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Chaplaincy: A Vocation Of Humble Service

Philippians 2:3-4 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

“You would make a great school chaplain” a friend at church enthusiastically commented.

The idea held no appeal for me. I scoffed inwardly and yet said kindly, “No, I don’t think this is what vocational work God has in store for me.” My sons had finally left home, and I had no intention of laboring again with anyone else’s children.

“Pray about the idea and see what opportunities God might open up.” he suggested.

Within less that 12 months I was working as – you guessed it – a chaplain in a small rural primary school 3 days a week. Now how did that unfold? It is quite clear that we may make our own plans, but God will order our footsteps according to His purposes, not ours. And we ought not to be surprised when God calls us to minister to others in an environment and amongst people that we would not usually gravitate towards.

Is it glamorous work? Hardly. Do school chaplains earn a substantial income? No, definitely not. Is it deeply satisfying and fulfilling? Some days, but not everyday. There are times when I wonder if my presence made any difference to anyone that day. It is mostly thankless work. Children nowadays are not gushing with gratitude. Moreover, it can be painfully tedious working with children whose issues plague them and pull them steadily downwards. Much of the problems that present are generational and so a chaplain may feel they are merely placing band aids on gaping wounds of familial dysfunction.

Chaplains are often viewed with skepticism. Will the chaplain try to convert my child to religion? Will she try to bandy me into talking about issues that I want to avoid? Will her questions be personal or uncomfortable? Can she be trusted? Does she have an ulterior motive? Distrust and mistrust can often be seen on parent’s and teacher’s faces when I attempt to engage in friendly dialogue with them. It is frustrating. I believe that around the third year of service of just showing up and doing my work, the walls of fear and uncertainty about the chaplain began to break down. That was a long, arduous wait!

In John 13 we bear witness to Jesus washing His disciple’s feet. In love, the Creator God sits before his dear friends and washes the dirt and grime from their weary soles. He sets the example for them of how to serve others in ultimate humility and utter self-giving. Through this act, Jesus teaches the disciples that if humble service would not be beyond their Savior and LORD, it must not be beyond them. And it must not be beyond us.

Jesus sought to serve others in the most menial of tasks. No task must be beneath us. Do we consider ourselves too good, educated or important to do lowly work? Remember Jesus. Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and leaned down to wash dirty, smelly feet. This is a task that humbles the heart. So often we look for work that makes us feel good about ourselves and look great before others. Work that puffs us up. Like Jesus, let’s choose work that does not esteem ourselves in our eyes, but brings us closer to the humility of our Savior. As we seek to serve in the most humbling of tasks, let’s be eager to take on the work that no one else wants to do. Deliberately choose the lowest task as Christ did.

Remember much of our work is thankless. Forget working for praise and accolades. Rather, simply remember that no one knows of our work but the One who counts. Work for His pleasure alone. Let the joy of our work come not so much from the task, though admittedly, to a certain extent, this does count. But are greatest pleasure should come from knowing that we are obeying and bringing glory to God through our work.

When we find ourselves in a state of dissatisfaction and restlessness, when work seems a drag and a chore, consider whereabouts are focus has shifted to. Self is probably sitting square in the center of our woe as we have shifted our attention off Christ and the joy of obedience to Him through loving service to others. Ministry is never about us. We forget that so quickly. It is about glorifying God by making Him known to others, in whatever context that looks like for us. Selfish ambition will quickly rob us of the joy and pleasure found in putting Christ at the center of our work.

Chaplains do what they do day in day out, year in and year out, because they believe in striving to emulate the example of Jesus. He is our inspiration. But much more than that. Jesus enables, equips, and each day goes ahead of us, preparing the ground for conversations that can and do make a difference. It is truly exciting to watch what He does as we make ourselves available. And He provides all our needs so that we can carry on bringing the hope of Christ to others. Regardless of the work we do and the people we find ourselves amongst, let’s faithfully show up and watch what God will do. Let’s be eager. Eager to serve. Eager to be humble. Eager to be just like Jesus.

About Jennifer Woodley

Jennifer is an Australian freelance writer who lives in a small rural town in sunny Queensland. She is passionate about encouraging others on their journey with Christ through writing and mentoring. Jennifer is a school chaplain, wife, mother of three adult sons and loving grandma of one adorable grandson. More of her writing can be found at www.inhisname6.com and www.faithwriters.com.

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One comment

  1. Jennifer,
    You have quite a calling – your gift of being reassuring and confident in the LORD comprise who you are, and how fortunate for those students and parents to have you in their corner, even if they “don’t realize it” yet!
    May your seeds of sowing, take root according to His Word and His will, and may the LORD continue guiding you all the paths of your life,
    God Bless dear friend~

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