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How to Avoid the Spiritual Dangers of Service

How to Avoid the Spiritual Dangers of Service

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Peter Greer and Anna Haggard's book, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good (Bethany House, 2013).

Doing good work to serve God is a noble cause. But, ironically, serving God can actually be spiritually dangerous if you go about in the wrong ways.

Too many well-meaning Christians have fallen victim to burnout, pride, moral lapses, ruined relationships, and disillusionment while working hard on service that God led them to undertake. You don’t have to be one of them. When you learn how to love God and serve well, your work in God’s kingdom will lead to healthy results rather than unhealthy ones.

Here’s how you can avoid the spiritual dangers of service:

Check your motives. Why do you really want to serve God? Is it because of what you can get it out of it, or is it simply a way to respond to God’s love? Trying to earn God’s love or blessings through service will backfire, because the focus is a selfish one. But if you’re motivated by expressing love back to God, God will work through you to bring about great results from your service.

Avoid giving leftovers to loved ones. Give more time and energy to your relationships with family and friends than you do to your service work, since relationships are ultimately more important than the work you do. Set boundaries around your work schedule – focusing only on what’s most important and what you do best – so you still have plenty of time and energy left to invest in your relationships.

Avoid doing instead of being. Shift your focus from what you’re doing to the kind of person you’re becoming. Remember that the reason why you’re serving in the first place is to grow closer to Jesus, and that Jesus is much more concerned about who you are than He is about what you do. Rely on the Holy Spirit to work through you to do service, rather than trying to do it on your own – and in the process, you’ll grow as a person.

Avoid justifying minor moral lapses for a good cause. If you allow yourself to justify small sins (such as embellishing the facts when telling a story or misrepresenting how you’ve spent money), you can easily move up to larger sins because you’ll start to believe that you’re above the rules and deserve guilty pleasures because of all the sacrifices you’ve made for a good cause. Make a daily habit of confessing and repenting of small moral lapses and asking God to deliver you from temptation.

Avoid using the wrong measuring stick to define success. God’s perspective on success is far different from the world’s perspective on it. Don’t get caught up in the delusion that you’re successful simply because you happen to reach more people or raise more funds than others. You’re a true success only when you’re doing your best to be faithful to God and when you’re developing a more holy character as you serve – whether or not you seem to be successful to other people.

Avoid friendship superficiality. Invest in some deep friendships with people you can trust, who will love you enough to challenge you when you’re making wrong decisions, and who will hold you accountable and encourage you to live faithfully.

Avoid elevating the sacred over the secular. Realize that every type of job is equally important in God’s kingdom, so God isn’t somehow more pleased with you if you’re involved in full-time Christian ministry than if you’re working in a secular job. Feel free to serve God in whichever aspect of society you’re most gifted to serve.

Avoid thinking you’re the superhero in your story. When something great happens as a result of your service work, don’t take credit for what God has done through you as if you were doing it on your own. Remember that you’re dependent on God for everything – even your next breath. Rather than aiming to be a superhero through your service, aim to give God glory, and you’ll discover that you’re part of a much bigger story than you could have dreamed.

Avoid not having ears to hear the uncomfortable truth. It’s crucial to your accountability while serving in ministry to allow people you trust to challenge you by pointing out issues they notice in your life that could be hindering your ministry and/or your relationship with God. Instead of making excuses or minimizing the issues, welcome loving critiques as valuable invitations to repent and change.

Avoid forgetting your true identity. Although fulfilling work is a gift from God, it’s not nearly enough for you to base your identity on. Keep in mind that your true identity lies in something much greater: your relationship with Jesus Christ, which (unlike your work) is eternal.

Avoid thinking good things always happen to good people. Reject the myth that if you do good work for God, you’ll receive guaranteed blessings from God in return. The truth is just like Jesus warns in the Bible: in this fallen world, we’ll all have trouble. When you suffer, realize that God can use your experiences to accomplish good purposes in your service work, such as giving you more compassion for people in pain.

Avoid seeing everyone’s sin but your own. Focusing on other people’s sins while ignoring your own does no good other than to inflate your ego and increase your self-righteousness – which will only hinder your service work. Avoid that danger by inviting people to share your blind spots with you and seriously considering what they tell you.

Avoid being obsessed with what others think. Stop trying to please other people through your service work (which often leads to wasted time and energy). Instead, work to please the only One whose opinion of you ultimately matters: God.

Avoid disconnecting knowledge from action. Rather than simply gaining more knowledge, apply that knowledge to your life as the Holy Spirit leads you. God doesn’t care as much about what you know as He does about what you’re doing with the knowledge you have.

Avoid pretending to have it all together. When you stop pretending to be perfectly holy while you serve, you become free to pursue the healing and spiritual growth you need, which will make you much more effective in your service work than you could be otherwise.

Adapted from The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, copyright 2013 by Peter Greer with Anna Haggard. Published by Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Minneapolis, Mn., bakerpublishinggroup.com/bethanyhouse.

Peter Greer is president and CEO of HOPE International, a global nonprofit focused on addressing both physical and spiritual poverty through microfinance. He has a master's degree in public policy from Harvard's Kennedy School. Peter coauthored The Poor Will Be Glad, speaks at conferences, including Catalyst and Passion, and has been featured by media outlets such as CNN, Christianity Today, and World. Peter lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Laurel, and three children. Learn more at www.peterkgreer.com.

Anna Haggard is the executive writing assistant at HOPE International, where she collaborates with the president and the marketing department to share HOPE's message to donors through print and social media. Anna is a graduate of Asbury University and lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the new Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.

Publication date: October 14, 2013