ServIce or Service?

The summer holidays were finally here, and we were happy to note that they were accompanied this year by the oven hot temperatures that we always hope for. It was the very first weekend of "freedom" from school, and we decided to celebrate by doing some shopping. My boys, who are growing like weeds (why can't they stay the same size, like we, adults, do?), desperately needed new riding pants and boots if they were to continue their horseback riding this summer. To accommodate them, we were off to a local equestrian supply store where there was usually a good supply of used riding items, items that better fit our budget!

We had brought my youngest son's old pair of riding boots with us, for we had heard that this particular store would take used clothing on consignment, and as we entered, we were met by a smiling sales lady: "Welcome to our store," she gushed. "Can I help you?" With her hand, she motioned towards the racks of brand new riding items, each with its hefty price tag.

"We're here to pick up some used riding clothes," explained my wife, "and also to drop these boots off on consignment!"

The woman's smile soured. "I'm sorry, but we don't take cheap riding boots!" She explained. "Perhaps I can help you locate some new ones?"

Cheap riding boots! We had bought these very boots second-hand from this same store! How dare she!

"Oh," explained my wife, trying to remain calm. "We had heard you would. That's okay. We're here to look for some second-hand clothing."

I could see in the sales' lady demeanor that she was even less impressed with us than before, and her voice proved my point nicely: "Second-hand items are on the second floor," she stated, and she walked away.

And so it was that we found ourselves left on our own. We usually prefer it that way anyway, except when we can't find what we're looking for, and we had no trouble in locating several nice pairs of riding pants for our youngest son. Our only problem came when he wanted to try them on. A young girl was occupying the lone change room, trying on pair after pair of expensive new pants and shirts. She was being helped by a smiling sales lady, the same one who had sent us upstairs! After a long wait, he was finally allowed to enter the change room, and the nicest pair of pants was soon selected.

Our next challenge was to locate the riding boots for my older son. We went back upstairs, but to our dismay, there was only one pair that would fit his oversized feet, and it was a pair of winter boots. Somehow, even the thought of putting his foot in that fur-lined boot on such a warm day didn't appeal to him, but after searching up and down the entire second floor (if that is possible), we were still without a pair of riding boots. Now what? We had seen the prices that the girl in the change room was going to pay for new boots ($700.00!). There was no WAY we could afford THAT figure! We were devastated, infuriated and discouraged, all at the same time.

All of a sudden, a different sales lady showed up wearing a big grin. Was she having a good time with our dilemma, or was she genuinely happy to see us? We couldn't help but wonder if she would still be grinning when she found out we were only interested in second-hand material! But to our surprise, she was genuinely friendly, and she didn't seem to care that we preferred to shop in the second floor. She joined us in our search to locate a pair of "huge" boots, but she had no more success than we had. "It doesn't look like there's anything here for him," she said finally. "Have you possibly considered purchasing a new pair?"

"Oh, we've considered it, all right!" Answered my wife. "Just long enough to see the price tags! We can't afford to pay $700.00 for a pair of boots!"

The lady assured us that she thought she could find us a pair for under $70.00. Though this was still more than we had hoped to pay, the winter boots on the second-hand floor had been that much, and after the threat of paying $700.00, this lady seemed to indeed be a God-send. And sure enough, she located just the perfect pair of boots, and to make the deal even sweeter, they were on sale. We ended up paying only $40.00 for a brand new pair of boots!

Unlike the first sales lady, this one had gone out of her way to help us meet our needs. She didn't see us as just "second-hand shoppers". Rather, she saw us as customers who needed help. The amount of the sale was not as important to her as satisfying her clients. Wow! She is a rare breed!

Once back in the car with our used riding pants and new boots, we drove way out to a furniture store that specializes in selling brand-new furniture that is slightly damaged. Our kitchen table was falling apart (if you don't believe it, just try to eat on it!). The chairs were starting to wobble unsteadily and we were concerned that one day one of our guests would end up falling over backwards onto our kitchen floor (We didn't want a crack on our kitchen floor. Would you?).

We quickly fell in love with a nice-looking, ceramic-top table, but it had a nasty crack in one of the tiles. We found a similar table top on the floor, but were unable to open it out to see if all of its ceramic tiles were intact. We decided to ask a sales lady not too far from us for some help. It took five minutes of begging to get her to come, huffing and puffing, to even see what our trouble was. She then insisted that only the guy whose job was to assemble tables could help us.

"Could you ask him if he could show us this top?" We asked. "We're really interested in it, but we want to make sure it has no cracks."

"He's already gone home for the day," was her response.

I looked at my watch. It was a full 95 minutes from closing time. "Could you help us out, then?"

"No I can't. We are closing in 5 minutes. You should have come earlier!"

"Don't you close at 6? It's only 4:25. We don't exactly live close to here, and it would be nice to not have to come back!"

"Sorry," she said. But her tone told us she really wasn't. "We close early today. You'll have to come back tomorrow!"

Needless to say, we left that store empty-handed and we didn't go back. We would hunt for our kitchen table somewhere where we would be made to feel more welcome!

Service makes such a difference. The only problem is that I often find myself acting the same way as two of the above three sales ladies! Assignments, responsibilities and engagements pile up, undeterminably greeting me with unwelcome stress. I find myself being controlled by my circumstances instead of the other way around. My victims are generally those who desperately need my help and instead of being there for them, I am swallowed up by my preoccupations.

When we look at the parable Jesus told about the sheep and the goats at the time of his second coming, it's interesting to note that He didn't stress tasks accomplished. Instead He emphasized the differences that the elect made on this planet. The chosen acted as Jesus would have acted. They cared for those in need, always making sure they had time for them. Let's look at the story:

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matt 25:34-40 NIV)

In other words we need to love and serve others like Jesus did when He was here on earth. Love is what is important. Running left and right to accomplish our miscellaneous tasks is not the most important aspect of life. Making sure everyone is treated like Jesus would treat him or her is! This is how the world will notice that Jesus actually lives in us! Jesus says: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35 NIV)

We can go on in our rushing and puffing mood and miss the many golden opportunities God has placed in our path, but though work will always be there, the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life won't. We have a choice to make. Will we be of service to others or will we service the "I"?

"Can I be of any help?"

Rob Chaffart

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