The Joyless Martyr

What’s the difference between a martyr and a Christ-like servant? What’s the difference between service that God rewards and service that He rejects?

I’ve been thinking this over a lot lately as I find my physical limitations being tested and consistently coming up short against my desires and my duties.

Times when I look at a floor covered with toys, rubbish and goodness knows what else, and I really want to just whizz around and pick it all up, but I know that I will pay for it with a sore back and hips.

Times when I just want to be close to my husband, but we’re always a beach-ball or a backache apart.

Times when I think of that friend I really need to call and ask how she’s going, but if I don’t go nap RIGHT THEN, I probably won’t get to at all. And if I don’t nap, my kids will probably end up watching TV for 3 hours and eating vegemite sandwiches for dinner.

Times when I was up all through the night because a little person needed water, and the baby was jumping on my bladder and the smoke alarm JUST NEEDED TO CHECK IT STILL WORKED (it does), and then the kids wake up early, and they need to be dressed and have breakfast made, and how I feel about it is irrelevant. So even though my body is screaming “you need to sleep!” I get up and get on with it.



I think there are two struggles with legalism.

There are people who struggle with believing that they are saved by how well they can follow God’s rules, so they set up rules around the Rules like little fences, so they don’t even have to worry about not “making it”.

Other people struggle with legalism by trying to define the rules so narrowly that they weasel their way out of following them most of the time – coming up with reasons they don’t apply or redefining what they mean until there’s nothing left to obey.

I struggle with the former. I want to know what the rules are so that I can stick to them. Check them off my list. Done.

And so when I encounter times like this where I can see, on the one hand, the “right” thing to do and yet, on the other hand, feel completely, physically incapable of doing it, it gets me really down.

I end up either pushing through and doing it anyway, feeling really sorry for myself and slightly angry at all the people I imagine should have “rescued” me. Or I don’t do that thing, and then feel completely wracked with guilt – because what are physical limitations when I serve an all-powerful God, right? Oh, me of little faith!


I’ve been reading through Philippians lately in my quiet time, and I always find this book so rich in so many ways. But the one passage I am consistently drawn back to each time is Philippians 2:5-11:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Let’s see, what should I do… serve others? Check. Humble myself? Check. Obedience? Check.


But what does Paul actually say? Is this really a check list of things the Christian should do?

He actually says, “have this mind among yourselves”. Mind. Mindset. Attitude.

That’s the hard part for me. I can force myself to push through (some) physical limitations, but I can’t (won’t?) force a good attitude.

I remember so many times my husband has tried to call me out on an attitude problem, and my response has been, “Just tell me what you want me to do” or “Just tell me what I should say/how I should say it”.

Outwardly, it sounds like the godly thing to ask. I’m just trying to be obedient, right? I’m trying to do the right thing here! Just tell me what it is!

But this completely misses the point (and drives my husband crazy).

The point is that our attitude is the same as Jesus’s. The point is that we serve whole-heartedly. The point is that we are giving and doing out of the joy that overflows from our hearts.

And I think that answers my original question:

What’s the difference between a martyr and a Christ-like servant?

Real, Christ-loving, Spirit-fed joy.

This is my goal, that I can serve the Lord and others with joy, pouring myself out as I imitate Christ. But that I will not be weighed down by the burden of “can’t”. That I will seek the Lord for wisdom as to when I “should” or “should not”.


I wanted to finish with a quote from a book I’ve been reading, Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem and the Joys of Motherhood, by Rachel Jankovic. Honestly, it’s hard to share just one quote – I’ve been highlighting every second page or so, it is just exactly what I need to hear right now. (Go read it!)

When you find yourself getting stuck in a needing mentality, you will look for ways to give. And you won’t look for ways to give just because you have to, and it is a terrible Christian duty. It is our duty, but when we faithfully obey as unto the Lord, we are given great joy, great satisfaction, and great fulfillment in the task. When you empty yourself for others, God fills you up. But not so that you can suddenly retire with your little packet of joy. God gives to us that we may give. We give, He gives us more, with which to give more.

Amen to that.