March 31, 2014
Servant of God
One of the readings for today in Lent is Psalm 89. Most picture David as having written all of the psalms, a simple shepherd scribing the hopes, joys, fears, and frustrations of us all in these poems that were also unofficial hymns. Psalms were poems read or recited while someone played music on a common ancestor of the guitar. Since this instrument was called a psalter from the Greek psalmoi meaning musical accompaniment, the readings became known as psalms. King David is attributed to have written seventy-plus numbers of the one hundred and fifty that are in the Bible most commonly used today. The entire collection is thought to have been written over a span of five centuries so it seems fairly certain that one man did not in fact compose all of these poems.
David is one of two people in the Bible most often referred to as a “servant of God”, the other being Moses. David was actually a soldier in training when he fought Goliath and stayed on his intended career path in becoming a leader. His defeat of the giant Goliath could be attributed to theories that Goliath suffered from McCune-Albright Syndrome or gigantism or the accuracy or his weapons compared to that of Goliath’s. He definitely knew where to strike and when and was victorious. Was he real? Good question! History tells us there was a king named David but theologians bicker over whether or not the David of the Psalms ever really existed. What is clear in all the stories and history is that the man David was committed to his faith and his God.
Moses and David are not the only servants of God listed in the Bible. There was Abraham, Ahijah, Caleb, Daniel, Elijah, Isaiah, Job, Joshua, Samuel, Solomon, and what has to be the most distinctive name in the entire sixty-six books – Zerubbabel! Of course, this list is not complete. After all, you and I are not on it.
From somewhere around age two we begin to try to exert control over our environment, our actions, and our choices. Those terrible two’s are really the testing two’s, followed by the thrilling three’s [to see just what you can do], the fearsome four’s, etc. Now the Bible comes along and tells you to be a servant.
We tend to confuse the word servant with the word slave. Servants were domestic service professionals. Slaves were kidnapped victims forced to do work they were seldom prepared to do and live in deplorable conditions. I do not mean to glamorize the life of a servant; it was hard and seldom rewarded properly. However, they performed a very necessary service; hence, the word servant.
The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first; perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.”
In our attempt to be successful, we tend to unknowingly become leader-first individuals. We focus on the acquisition of material possessions, sometimes to the detriment of our family and friends and even our self. Greenleaf tried to explain the benefits of the servant-first individual and leader. He pointed out that the successful leader makes sure that other people have their needs met which in turns makes them “healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous.” It also makes them more willing to become servant-first people. They will see the advantages of sharing power and help everyone in their group develop and grow which in turns results in a higher performing and successful group or company.
Lent is an example of our servant-hood. We have the potential to become that healthier, wiser, and freer person by living our life as a servant of God. When we treat others with the kindness and charity we ourselves would want, when we put others first, then we profit. When we practice our Lenten disciplines, we reap the rewards and like David, we defeat the materialism of today’s society with the simplest of weapons – faith.
Greenleaf summed up his idea this way: “Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.” Jesus said it another way: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”