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This article, written by the Rev. Dr. Dale Woods, is from the Spring 2019 Newsletter of the Presbyterian College in Montreal, QC. 

In his book, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks, August Turak, writes about the significance of selfless service. Over the years, I have thought a lot about what it means to serve. Most of us would agree it is part of the Christian life. But what exactly does it mean? Ray Anderson in his book, The Soul of Ministry, advises that we need to think carefully about whether we serve the world on behalf of God or we serve God on behalf of the world. He cautions that we should ponder the answer because one master is benevolent and the other not so benevolent.

I have often thought that service and passion go together. In order to serve well, one needs to have a sense of passion for the work. But August Turak suggests that service is more aligned to detachment than to passion. Detachment, he writes, allows us to keep things in perspective. It “doesn’t mean rootless laziness. It means being rooted in something much bigger than ourselves, something that transcends our narrow personal concerns.”

He tells the story of his three brothers who were snowmobiling in the Colorado mountains. Driving in whiteout conditions, they went over a cliff. One brother was killed. The other two were seriously injured. They remained stranded overnight in 60 below temperatures. When they were rescued, both had frostbite and one brother had to have several toes amputated. After much care and numerous surgeries, they recovered.

One brother went on to have a very successful career. When asked what contributed to his success, he said that he had learned to live with a certain sense of detachment, a certain perspective. When others would panic over a situation, thinking this was the end of the world, he would simply say, “This is not the end of the world. I’ve been to the end of the world and this is not it.” Detachment allowed him to keep things in perspective and to keep fear from being the driving force for decisions.

Turak writes, detachment means “being rooted in something much bigger than ourselves, something that transcends our narrow personal concerns.” Detachment allows us to look beyond the immediate and to commit to the long haul.

These are days when people speak passionately about concerns for the church—declining numbers, closing congregations, or insufficient resources. If you listen carefully, it seems as if people are really saying, ‘this is the end of the world.’ But then we go back to the story of Easter where the disciples also thought it was the end of the world only to be encountered by the risen Christ who reminded them, “This is not the end of the world. I have been to the end of the world and this is not it.”

We have a calling that is greater than the present. Like Abraham we are called to look forward “to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). As you read through this edition of the newsletter, you will see different ways people have served whether acts of generosity, teaching, a sharing of talents, or support and encouragement. But most of all, I hope that we have done it with a certain detachment—a reminder that all of us are involved in something much bigger than ourselves, something that transcends our narrow personal concerns. You might even call it selfless service.

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