that can help us advance or move to a higher position.

There are serious problems with this single path to success.

First, networking kills authentic relationships. My students at Belmont University where I teach will say: “I hate the idea of trying to meet people for the sole purpose of personal gain, but I’ve reluctantly believed that it’s the only way to “make” a career happen.” It shouldn’t have to be that way.

A Harvard study has proven that professional networking actually makes people feel dirty or morally impure. And networking contradicts the nature of God within us. His identity is centered on love – giving generously and sacrificially – not taking and using for your own benefit.

Of course, we do need others to succeed – “real” relationships and collaboration are so important in every successful area of life. So… What is the solution to finding success?

I believe the best place to find the answer is to simply see what Jesus had to say about finding success. The Bible tells us about an intense meeting that Jesus had with a bold “stage mom” and her two teenage wannabe boys – James and John. She demanded: “Jesus, fix it, so that my two sons will be awarded the highest places of honor in your kingdom – one on your right and the other to your left.” Without mincing words, Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be great (or a leader) must become a servant.” (Matthew 20:20-24)

So Jesus taught us that serving is not only the “path” to success, it is success in itself.

So what can serving actually do for you, and what can serving do for others? Here are five benefits of living a life of service.

1. Serving Erases Fear of Failure

When your work is focused on others the fear of failure is gone. As a professor and entertainment lawyer in Nashville, I teach artists that the key to overcome stage fright, the fear of bombing at a live show, is to understand that the stage is a place where you are honored to present your audience a gift. You are there to love and serve your audience, not just to receive their adoration and affirmation. It’s about the audience. It’s not about you as the artist. See the “power” of that gift and make that your focus — not finding your identity in the applause – then the spotlight becomes a place of love instead of place of fear with the risk of failure.

2. Serving Creates Purpose

When you work is centered on others purpose is found. When my son Harrison turned 16, we handed down to him my Black 1989 Range Rover that we affectionately call “The Beast” – and he and I started talking about potential summer jobs that would help him pay for his gas and other costs. I began naming a few places he could apply: Chick-Fil-A? “Boring.” How about that new Publix? “That would be really boring.” How about the Juice Bar. “Nah, kind of boring.” Finally, I stopped him. “OK, enough with the “boring.” I want to help you get a fresh vision and purpose for your first job. You must see this first job (and every job) as a place to serve others — not as a place for you to get your emotional needs met.” If you ask the question, where is a place that is filled with people that need me and need my gifts – then step into that place desiring to bring life and joy to customers and co-workers – then you will have true purpose that enables you to get through the tough days at any job. It’s important to remember: There is no dream job, but serving can create purpose and contentment that can make the most difficult job feel like a dream. Oh, by the way, he nailed a job at Starbucks!

3. Serving Creates Value for you and for others

We live in a world where you can be famous for being famous. The popularity of social media faces like the Kardashians is misleading us. What have they created? What value have they brought to the world? So, it’s easy to buy into the promise that “If you want to attract new clients, or build something, you have to make yourself visible.” A few years ago I booked a flight to Austin to spend a week at the South By Southwest music festival – hundreds of bands – with my sole purpose on finding new band clients. I spent loads of money, handed out lots of business cards, shook hands and met so many people. I came back to Nashville and never received one single new client from that trip. What happened? On reflection, I realized I missed so many opportunities to love and serve others that week, because my focus was only on me, my needs, my business, not on the needs, brokenness and businesses of those with whom I was rubbing shoulders. You see: “I was trying to make myself visible, but God wants us to make ourselves available.” Giving value lasts.

4. Serving Creates Provision for you and for others

Serving gives and attracts while Networking takes and repels. “The Best Marketing Plan” for your product or business comes through genuine love, generosity and care for others. When you build relationships on those themes – without strings attached – you open up a stream of provision that flows both ways. I have given free legal work to a client who could not afford to pay and then watched him become my highest billing client a few years later. This is a spiritual principle on which you can stake your business, your relationships, your life. It never fails. The world calls it karma, but God calls it planting and harvesting. (2 Corinthians 9: 6-9)

5. Serving Changes the World because it changes others

We all want to leave a mark. But sometimes our dreams seem so out of reach – they are beyond our education, beyond our age, abilities, resources and our networks. What is the key? Start small. When I start getting frustrated with my impact on the college campus where I teach, my wife Carol always reminds me: “It’s one student at a time.” Find someone who is lonely – someone hurting – shine a light on that person. Just change one. Then do it again. You don’t need a license to change someone, you just need to care.

And, please recognize that telling others His redemption story is the ultimate act of serving. It is a marker of our true love for others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it “the most charitable and merciful act we can perform.”

Life moves pretty fast. God calls us to redeem the time and make every conversation count.

Do not limit your serving to your future career or ministry opportunity, it must start today with the classmate sitting next to you or the co-worker in the next cubicle.

In a world filled with hate, division and disconnection, serving astounds the world.

Who in your world needs the life-saving knowledge and power of Christ right now?

Who are you supposed to serve today?

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