How to Find God in Service

"So be a person for others, but be a particular kind of person for others: be discerning, be vulnerable, be committed, and be gentle. That’s how you will find God in service." -Bob Burnham in "Little Lessons from the Mystics" (quote shown on green and blue background)

Editor’s note: Throughout July, we’re hosting 31 Days with St. Ignatiusa month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, posts on dotMagis this month will explore the theme of “people for others.” This month marks the 50th anniversary of Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s famous address in which he challenged Jesuit school alumni to form what we now embrace as “people for others.”

[John the Evangelist] teaches all mystics an essential lesson, that of service, which he learned at the Last Supper, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1–20).

We find God not by simply doing good deeds (if that were the case, even atheists would find God). We find God by doing good deeds in a particular way, and that way is modeled after the lesson Jesus gave us in washing the disciples’ feet.

First, it is discerning. Just as Jesus knew that God the Father “had given all things into his hands” (John 13:3), you have to know how to best serve others in a way that brings glory to God. We need the Holy Spirit’s wisdom to discern the difference between works of mercy that serve worldly goals—even when those goals benefit others—and those that serve heavenly ones.

Second, to find God through service, we have to make ourselves vulnerable. Jesus did this by taking off his outer robe. Our “outer robes” are the things that we use to separate ourselves from others. Maybe our outer robe is our opinion about who is “worthy” and who isn’t. Maybe it’s a feeling of futility, a feeling that no matter what we do, it won’t make a difference, so why bother.

Third, we have to be committed. Just as Jesus poured water into the washbasin, only by pouring our entire selves into the good works we do will we find God. Hold nothing back; go all in. We have no need to worry about how much we have to give because we can trust in God’s incomprehensible generosity.

Finally, we have to be gentle in the way we perform our service to others. Anyone who has had plantar fasciitis knows how painful even the gentlest touch can be. When Jesus wiped the disciples’ feet with a towel, he must have used a soft and gentle touch. Following Jesus’ example, we must be careful not to put too much pressure on those whom we serve by making demands of them.

So be a person for others, but be a particular kind of person for others: be discerning, be vulnerable, be committed, and be gentle. That’s how you will find God in service.

—Excerpted from Little Lessons from the Mystics by Bob Burnham

Today in 31 Days with St. Ignatius, practice Engaging the Senses Through Your Imagination with an article by Gary Jansen. Then use the hashtag #31DayswithIgnatius on your favorite social media channels to share what you love about Ignatian spirituality.


  1. Mahatma Gandhi observed “that the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” In other words, placing the needs of others before your own is an important step on the journey of self-discovery.


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