Daily Proverbial, 26 January 2012

A servant cannot be corrected by mere words; though he understands, he will not respond. Proverbs 29, verse 19.

We are to be servants and God works through all things. Just before He was crucified, Jesus taught His disciples the lesson of being servants, imploring them to live their lives (and shape their hearts) as servants. He wanted them to know it wasn’t about them, and that to live they must die to the world. To be given a gift of living love they must give the loving gift of serving to others. In this, God was at work in their hearts and lives; tangible grace in its most perfect form.

After His resurrection, Christ kept telling them “Peace be with you.” I don’t know exactly how many times this phrase is recorded in the Gospels, but it seems like every time He greeted them as the resurrected Savior, He greeted them by imparting peace into their lives. He didn’t say “how’s it goin, guys” and He didn’t say “love ya bunches.” He said “peace be with you.”

In other words, He wanted them to be servants and to have peace in living like that. He wanted this for them knowing that servants need more than just words to keep them on the straight and narrow. Servants need training, feedback, and sometimes correction. It isn’t reasonable to expect that you can hire the help and just throw them into the job without setting expectations. Even a well trained worker needs to know what’s expected, and what the boundaries are for performance and behavior. Everyone needs feedback now and then to know if they’re meeting expectations or if correction is in order. In this there is constructive resolution; in this there can be peace.

The verse is saying that, saying that we need to say more than just “good job” or “you messed that up.” If you want service to a set of standards, you need to communicate those standards. You need to establish the standards, communicate expectations about them, and periodically enforce them. That means measuring performance, communicating progress, and then evaluating results. Yes, I know these are fancy consultant buzzwords that seem like management theory; that’s true. They’re also the process for enforcing standards and evaluation whether you’re inspecting nuclear weapons preparedness or common cleanliness in the coffee klatsch.

Christ knew this. He knew it because He understood His disciples and us. He knew it because He inspired this verse. Christ knew that if we wanted to talk the talk we needed to walk the walk. He knew that He wanted to grow His church in our hearts and that, to do that, His followers would need to minister as servants, not just as popes, ordained clergy, or called ministers on stage leading worship pep rallies. He knew that His words would be the inspiring fuel, but that occasionally servants would need evaluation and correction.

In a past life, I was a standards inspector. One of my jobs in the Air Force was to serve on an inspection team, visiting field units and inspecting their operations, standards, and training programs. We inspected against sets of universal regulations, looking at paperwork, evaluating line crews performing their jobs, observing tasks, and asking questions. Most of the time you were able to say, “good job. No problems noted.” Some of the time, however, you found discrepancies. When that happened, you needed to research how and why it occurred because, if there was a genuine error, you needed to have your story straight. Without fail, when you found an error, you also had to provide some kind of corrective action. Corrective training, decertification, fixing paperwork, additional training, filing reports, etcetera: the actions depended on the error. If you think about it, though, this process is an extension of the verse, understanding that servants need more than just words. I suppose that someone, somewhere could use this verse to justify physical punishment, and perhaps that would be a bastardizing misconstruing of the verse. God in His Scriptures corrects living people, but punishes with death. To punish a servant isn’t the way of the Word, but to provide correction is. In this, God can be at work through us, growing His kingdom and reaping glory.

Last night, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday by slaying the fatted calf at Fogo De Chao. If you’ve never been to one of these Brazilian places, it’s an upscale steakhouse where you can dine on some pretty high-powered food; vegetarians beware: beef, chicken, lamb, pork and seafood abound. Each diner is given a red and green disk, and the place is full of servers, servants of a kind if you will. When you want meat, you turn your disk to the green side and the servers rush to your table with long skewers on which is served the cooked meat. They carve off portions for you, and you get to dine on some of the most delectable meat you’ll ever have; did I say vegetarians beware? I didn’t see any of the servers carrying around skewers of tofu.

As we sat at the table, gorging on delectably roasted animals, I thought about this verse. The servers in any restaurant are there to provide you with what you want. In a way, the red and green disks are a kind of standard. They tell the servers whether to come or go and how often. I watched a group of twelve diners next to us as a swarm of gauchos with swords of beef descended on that table. Our server mostly abandoned us for them. I suppose I can’t blame him because gratuity was built into the bill for parties over six, and that table surely must have had a tab of over $1200 considering the food and drinks we saw. The servers there stood to make quite a haul.

We didn’t get bad service, and our tip was quite healthy, so I’m thinking the folks who took care of us did ok. As mentioned, gratuity was built into the check, but I’m usually a generous tipper beyond that, especially if I’m traveling on someone else’s expense account (too bad I wasn’t last night!). I didn’t leave our server much extra because he had chosen someone else over our table, but then I thought that I didn’t really provide him with much feedback. Other than turning over the food disks, I didn’t say or do much to set expectations or enforce standards. When the server left, I didn’t speak up to him and say “hey what about us?” We were nearly finished anyway, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. Still, we are to be servants in all things, and I see that I could have done a better job of serving my server who was serving my family. Perhaps this is the way in all things, and perhaps that’s what I’m supposed to remember from the incident and this verse. Let there be peace in that, and peace be with you through it.

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