The verse above provides a foundation for how Christians think about "good works." We know that good works don't provide a path to heaven or a route to God's favor (as the greater context of Eph. 2:9-10 makes clear). Instead, God wants good works to flow from our relationship with God. It's also exciting to realize that God has even prepared these good works for us to do here on earth. We "walk in" those works; they're one big part of how we live out our Christian faith.
Here's the point of this introduction: Doing "good works" - like serving others - is therefore a spiritual discipline, an important part of our growth in God.
You probably don't need to be told that serving others is something God wants us to do. (Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this blog!) But you might not think about the fact that service, "outreach," or whatever else we call it is part of God's plan for your spiritual growth.
What's more, we may not realize the ramifications of that truth.
1. Since service is a spiritual discipline, my depth of service should increase.
If someone in your community group says they want to dive deeply into prayer, everyone will celebrate! And you might encourage him or her to start slowly - perhaps spending 5 or 10 minutes in prayer each day.
But if, after a year, your friend still prays only 5 minutes per day, you might question if they truly desire to "dive deeply." We all recognize that our involvement in spiritual disciplines should grow - where we start probably isn't where we should end up.
In the same way, our service toward others should grow. If we're still serving in the exact same ways and with the same commitment we had when we first started, we might need to consider if we're really growing in the spiritual discipline of serving others.
2. Since service is a spiritual discipline, it should be personalized.
As Christians grow, their walks often become more and more personalized. For instance, they realize that while their spouse might be studying Isaiah, God is pointing them to meditate on Luke for a season. They might recognize that they love spending time with the Lord outside... or that a quiet room is best for them.
In the same way, the more we serve others, the more we should be discovering the personalized works God has "prepared beforehand" for each of us. Over time, many of our service activities are likely to fit better and better with our personal gifts and talents.
So if we've been serving for years in a role that's disconnected from how God "wired" us, we may need to seek out a better fit. We'll impact others more and grow more ourselves!
(We've written before about this tension - between finding your fit and simply getting started.)
3. Since service is a spiritual discipline, it should stretch and grow me.
We shouldn't think that finding our "fit" means finding something we're necessarily comfortable in. Since outreach is a spiritual discipline, it should grow us and even stretch us over time. (That's why these things are called disciplines - because they won't always come naturally!)
One of our earliest blogs spoke about great service activities being seen as "overwhelming opportunities." If there isn't an aspect of your service that makes you feel a little overwhelmed - and therefore know you need God's help - then you need to reexamine your heart... and your volunteer position. At least one of those may need adjustment!
Ultimately, we recognize that serving isn't all about us - it's vital that our service actually produce an impact. Otherwise, we run the risk of loving only in "word and tongue" instead of "deed and truth" (I John 3:18).
But in God's economy, He has not only fashioned good works for us to do, He has fashioned us for those good works! In His love for us, He has provided the spiritual discipline of serving others - something that will impact us while it impacts the world.