The servant has to travel a road that is far from straightforward; and through his journey in Genesis 24 we can learn a lot. The one characteristic that stands out above all others is his single-mindedness in serving his master.
When two of Jesus’ disciples were lobbying him for key positions in his kingdom – sounds a familiar scenario! - he made this surprising statement in reply to them: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave, just like me (Matthew 20:26-28). So it is worthwhile stopping for a moment and asking ourselves the question, What qualities do you need in order to be a servant?
This is a vital question for all of us, especially for leaders. Even in the hard world of business, over the past 50 years the concept of Servant Leadership has been gaining ground. Here the focus is on serving the needs of the people being led rather than the needs of the leader.
Each year Fortune Magazine publishes a list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. In the 2016 list five of the top 10 Best Companies are identified as practising servant leadership. It doesn't matter how big or small they are - these five companies range from 1,200 to 167,000 employees.
So, what makes a good servant? The response to this question is multi-faceted, but we can find some helpful answers by looking into Genesis 24, the story of Abraham’s servant, another of the unnamed heroes of the Bible. His master Abraham was determined that his son Isaac would not marry a woman from the Canaanite tribes around him, so he sends his servant on a perilous 500-mile journey to the place where his family were living, to find a wife for Isaac there.
Ultimately the servant is successful in his quest and brings back a woman from Abraham’s family. Isaac is delighted with Rebekah, marries her, and they live happily ever after, as far as we can tell. But to reach this point, the servant has to travel a road that is far from straightforward; and through his journey in Genesis 24 we can learn a lot about being a good servant. The one characteristic that stands out above all others is his single-mindedness in serving his master.
Even before he sets out on the journey the servant displays this single-mindedness. He is so concerned to fulfil his master’s desire that he is distressed at the possibility that the woman he finds may not want to come back with him. Abraham reassures him that, in this case, he will be released from his task (verses 5-8). Then, when the servant arrives at the town of Nahor, after his long journey, his immediate thought is not to satisfy his hunger and thirst, but to pray for success in his mission, asking God to show him the right woman by means of a particular sign (verses 12-14).
The woman who satisfies this sign turns out to be Rebekah, the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor (verses 15-25). Then the servant knows that he is on the right track and he worships the Lord (verses 26-27) - thankfulness is so important when we receive answers to prayer, as it opens the door for further answers in future. The servant is invited to Rebekah’s father’s house, where food is set before him. But with that same single-mindedness of purpose, he refuses to eat until he has explained to the family why he has come and what has happened to him on the way (verses 28-49).
Rebekah’s father and brother agree that he can take her to be Isaac’s wife – no doubt impressed by the costly gifts that he has brought with him – and once again the servant’s response is to worship the Lord (verses 50-54). Next morning the family suggest a 10-day celebration before Rebekah leaves, but the servant is so concerned to fulfil his mission that he asks to leave immediately, Rebekah consents to this, and off they go (verses 55-61). On reaching home, the servant tells Isaac all that he had done (verse 66), and Isaac marries Rebekah.
That is the last that we hear of this servant – but he has left us an example to follow. If you are an employer or a leader, how single-minded are you in serving the needs of your employees or those whom you lead? If you are an employee or part of a team, how dedicated are you to serving your employer or your leader? And most of all, how single-minded are you in serving your Lord and Master, Jesus Christ? Can I say, “For me to live is Christ”? (Philippians 1:21).
Can we say, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord”? (Romans 14:8).
I hear many Christians and many churches praying to know more of God’s power. Well, It was this single-mindedness which enabled Paul to experience the extraordinary power of Christ’s resurrection in his life – but with it also came also the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings – not so popular these days (Philippians 3:10). It was this same single-mindedness which enabled him to say at the end of his life, in some of his last recorded words, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Will we have that same single-mindedness as Abraham’s servant, so that one day we too will be able to say these words?