The year before my third son started medical school, he asked me what he could do in the interim that would make him a better doctor. Should he take some extra science courses to get a head start on all the tough classes he would soon be facing? Should he enroll in some business classes, so he could better manage his practice one day? Do research or teach perhaps? Pursue short-term mission work somewhere exotic? Maybe learn a second language?
While all of those things were good options and I encouraged him to do several of them, he hadn’t even considered what I viewed as one of most important ways he could prepare for a career in medicine. In my opinion, the best training for future doctors is actually quite simple: waiting tables.
Waiting tables may not seem an obvious choice at first blush, but it provides a variety of lessons that, in the long run, prove more essential than much of the book learning that comes later.
- Have you ever waited tables or worked in a similar service-based industry?
- What are some lessons you learned in the process?
- Was multi-tasking or prioritizing among them?
- How about dealing with the public? Did the job give you experience getting along with a wide variety of personalities and idiosyncrasies?
- Did humility make the list of things you learned? It is difficult to be arrogant while working in a service industry. Even seemingly “snooty” waiters who are attempting to create an aura of elegance and refinement remain at the mercy of their customers and are usually just hoping for a good tip.
In today’s lesson in John 13:1-10, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. This is one of my favorite stories about Jesus’ life. It deftly captures, in one brief image, the whole idea of the gospel on multiple levels.
If it were up to me, I would make foot washing a regular activity at church! We would have quarterly “bring your own basin” events.
For starters, the washing of feet is a very practical and physical activity. Christ took on a physical body, worked with his hands as a carpenter, then had those hands nailed to a cross in a very physical and painful way. The early Christians suffered a variety of physical hardships and counted them as blessed evidence of the faith that was within them. How often we over spiritualize our faith as a way to shirk the nitty-gritty business of actually living it out in the real world! We take an ivory-tower academic approach to the blue-collar business of loving people as they are and where they are.
- Read Matthew 25:34-40 and James 1:27. What are some practical and physical ways you can live out your faith at home? At work? At school? At church? In the community?
- How do we balance the physicality of our faith with the spirituality of our faith in light of verses like John 4:24, which says, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth?” (NASB)
Another concept foot washing underscores⎯and something Jesus specifically references⎯is the servant nature of Christianity. It actually irked the Romans that Christianity was a religion of servants and slaves and that it romanticized (pun alert) the duties and activities of those underclass noncitizens. Desiring to serve others was so counterintuitive to the Roman way of thinking as to be offensive to their rarefied sensibilities. We would never admit to sharing those same sentiments, but sometimes I think our actions betray us. Don’t we all seek upward mobility in both status and economics? Don’t we all look down to some degree on those we deem to be below us?
- Is it wrong to try to improve one’s station in life?
- When can it become wrong? What if obtaining an advancement meant having to break God’s law in some way? Does the end justify the means?
- What if we aren’t actively breaking God’s law, but we become so busy being successful that we have no time left over for more important things?
- How can we discern what those more important things might be and then give them the appropriate attention they deserve?
- How can we maintain a servant’s heart when we do happen to advance in life, either economically or socially?
How can we maintain a servant’s heart?
Finally, this foot washing story illustrates our own need for cleansing, even if we⎯like Peter⎯are initially inclined to resist it. Our lives are caked with soot and grit from the road, and we must get help ourselves before we can ever hope to help anyone else.
Can you imagine someone with filthy muddy hands trying to wipe a smudge off your face? You would recoil, knowing their efforts would only make things worse. Is it possible that people are reluctant to hear our story of faith because we haven’t bothered to get “washed up” first?
- What are some areas in our lives that can be stumbling blocks to the sharing of our faith? What “logs” in our own eyes have blinded us, even as we try to remove “specks” from the eyes of others?
- Why do we hesitate to accept the cleansing that Christ so freely gives? Habit? Pride? Fear of the unknown?
Christ wants to cleanse us, not so He can have something shiny and new to place on some celestial shelf, but rather that we might be fresh and clean and ready for work.
We are tools, not toys, in the Father’s hands.
He created us for service, both to Him and to our fellow man. If, by His grace, we advance to a higher station in this life, as did Joseph or Daniel, it is only that we might joyfully serve at a larger table.
NOTE: This post is adapted from my Life’s Big Questions Series, which encourages readers to examine all of life’s questions in the light of Scripture. Whether used for personal devotions, as family discussion guides, or in a study group, this series provides an invaluable resource for enhancing your spiritual walk.