The Importance of Service

For Albert Schweitzer, service to others was both a responsiblity and a joy.  He undertook great feats of service as a medical doctor and missionary in Lambarene, Africa.  But he also continually looked for opportunities to help others in small, seemingly inconsequential ways, whether it be helping a woman struggling with her luggage on a railway platform, writing a letter of encouragement to a high school student, or nursing a orphaned pelican back to health.  He knew that few people have been graced with the opportunity or motivation for great service, but we all have the ability, and the spiritual need, to perform many small acts of kindness.  

The importance of providing direct service to our fellow men and women--indeed to all living things--appears throughout Schweitzer's published writings.  In the two short wonderful articles referenced and excerpted below, Schweitzer discusses the valuable contributions we should all make to decreasing the pain and increasing the happiness of others.  For those interested in knowing more about Schweitzer's life and ethics, see the books reviewed on my Albert Schweitzer website, and particularly Schweitzer's autobiographical Out of My Life and Thought.

Your Second Job
    by Albert Schweitzer, as told in an interview to Fulton Oursler.
    Reader's Digest, October 1949, pg 1-5.

The One-Talent People
    by Albert Schweitzer
    Christian Herald, September 1949, pg 24-5, 64.
    This is a sermon based on Jesus' parable of the king who divided his talents (money) among his servants (Matthew 25:14-30).

Quotations from Your Second Job:

"No matter how busy one is, any human being can assert his personality by seizing every opportunity for spiritual activitiy.  How? By his second job: by means of personal action, on however small a scale, for the good of his fellow men.  He will not have to look far for opportunities.

Our greatest mistake, as individuals, is that we walk through out life with closed eyes and do not notice our chances.  As soon as we open our eyes and deliberately search we see many who need help, not in big things but in the littlest things.  Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him."

"From a feeling of embarrassment, we hesitate to approach a stranger.   The fear of being repulsed si the cause of a great deal of coldness in the world; when we seem indifferent we are often merely timid.  The adventurous soul must break that barrier, resolving in advance not to mind a rebuff.  If we dare with wisdom, always maintaining a certain reserve in our approach, we find that when we open ourselves we open doors in others.

Especially in great cities do the doors of the heart need to be opened.  Love is always lonely in crowds."

"Whatever you have received more than others--in health, in talents, in ability, in success, in a pleasant childhood, in harmonious conditions of home life--all this you must not take to yourself as a matter of course.  In gratitude for your good fortune, you must render in return some sacrifice fo your own life for other life."

"Organized welfare work is, of course, necessary; but the gaps in it must be filled by personal service, performed with loving kindness.  A charitable organization is a complex affair; life an automobile, it needs a broad highway to run on.  It cannot penetrate the little bypaths; those are for men and women to walk through, with open eyes and hearts full of comprehension.

We cannot abdicate our conscience to an organization, nor to a government.  'Am I my brother's keeper?'  Most certainly I am!  I cannot escape my responsibility by saying the State will do all that is necessary.  It is a tragedy that nowadays so many people think and feel otherwise."

"You may think it is a wonderful life my wife and I have in the equatorial jungle.  That is merely where we happen to be.  But you can have a still more wonderful life by staying where you happen to be and putting your soul to the test in a thousand little trials, and winning triumphs of love.  Such a career of the spirit demands patience, devotion, daring.   It calls for strength of will and determination to love: the greatest test of a man.  But in this hard 'second job' is to be found the only true happiness."

Quotations from The One-Talent People

"In the eyes of Jesus there is not one task that is great and another that is little.  Look at the parable [of the king who divides his talents among his servants before going on a journey].  Jesus does not say to the one who has received five talents, 'Because you have been faithful in great things enter into the joy of your Lord,' but He says, even as He would have said to the one-talent man, 'You have been faithful in little, and because you have been faithful in little things, enter into the joy of your Lord.'  If God has so ordered your life that you have to live most of it to earn your living, or for some other task, so that only a little bit of your life is able to be given directly to the service of Christ, that little bit has just the same importance and value to Him as that which is given by someone who has his whole life to give."

"Our Lord does not speak in the parable of an 'unfaithful' servant; He makes what is really a much more severe condemnation.  He speaks of a servant who is useless, unprofitable.  The servant was one who did not know the importance that his master attached to the little service that he could have rendered."

"Perhaps Jesus is asking of you a little task, and, if you find it, later He will ask of you something that is greater.  Always keep your eyes open for the little task, because it is the little task which is important to Jesus Christ.  The future of the Kingdom of God does not depend on the enthusiasm of this or that powerful person; those great ones are necessary too, but it is equally necessary to have a great number of little people who will do a little thing in the service of Christ.

The great flowing rivers represent only a small part of all the water that is necessary to nourish and sustain the earth.  Beside the flowing river there is the water in the earth--the subterranean water--and there are the little streams which continually enter the river and feed it and prevent it from sinking into the earth.  Without these other waters--the silent hidden subterranean waters and the trickling streams--the great river could not flow.  Thus it is with the little tasks to be fulfilled by us all.

Therefore, I entreat you, in the spirit of this parable, seize that little task, be faithful to that little task, that your Lord may at last say to you also, 'You have been faithful in the little thing I have entrusted to you.  Enter into the joy of your Lord.'"

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