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What is Service?

The Baha’i Faith defines service as prayer:

This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, he is giving praise.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 177)

Who Can Serve? 

Everyone!

But in this Dispensation every human being who recognizes the station of Bahá’u’lláh and is enlisted in His Faith, whether young or old, learned or unlettered, rich or poor, can render services to the Cause of God.    (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 395-396)

We don’t need to be educated or have influence and standing in society to serve:

There is no limit to serving the Cause. One need not be educated or have influence and standing in society to serve. Often it is the simple people of the world, sometimes illiterate, who rise to great heights of service in the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 395-396)

Why Should We Be of Service?

God has given us this great gift:

Then thank ye your Lord, for He hath favored you with this manifest success. By God, the true One! this cannot be equaled either by the dominion of the world or by the gift of ruling over all regions with pomp, glory and power!  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 274)

One of the inestimable privileges which Bahá’u’lláh has conferred upon His followers is that He has summoned them to serve His Cause. In older Dispensations, the Cause of God was usually administered by a few, the religious leaders or clergy. The rest of the people did not have the same opportunity.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 395-396)

‘Abdu’l-Baha wants us to become His associates:

Verily, I hope from God that ye may become my associates in servitude to His Holy Threshold and my partners at the entrance of the Door of His Oneness; so that ye may equally serve in His great vineyard. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 274)

It’s of benefit to us:

The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 335)

Service is the garment of everlasting glory:

This is not servitude but sovereignty, and this is not service but chieftainship and greatness! This is the garment of everlasting glory with which thou hast clothed thyself, and this is the rose of eternal exaltation with which thou hast adorned thy head. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 510)

Nothing else will benefit us in this world:

Know that nothing will benefit thee in this life save supplication and invocation unto God, service in His vineyard, and, with a heart full of love, be in constant servitude unto Him.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 374-375)

Our time in this world is so fleeting, that if we understood how little time we have to develop our souls, we would long to tread the path of service:

Wert thou to consider this world, and realize how fleeting are the things that pertain unto it, thou wouldst choose to tread no path except the path of service to the Cause of thy Lord.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 314)

Our stations, names, ranks and memory will be preserved in the next world:

Cling, O ye people of Bahá, to the cord of servitude unto God, the True One, for thereby your stations shall be made manifest, your names written and preserved, your ranks raised and your memory exalted in the Preserved Tablet. Beware lest the dwellers on earth hinder you from this glorious and exalted station.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 62)

It’s a way of giving thanks to God:

The grace of God hath chosen thee and distinguished thee for His love, that thou mayest thank Him a thousand times in every moment. Because of this bounty, you must choose to serve the maid-servants of the Merciful.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 507-508)

In short, thou shouldst thank God a hundred-thousand times for having been confirmed and strengthened in obtaining such a great gift! Know thou the value thereof and consider that its price is highly appraised.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 510)

Who Should We Focus our Service On?

The abased and downtrodden:

If ye meet the abased or the down-trodden, turn not away disdainfully from them, for the King of Glory ever watcheth over them and surroundeth them with such tenderness as none can fathom.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 314-315)

The poor:

Flee not from the face of the poor that lieth in the dust, nay rather befriend him and suffer him to recount the tale of the woes with which God’s inscrutable Decree hath caused him to be afflicted.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 314-315)

How Can We Serve?

Center our whole heart and mind on service to the Cause:

An individual must center his whole heart and mind on service to the Cause, in accordance with the high standards set by Bahá’u’lláh.  When this is done, the Hosts of the Supreme Concourse will come to the assistance of the individual, and every difficulty and trial will gradually be overcome.  (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 20)

Find an area of service which best suits your talents, skills, training and material resources:

Let them step forth to take their places in the arena of service where their talents and skills, their specialized training, their material resources, their offers of time and energy and, above all, their dedication to Bahá’í principles, can be put to work in improving the lot of man.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 546)

Study the requirements of the Plan, consider where the needs are great and where we can best render this service in light of our own personal possibilities:

The friends should devote themselves to the service of the Cause, study the requirements of the Plan in all parts of the world, consider where the needs are great and where they can best render this service in light of their own personal possibilities, and then, as an outcome of consultation, prayer and much thought, devote themselves wholeheartedly to the advancement of the Word of God.     (The Universal House of Justice, 1996 Jan 31, Not Living in Los Angeles)

Devote time to material needs and also to the service of the Cause:

It is a compromise between the two verses of the “Aqdas”, one making it incumbent upon every Bahá’í to serve the promotion of the Faith and the other that every soul should be occupied in some form of occupation that will benefit society. In one of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh says that the highest form of detachment in this day is to be occupied with some profession and be self-supporting. A good Bahá’í, therefore, is the one who so arranges his life as to devote time both to his material needs and also to the service of the Cause.  (Universal House of Justice, The Importance of the Arts in Promoting the Faith)

Sometimes we have to put the needs of the Faith before our career:

The delicate balance between the claims of the Cause of God and the claims of one’s profession is an intensely personal matter which can only be resolved eventually in the heart and soul of each individual. Many Bahá’ís have become, and are, distinguished in their professions and at the same time have rendered and are rendering great services to the Cause and it is obviously possible to achieve distinction in one’s profession and calling and to serve the Cause of God at the same time. The House of Justice realizes, however that circumstances can conspire at critical times in the fortunes of the Faith, to require individuals to make the heart- searching decision of sacrificing one’s own prospect for the apparent good of the Cause. Here again, the history of the Cause provides many examples of believers who have willingly forgone promotion in, or even the continued practice of, their professions in order to meet the needs of the Faith. As in all difficult decisions facing individual officer, such as a Counsellor or Board member, or even one or two friends of his own choosing. Even then, however, the eventual decisions rests with the individual himself.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 31-32)

Continually give for the good of others, without fear of poverty:

To be continually giving out for the good of our fellows undeterred by the fear of poverty and reliant on the unfailing bounty of the Source of all wealth and all good – that is the secret of right living. (Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian: 32)

Lay the foundation of a new spiritual Order founded on the Word of God instead of other forms of service to humanity:

He feels that, although your desire to partake actively of the dangers and mysteries afflicting so many millions of people today, is natural, and a noble impulse, there can be no comparison between the value of Bahá’í work and any other form of service to humanity.  If the Bahá’ís could evaluate their work properly they would see that whereas other forms of relief work are superficial in character, alleviating the sufferings and ills of men for a short time at best, the work they are doing is to lay the foundation of a new spiritual Order in the world founded on the Word of God, operating according to the laws He has laid down for this age. No one else can do this work except those who have fully realized the meaning of the Message of Bahá’u’lláh, whereas almost any courageous, sincere person can engage in relief work, etc.  The believers are building a refuge for mankind. This their supreme sacred task and they should devote every moment they can to this task.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 423)

Love and serve for the sake of God and nothing else:

Love and serve mankind just for the sake of God and not for anything else. The foundation of your love toward humanity must be spiritual faith and Divine assurance.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 213)

With pure deeds and pure motives:

There can be no greater bounty in this life than serving the Cause, provided one’s motive is pure. If service is rendered in the hope of securing fame, influence and other personal gains in this world or even in the next, then such a service becomes a great burden on the soul. It fills one’s life with sadness and frustration and as Bahá’u’lláh has declared in His Writings, it will not be pleasing to God, for nothing but pure deeds and pure motives can be acceptable in His sight.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 3, p. 395)

With a heart filled with love:

Know that nothing will benefit thee in this life save supplication and invocation unto God, service in His vineyard, and, with a heart full of love, be in constant servitude unto Him.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 374-375)

Detached from the desires of this world:

I hope that thou wilt cut thyself from all that is in this world; wilt sever thyself from all desires of this transitory world; wilt attach thy heart entirely to the light of truth and wilt, at all times, rise in the service of truth in the rose-garden of God.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 131)

Serve with selflessness, humility and detachment:

The truth, however, is that the Bahá’í community has no leaders as such and those who are elected or appointed to administrative office are expected to be servants of the Cause, manifesting self-effacement, humility and detachment from the things of this world. An inherent characteristic of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh is that it does not harbour egotistical personalities. Its watchword is the servitude exemplified by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, whose supplication to God was to give Him ‘to drink from the chalice of selflessness’ and to make Him as ‘dust’ in the pathway of the loved ones of God.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 293)

Praise God among His Servants:

Thou wast created for My sake; occupy Thyself therefore with My praise amidst My servants. This is that which hath been ordained for Thee in the Preserved Tablet.  (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 25-26)

Befriend and Listen to the poor:

Flee not from the face of the poor that lieth in the dust, nay rather befriend him and suffer him to recount the tale of the woes with which God’s inscrutable Decree hath caused him to be afflicted.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 314-315)

Allow our leaders to serve us:

It is said in the New Testament: “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 510)

Serve at all times and to the best of our ability:

He should . . . serve Him at all times and to the best of his ability. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, 5 June 1988)

Serve in such a way that everyone who meets you will know that your intention is to do good:

You must always do your best to behave spiritually, not physically, so that everyone who meets you will know that your intention is to do good to mankind and your aim to serve the world of humanity.  Whatever you do, let the people know you are doing it for good, not only to earn you own living. By doing thus you will be able to serve every city to which you go.   (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)

Howard Colby Ives uses this illustration to show what happens when we make ourselves indispensable to others:

Let us imagine that rare article: a perfect maid servant, a purely hypothetical character, admittedly, but admirable for the purpose of illustration. She is efficient, cooks the most delectable dishes; she is good natured, always cheerful and happy; she is obedient, never asserts herself, never contradicts; she is wise with a homely common sense which penetrates to the heart of a problem, whether it relates to the “master’s” fondness for coffee of a certain strength, the “mistress’ ” liking for breakfast in bed combined with an early engagement at a committee meeting, or little Johnnie’s embarrassment over a raid on the pantry resulting in tummy-agony which must be hidden from mother. This wisdom may even be so far embracing that it involves a study of the current news and market reports so that father and mother unconsciously talk things over with her when a club paper is to be prepared or a large purchase made.  I have sometimes amused myself with picturing the daily life of such a family. Is there any question which one of its members would be the ruling power? Which the greatest, the most indispensable one of its members?  Can one not imagine the consternation in that household if “Bridget” or “Mary” should announce a severing of connection?   (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 204-208)

And another illustration:

A corner grocery which has for its motto-and lives up to it every instant-“Service First.” Service before profit; service before clockwatching; service before any personal consideration whatever. After all, preposterous as such an hypothetical grocery store may be, that is just what a food store should be. Does not the comfort, even in isolated cases perhaps, the very life of the community it serves depend upon it?  If the desire for profit overbalances, the result is debased and unhealthy food. The law has stringent penalties for such infraction, but such laws would be unnecessary if the spirit of true service ruled. But our imaginary-our utterly preposterous ideal store IS ruled by that spirit. No self-sacrifice is too great for its owner and employees to insure that perfect service is rendered with its only objective the health, happiness and welfare of its community.  Can one not easily picture the inevitable result? That store would be the Ruler of that community. Its fame would spread over the land; its business would prosper beyond any imaginings; its owner and managers might be consulted by statesmen. It would be GREAT.  But let us allow our imaginations further rioting. Let us suppose that in addition to this spirit of service the proprietor was possessed of a wisdom and love based upon the Sermon on the Mount. The mere suggestion of such a possibility is sufficient. Such a man would come to be possessed of a Power rivaling and surpassing that of a king.  (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 204-208)

This is how ‘Abdu’l-Baha approached service:

This spirit of servitude was His distinguishing characteristic. The very title given Him by Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and by which He wished always to be known and addressed, “The Servant of Glory,” was indicative of the essential nature of this quality as it related to the Bahá’í teaching. He was once asked to act as honorary chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá is a servant,” He responded simply.  “I am ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and no more. I am not pleased with whosoever praises me by any other tide. I am the servant of the Blessed Perfection, and I hope that this Servitude of mine will become acceptable. Whosoever mentions any other name save this will not please me at all. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and no more. No person must praise me except by this name: “‘Abdu’l-Bahá.”  And again: “The mystery of mysteries of these words, texts and lines, is servitude to the Holy Presence of the Beauty of Abhá, and effacement, evanescence and perfect dispersion before the Blessed Threshold. This is my brilliant diadem and my glorious crown. With this I will be glorified in the heavenly kingdom and the kingdom of this world. And with it I will approach unto the Beauty among the nearest ones to God, and no one is allowed to interpret other than this.”  (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 201-202)

At the same time, and with all of this in mind, we also need to look after our health, and take time for rest and relaxation:

You should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It — the body — is like a horse which carries the personality and spirit, and as such should be well cared for so it can do its work! You should certainly safeguard your nerves, and force yourself to take time, and not only for prayer meditation, but for real rest and relaxation.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 296)

Even Shoghi Effendi, as weighty as his responsibilities were, took time off to recuperate and rejuvenate:

Shoghi Effendi had to take a “leave of absence” from his job “under the weight of sorrows and boundless grief” until “by the grace of God, having gained health, strength, self confidence and spiritual energy” he was able to return. (Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, p. 42.)

And ‘Abdu’l-Baha gave Him permission!

We also have a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed to Shoghi Effendi, expressing His concern about his health, but at what period it was written I do not know:  He is God! Shoghi Effendi, upon him be the glory of the All-Glorious! Oh thou who art young in years and radiant of countenance, I understand you have been ill and obliged to rest; never mind, from time to time rest is essential, otherwise, like unto ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from excessive toil you will become weak and powerless and unable to work.  Therefore rest a few days, it does not matter. I hope that you will be under the care and protection of the Blessed Beauty.  (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, p. 7)

The Promises:

Every time we turn to God and ask for help, the Concourse on High will be helping; and glorifying our actions:

Whilst ye consort with him, the Concourse on high will be looking upon you, will be interceding for you, will be extolling your names and glorifying your action.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 314-315)

. . . the Hosts of the Supreme Concourse will come to the assistance of the individual, and every difficulty and trial will gradually be overcome.  (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 20)

God sees our every tiny little effort and magnifies them:

An act, however infinitesimal, is, when viewed in the mirror of the knowledge of God, mightier than a mountain. Every drop proffered in His path is as the sea in that mirror.  (Baha’u’llah, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 4)

Moreover, although these insignificant amounts are not worthy of mention, they are well pleasing, since the donors offer them for the sake of God. If the offering be but a single grain it is regarded as the crowning glory of all the harvests of the world.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 490)

We’ll become stronger at resisting temptation:

The more we occupy ourselves with teaching the Cause and serving our fellowman in this way, the stronger we become in resisting that which is abhorrent to our spiritual selves. (Letters of The Universal House  of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

We’ll achieve the true purpose of our lives:

When his life is oriented towards service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Jun 05, Detailed Legislation on Moral Issues)

Prayers for Service:

  1. By Thy grace I am, at all times, ready to serve Thee and am rid of all attachment to any one except Thee. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 184)
  1. I beseech Thee, by Thy name that hath unlocked the gates of Heaven and filled with ecstasy the Concourse on high, to enable me to serve Thee, in this Day, and to strengthen me to observe that which Thou didst prescribe in Thy Book. Thou knowest, O my Lord, what is in me; but I know not what is in Thee. Thou art the All-Knowing, the All-Informed. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 58)
  1. O Lord, my God! Give me Thy grace to serve Thy loved ones, strengthen me in my servitude to Thee, illumine my brow with the light of adoration in Thy court of holiness, and of prayer to Thy kingdom of grandeur. Help me to be selfless at the heavenly entrance of Thy gate, and aid me to be detached from all things within Thy holy precincts. Lord! Give me to drink from the chalice of selflessness; with its robe clothe me, and in its ocean immerse me. Make me as dust in the pathway of Thy loved ones, and grant that I may offer up my soul for the earth ennobled by the footsteps of Thy chosen ones in Thy path, O Lord of Glory in the Highest. With this prayer doth Thy servant call Thee, at dawntide and in the night-season. Fulfill his heart’s desire, O Lord! Illumine his heart, gladden his bosom, kindle his light, that he may serve Thy Cause and Thy-servants.  Thou art the Bestower, the Pitiful, the Most Bountiful, the Gracious, the Merciful, the Compassionate.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablet of Visitation, Baha’i Prayers, p. 233-234)
  1. O Thou compassionate, almighty One! This assemblage of souls have turned their faces unto Thee in supplication. With the utmost humility and submission they look toward Thy Kingdom and beg Thee for pardon and forgiveness. O God! Endear this assembly to Thyself. Sanctify these souls, and cast upon them the rays of Thy guidance. Illumine their hearts, and gladden their spirits with Thy glad tidings. Receive all of them in Thy holy Kingdom; confer upon them Thine inexhaustible bounty; make them happy in this world and in the world to come. O God! We are weak; give us strength. We are poor; bestow upon us Thine illimitable treasures. We are sick; grant unto us Thy divine healing. We are impotent; give us Thy heavenly power. O Lord! Make us useful in this world; free us from the condition of self and desire. O Lord! Make us brethren in Thy love, and cause us to be loving toward all Thy children. Confirm us in service to the world of humanity so that we may become the servants of Thy servants, that we may love all Thy creatures and become compassionate to all Thy people. O Lord, Thou art the Almighty. Thou art the Merciful. Thou art the Forgiver. Thou art the Omnipotent. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 301-302)
  1. Thou knowest, O God, and art my Witness that I have no desire in my heart save to attain Thy good pleasure, to be confirmed in servitude unto Thee, to consecrate myself in Thy service, to labour in Thy great vineyard and to sacrifice my all in Thy path. Thou art the All-Knowing and the All-Seeing. I have no wish save to turn my steps, in my love for Thee, towards the mountains and the deserts to loudly proclaim the advent of Thy kingdom, and to raise Thy call amidst all men. O God! Open Thou the way for this helpless one, grant Thou the remedy to this ailing one and bestow Thy healing upon this afflicted one. With burning heart and tearful eyes I supplicate Thee at Thy threshold. O God! Protect me from tests. Thou knowest full well that I have turned away from all things and freed myself of all thoughts. I have no occupation save mention of Thee and no aspiration save serving Thee.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 88)
  1. O my Lord! Confirm me to serve Thy beloved and to be submissive and humble before Thy chosen ones. Make me to know the meaning of Thy Words and inform me of the mysteries of Thy signs. Place me in the shadow of the standard of Thy Testament and preserve me from Thy tests which break backs and unveil the sins of the black sliders and tend to disgrace the party of deception and the people of wickedness. Verily, Thou art the Mighty, the Pardoner! (Compilations, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 432)

How has this helped you understand service better?  Post your comments below!