November 9, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 16:13 (NRSV)
No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Who or what really guides your life? Jesus says we can’t serve two masters. But most of us work hard to prove him wrong. In the end, we need to choose each day to serve God most of all, seeking first God’s kingdom and justice in all things.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
I can’t read this verse in Luke without hearing the voice of Bob Dylan echoing in my ears. In his 1979 album Slow Train Coming, Dylan sang “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The first verse and refrain went like this: “You may be an ambassador to England or France, You may like to gamble, you might like to dance, You may be the heavyweight champion of the world, You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed; You’re gonna have to serve somebody; Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord; But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” As the song continued, Dylan mentioned a wide range of people from all walks of life, but always coming back to the main theme, “[Whoever you are,] You’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
I expect Jesus would approve of these lyrics. I think he’d add something, however. Not only do we have to serve somebody, but also we can only really serve one somebody at a time. As Jesus puts it in Luke 16:13, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” So, no matter who you are, no matter what you do with your life, you’re gonna have to serve somebody, and you’ll need to choose whom or what to serve.
As I reflect on my own life, I can honestly say that I seek to serve Jesus as my Lord, to want to honor him with words and actions. I’m eager to live under his reign and work to extend his kingdom in the world. To the extent that what I’ve just said is true, I give glory to God for the grace that has made this very egocentric person a little less self-centered and a little more God-centered.
Yet, honestly, I’m also aware of the extent to which I am still trying to serve two masters (or even more!). I suppose that I do serve wealth in that I like nice things and worry about my financial well-being. But I find it more tempting to want to serve other masters, like influence or reputation or affirmation. As an Enneagram 3, I am an achiever who seeks to be affirmed through what I produce. If I do good work and you like it, and if you like me in the process, then I’m a happy man.
It’s certainly not wrong to be productive. Nor is it wrong to enjoy it when people like you. Yet, when being productive for the sake of affirmation becomes the dominant motivation in life, then this is a problem. For me, I can serve this master even as I truly seek to serve the Lord. But, Jesus says, this cease-fire won’t hold. In the end, I need to choose who or what will be the Lord of my life.
And so do you. If you’re like me and most Christians I know, choosing to serve the Lord isn’t something you do once and then perfectly act out for the rest of your life. Rather, serving the Lord is a matter of choosing God each day, each hour, even each moment. It certainly helps if we start the day by offering ourselves fully to God. In my morning devotions, I regularly use a prayer of St. Ignatius, thinking about the day ahead as I pray. Perhaps you’ll find this prayer helpful as well. I’ll mention it here and use it again for our devotional prayer today: “Grant, Lord, that all my intentions, actions, and operations be directed purely to your praise and your service. Amen.”
Which “masters” are competing for your primary loyalty?
What makes it hard for you to serve the Lord most of all?
What helps you to serve the Lord most of all?
Begin this day (or tomorrow, if you’re reading this in the evening), by thinking through the day ahead and using the prayer from St. Ignatius that follows.
Grant, Lord, that all my intentions, actions, and operations be directed purely to your praise and your service. Amen.
A Note from Mark
I’d like to share some exciting news with you. This week a wonderful new book is being released: Make Work Matter – Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World, by Michaela O’Donnell. Now, you may know that Michaela is now my boss, so my enthusiasm may seem required. But I read the manuscript of her book months before she became the Executive Director of the De Pree Center. Here’s what I wrote back then:
Make Work Matter is surprising in many ways. Unlike so many other books on work, it is based, not just on the writer’s solid convictions, but also on research into the working lives of real people. Yet the book is also filled with astute theological insights that are presented as if from a good friend seeking wisdom rather than from an esteemed professor with all the answers. Michaela generously opens up her own life to us, inviting us into a shared process of discovery and vocational discernment. Make Work Matter is perfect for folks in the early stages of figuring out their work lives. But, unexpectedly, it also speaks powerfully to older readers who are wondering about God’s callings in the third third of life.
If you’re in a place of vocational transition – like so many in today’s world – this book is perfect for you. But I’d encourage you also to buy this book as a gift for friends, children, or grandchildren. I know they’ll appreciate it.
If you’d like to learn more about Make Work Matter, check out this page on our website. Here’s the Amazon link for Make Work Matter if you want to buy the book now.- Mark
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: You Cannot Serve Both God and Money
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
I also like and use John Stott’s daily prayer:
“Heavenly Farther, I pray that this day
I may walk in your presence, and
please you more and more.
LORD Jesus, I pray that this day
I may take up my cross, and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day
You may fill me with your presence,
and cause your fruit to ripen in my life,
love, joy peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
gentleness, faithfulness, & self-control”
Thanks for sharing that prayer of John Stott. Amen!