Bird on a ledge

The difference between serving and enabling

Have you ever tried to get ahead by stomping on people? How has that worked for you? I know people who have used the talent and sacrifices of others to gain a place in the business world, and while it might be the fast track to success in business, it rarely is a lasting kind of success.

Bird on a ledge

Bird on a ledge - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Mark 9:35.

He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Jesus had the right to demand to be served by His disciples. He was God. He could have commanded that they all bow down to Him and ordered them to follow His every whim. But that wasn’t how Jesus lived. Actually, He lived a life opposite of that. He served other people. He sacrificed Himself and His own comfort to provide for people around Him.

He actually washes the Disciples’ feet at one point. That’s something the lowliest servant was expected to do.

So how does that apply to our lives? Are we supposed to only serve people and make allowances when they walk all over us? Because when you change your perspective to care more about other people, people will take advantage of you. That’s the inevitable consequence of living the way the Jesus did because we live in a broken world and the people we’re trying to help aren’t perfect (kind of like we aren’t perfect). People take advantage of each other, and when you are willing to serve them, you just make it easier for them to use you.

Is that right? Is that how we’re supposed to live? Are we supposed to enable people around us to continue living the way they want while we do nothing but support them?

Here’s where I feel like we need to draw a distinction between serving and enabling.

Being a servant is a mindset. It’s an attitude. You don’t think you’re better than other people. You are willing to drop what you’re doing or suspend what is important to you to help someone else achieve their goals. You love people more than you love yourself. That is the attitude and mindset of a servant.

Enabling is different. Enabling other people means you make excuse for them. It means you never correct them even when they are doing something that is wrong.

But isn’t that just love? One of the aspects of love is that you make allowances for other peoples’ faults. Does that mean we love people so much that we make excuses for them? No. Making an excuse for someone is almost tantamount to accepting their fault. And the Bible doesn’t say love accepts peoples’ faults. It says love doesn’t hold it against them. Recognizing an error in another person’s judgment and addressing it with kindness and concern doesn’t mean that you’re acting superior; it means you love them enough to correct them.

The most successful business people I have met earned their position not by stepping on others but usually by helping other people at their own expense. It’s a backward way of looking at work. It’s a backward way of looking at life. But from what I have seen, “backward” really isn’t as strange as it sounds, especially since it works.

If you want to be first, you need to live like you’re last. If you want to be successful, you need to live like a servant. That’s true. But even if you have the mindset of a servant, it doesn’t negate what is right and what is wrong. And while there will be people who take advantage of you (Christian or not), that doesn’t mean you have to continue to enable them keep taking advantage of you. Address the issue with kindness, concern and humility. Most of the time, people won’t even be aware that they’re doing it; taking advantage of people is almost instinctive.

Just because you are a servant doesn’t mean you have to enable people to live a life that is wrong.

Be humble. Serve others. But love them enough to correct them.

I’ve heard of “Drink Responsibly” but “Help Responsibly” is a new one on me

I am an enabler. I am never happier than when I can be in the background, helping someone accomplish something great from the sidelines. I think that may be one of the reasons I love stage managing so much.

Stage managing is my favorite part of theater. Directing is too much pressure. Acting is too visible. Stage managing, for me, is the happy medium where you can support both director and actors, making sure they all have what they need to do their job the best they possibly can.

I love to help people. And I know a lot of other people like that too. There’s something cathartic, I think, in serving other people. It gets your focus off yourself and reminds you how blessed you are. And, besides that, it’s just fun. And it’s even more fun if you can help people in a group. But there’s one thing that those of us who like to help people need to remember. And the Bible verse for today made me think of it.

Romans 15:2

2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.

 We need to make sure that we’re helping other people to do what is right.

For example, say someone asks me to help them write a research paper for a class. I love to do things like that. I love helping people tweak their papers, and most of the time I try to explain why I edit things the way I do so they will know how to edit better in the future. But when it comes time for me to help this person with their paper, they actually want me to write the whole paper for them. Well . . . I love to write . . . . and I love to help people . . . . and I’m pretty positive I could still right a rockin’ awesome research paper even though I’ve been out of high school for ten years now (yikes! really? wow!). But if I wrote the paper for this person, would that be the right thing?

No. It wouldn’t. Part of being in school is learning how to complete assignments on your own. If I wrote the entire paper for this person, they would never learn that lesson.

Here’s where the trouble comes for me.

I hate telling people no. I hate disappointing people. I hate letting people down. And, inevitably, that’s what happens when people ask me to do things like this for them. But as much as I want to help people, I have to remember that even though my intentions are the best, human nature still plays a part in this drama called life.

People are lazy. It’s just a fact of life. And everyone suffers from it. And if you get a person like me who likes to help other people, I will willingly sacrifice time and effort to help a lazy person succeed without ever having to struggle. Sometimes helping people do the right thing is telling them that I won’t help them do what they’ve asked me to do.

This is definitely something I need to work on because it’s something I truly struggle with. I have such a weakness for people who need help. And many times I think I have helped people get out of situations God was using to teach them something. And when I do that, I have put myself direction between that person who is being chastised and God, and that is not a place I want to be. Because at that point, I have taken it on myself to tell God He is being unfair. Wow. That is such a bad idea . . . . such a bad place to be . . .

So. How do you know when to help someone and when not to? Well . . . if someone is broken down on the side of road and needs help changing a tire in 110-degree weather . . . . stop and help them. But if someone needs help buying a book for school because they’ve spent all their money on clothes . . . don’t. Or if you know you’ve helped this person with the same thing previously and haven’t seen them accept responsibility for it, don’t help them.

Do you see the difference?

Helping people who want to help themselves is right. Helping people who want you to do all the work for them is a very bad idea.

Helping people is good. It’s not only good; it’s a commandment. And it’s fun. But we have to make sure we’re helping people do the right thing. Because if we are consciously enabling people to do wrong, to live a life that isn’t pleasing to God, we will be the ones responsible. Yes, the person who is actually making the choices will be responsible for his or her own actions. But aren’t we responsible for our choices too? And if we know we’re helping people do the wrong thing, don’t we bear some of the burden too?