No one wants to be a doormat. But if we haven’t put healthy limits in place, we can easily end up feeling used up and stepped on.
Biblical service is not mindless, robot-like obedience to the demands of others. It is intentional and life-giving. The giver and receiver are better people because of the act of compassion. It cultivates unity, closeness, and goodness in others that moves relationships in a positive direction.
It doesn’t always work that way, though. Occasionally, other people won’t appreciate us or they’ll take advantage of our kindness. We can ignore some of these instances, but we shouldn’t close our eyes to a pattern of disrespect or abuse.
We should be honest and, out of love for ourselves and others, refuse to give in to selfish demands or egotistical attitudes. Let’s not mistake Jesus words about turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) to mean that we overlook sin. We should refuse to accept disrespectful or abusive treatment so that we can restore our dignity and the other person has hope for change through repentance (Romans 6; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
Both Jesus and the apostle Paul are known for standing up for what is right and resisting evil. Jesus didn’t passively stroll through the temple while it became a “den of robbers” (Matthew 21:12-13). Paul exercised his rights as a Roman citizen and asked for a public display of regret when he was illegally arrested without a trial (Acts 16:36-40). He also advised the Corinthian church to kick a man out of their congregation who was sleeping with his father’s wife! We can’t pretend that a pattern of serious sin won’t affect our ability to serve.
Jesus set limits on his service to others by paying attention to his own needs as well as the needs of others. He healed the sick and fed the hungry, but he also made sure he got the food, rest, and time with his heavenly Father he needed so that he would be healthy to care for others (John 4:5; Mark 11:12-13; 6:30-32). We simply can’t ignore our own needs if we want to be available to help others. We must have physical nourishment, exercise, rest, relationship, and time for personal reflection on the Word of God. If we regularly neglect these areas as we serve others, we may begin to resent the very people we want to help.
Another way to limit the chances of becoming someone’s doormat is to keep in mind the scope of our talents, opportunities, and time that we’ve been given, and to seriously think twice about those things that do not fit into the unique purposes of our lives (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). Volunteering for things that you aren’t capable of or gifted for may not be a sensible stewardship of your time or resources. Find opportunities that accommodate the position in which God has placed you and that fit with the dreams and passions God has set on your heart. Performing only obligatory duties will drain us because they aren’t in line with who we were created to be.
And yet, we can’t base our service solely on how comfortable we feel. There are times when we feel the nudging of the Holy Spirit, asking us to do something completely out of our comfort zone. Often, the Lord is asking us to trust Him. On these occasions, pray fervently about it and ask God to confirm the direction. If you go ahead with a heart of gratitude and faith, the Lord will be delighted with you. He loves it when we trust Him.
Serving others involves personal sacrifice, but it is not without appropriate limits. We have physical requirements for life that we can’t ignore, and gifts and opportunities that distinguish us from the next person. But equally important is the disrespect or abuse from another person that may require us to limit our service.