When my husband, Dale, and I counsel premarital couples, we encourage them to intentionally start serving together, right from the start. In our book Countdown for Couples: Preparing for the Adventure of Marriage (Focus on the Family, 2008), we talk about the importance of having a "servant's heart" toward each other – and to everyone.
The apostle Paul put it this way: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4). This passage encourages us to have a servant's heart, to have an unselfish determination to serve others. And when couples choose to unselfishly serve others together, they experience peace, contentment and a deeper bond that strengthens their marriage.
This is easier to do with God's help, of course, since selfless behavior doesn't always come naturally for many of us. But where do we start?
Thankfully, there's a promise in Acts 1:8 that tells us how we can accomplish this: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Practically speaking, you can consider your "Jerusalem" to be your local church, "Judea" is your neighborhood, "Samaria" is your community at large and "to the ends of the world" is a call to support and serve missionary efforts across the globe. Adopting this perspective makes fulfilling the Great Commission quite doable.
Serving as a couple has benefits that go beyond bonding, contentment and peace. There's a sweet intimacy that comes with working together on a service project or giving together to those in need. Couples who embrace God's call to serve others experience an added closeness, and there are special moments and memories that naturally come when you do things together.
Moreover, participating together in ministry opportunities – whether in your church, neighborhood, community or the world – can also help you to grow in your faith as a couple. Working side-by-side to fulfill the Great Commission – in whatever capacity – deepens your spiritual intimacy like little else can. Being the Lord's witnesses by serving, giving, encouraging, caring and loving as Jesus loved is rewarding beyond words.
But in the end, it's not really about you, is it? It's about them – the poor, the needy, those who need a touch from God. Serving others strengthens the infrastructure of your church, your neighborhood, your community and the world. It transforms lives – theirs and yours – and brings people together. Whenever you serve others, you become the hands and feet of your Savior. You change lives.
As you consider the ideas in the following articles, remember that it's not about duty or the amount of projects you do. It's about demonstrating the love of Christ to those around you. It's about being unselfish, considering others better than ourselves. Do this, and you will be His witnesses, during the holiday season and all through the year.
At a recent meeting of our small group, we talked about praying for several young families who have lost their jobs and are in need during the holiday season. Prayer requests quickly turned into specific ways to serve them – our church family. Our "Jerusalem."
Couples caring for couples; families caring for families – it's a natural way to love others. We planned to get these families Christmas gifts and holiday food, to show them we care and to be a witness of God's love for them.
The biblical mandate to be Jesus' witnesses "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" is inspirational, but what does that have to do with serving together? Everything!
Serving is all about being a witness. It's about setting aside time in our busy schedules to share God's love with others. It's about looking beyond your to-do list, your calendar of events and your dirty floors to meet the needs of others in your church, your neighborhood, your community and your world.
My husband, Dale, and I serve as greeters and Sunday school teachers in our local "Jerusalem." Through these small acts of service, we grow closer as a couple, get to know our church family better and enjoy being used by God to touch others' lives. Truthfully, I'm not sure who's blessed more – those we serve or my husband and me!
Yes, it takes time, a little planning and a bit of sacrifice, but serving together deepens our relationship, causes us to communicate on levels we normally wouldn't and helps us look beyond our own little world to the needs of others. There are many, many ways you can be a witness in your church/"Jerusalem." Here are several ideas:
Doing these things together is a witness of couple teamwork and a definite blessing to others.
When Dale and I got married eight years ago, we knew very few of our neighbors. So we set out to change that, and to help bring our neighborhood together. That first holiday season, we held a Christmas open house in early December. It has become an annual event, and it's changed our world.
As we pondered Jesus' command in Acts 1:8, we've come to realize that our "Judea" is essentially our neighborhood, particularly those living nearby. We began reaching out by simply loving our neighbors.
Our open house event takes time, a little money and a good deal of effort. But we've learned to keep it simple – to provide a place for neighbors to meet and enjoy a few snacks and, of course, Christmas cookies. Most of all, we provide an environment of love and care. This get-together has become a top priority on our holiday to-do list, and a highlight of our Christmastime events.
Some of our neighbors have told us that it is a seasonal highlight for them, too. They experience God's love – the true meaning of Christmas. And because we've developed relationships with our neighbors throughout the year, we've made special friends, shared Christ freely, prayed with some and moved beyond a cursory "hello" to a heartfelt "how are you?"
We've enjoyed meals together, organized block parties and shared heartaches when times are tough – all because we took the time to have a holiday open house. We are learning to do life together. And isn't that what it means to serve in our Judea?
Here are some simple ideas for reaching out to your neighborhood/"Judea":
You hear them every year; it's the music of Christmas. But the sights and sounds of those Salvation Army bell ringers become even more meaningful when you've been one. My husband and I have been bell ringers for several years and find it to be a special treat during the holiday season.
One year we were scheduled for an evening shift after work. That day had been a particularly stressful one, and it was a cold one, too. I was in no mood to stand outside in the wind and be nice. But barely five minutes into our shift, my mood changed. A young mother struggled with three little children in tow but stopped to put some coins in the bucket. An elderly couple did, too, smiling and wishing us a blessed Christmas.
We were blessed. A very somber-looking young lady passed us by, but when I addressed her, she stopped and we talked a little. I told her I'd keep her concerns in my prayers, and she thanked me as we parted. Though we were acting as good Samaritans, so to speak, we were the ones who were truly ministered to that day.
Jesus told His followers to be His witnesses in Samaria (Acts 1:8). No matter where you live, it's probably safe to assume that your "Samaria" – your community at large — is full of needs: the poor and homeless, military families, sick children, single moms, the elderly, the lonely and forsaken. Hurting people need Christians in their community to reach out and demonstrate the love of Christ.
I was cold, hungry, tired and weary that December evening. Yet by the time I finished serving my community by simply ringing a bell, overseeing a red collection pot and greeting shoppers, I was energized. I was blessed. My time and sacrifice were nothing compared to knowing that I touched a few lives and was a witness of God's love.
Dale and I grew closer as a couple in the midst of serving together. There's something special, even intimate, about serving those in need. It connects you, softens you, slows you down and helps you appreciate all the blessings you have. Here are a few ways to serve your community/"Samaria":
Helping families thrive in partnership with you.
Although I've supported missions most of my life, I really didn't fully grasp the sacrifice that missionaries – and their families – make until my daughter became a missionary in South Africa. Thanks to such technology as email, Skype and Facebook, the loneliness and isolation of foreign service is somewhat lessened these days, but the reality is that missionaries miss their family members, their friends and their homeland. They sacrifice much to serve the Lord overseas.
Missionaries also have to contend with the general busyness of life and the "out-of-sight-out-of-mind" reality. Few people, even friends and family, reach out on a regular basis, letting them know that they love and support them. Holidays can be particularly challenging.
Jesus' Acts 1:8 mandate instructs His followers to be witnesses "even to the ends of the world." While foreign missionaries are busy witnessing around the globe, they need to know that there's a team back home supporting, encouraging and praying for them, even if they are out of sight. Thus you can help be a witness "to the ends of the world" by caring for missionaries overseas.
Most of us know at least one missionary who serves abroad. But how often do we connect with him or her? Even if it's just a once-a-month email, take a few minutes to connect with one of God's servants overseas. You'll be glad you did.
Maybe your encouragement is just the thing a missionary needs to make a difference in a far-flung land. Especially during the holiday season, your love, prayers and financial support can really boost the spirits of those so far away. Here are a few ideas to reach out to missionaries/"to the ends of the earth":