Service: The Humble Ambition

The secret of life is that those who are temporarily in possession of power give to those who are temporarily without.

The key word is temporary.

— Jim Hogan

Heaven and Hell

There is a description of heaven and hell, and it goes like this…

Heaven and hell are the same place. Upon arrival, you are welcomed into a large room. In the center of the room, stretching for as far as the eye can see, there is a huge buffet table. On the table are arranged the finest foods that anyone could ever wish to enjoy – an eternal feast for royalty!

As you enter the room you are issued a fork–with a six-foot-long handle–and you find that you are only able to hold the fork by the end of its handle. Unable to feed yourself, you must rely on others to gain access to the feast in front of you.

Let’s unpack that little story a bit.

You could, out of pure selfishness, feed others and hope that they return the favor. It seems like a fair exchange of commodities. But what if they don’t? Or, what if they just feed you the basics and deny you the best?

Certainly, they would have many other folks to “partner” with. Would they be happy enough to see you remain hungry–starving for eternity? What kind of person would you need to be to have others concerned enough about your well-being and happiness that they would help you gain access to the best that is offered?

What kind of person would you need to be to avoid hell and gain access to heaven?


Earlier in this book, we defined “passion” from its Latin root…

 “The word passion comes from Latin root pati-, meaning suffering, or enduring.

Thus, compassion means to suffer-with: the compassionate aren’t immune to other people’s pain.

True compassion for another requires an identification with the sufferer and the trials they are forced to endure. And, true identification can only come from having tread that ground ourselves. In the absence of that experience, the best we can do is act out of our imaginings of what their suffering is like. As admirable as that may be, we still come out of an essentially selfish place and our approach to the sufferer is subject to the foils of ego, moral superiority, arrogance, and pride. We may approach them from a place of judgment and a desire to fix, rather than serve. We have a preconceived notion of what is wrong with them and what they need to do to get better “as we would see it.”

It is patronizing and they will know it.


Humility can be defined as “a modest or low view of one’s own importance.”

True service comes from a place of compassion, and compassion requires humility.  It is the absence of pride and arrogance which emerges from a clear recognition and acceptance of one’s own failings and shortcomings that qualifies us to serve others. It grows from the persistently facing, embracing, and coming to terms with our own sufferings, so that we may be prepared to approach the other on our knees, rather than from our throne.

The Legacy Career

Is it essential that we form our Legacy Career around the tough experiences we’ve faced and come to terms within our own lives? Certainly, there will be many noble examples of where that is not the case.

On the other hand, one way to make sense of our own sufferings is to view them as assignments which prepare us through our own acts of reconciliation to be of unique value to others.

We feed others, not because we are full and can afford to share–or, even because we have a personal agenda to satisfy.

We feed others because we remember what it feels like to be hungry and we find that condition unacceptable when we encounter it in others.

Yours in faith, character, and service,


2 thoughts on “Service: The Humble Ambition”

  1. Tim…as is true of all of your posts, this is very deep. At times I have difficulty understanding your viewpoint, which may be due to my inability to think too deeply lest I break my brain.
    One line that has caused me the greatest headache is the following:
    “It grows from persistently facing, embracing, and coming to terms with our own sufferings, so that we may be prepared to approach the other on our knees, rather than from our throne.” What does this mean in terms of our daily lives? I need help understanding this.


    1. Hi Dave, Thanks for your comment and question. Sorry for being a little too “into my head” on some of this stuff.
      Let me give you an example:
      A couple of years ago I was part of a group tour of the 211 facilities in downtown Cleveland. These folks are the helpline for people with problems. On the tour was one of our locally-elected county commissioners (a civil servant). We visited the person who took calls from veterans in need. I tried to compliment the person who answered the phone by sharing how I know some veterans who are really struggling with the deep emotional components of their circumstances. The commissioner, standing next to me spoke up and said something like this, “Well I see it differently. At one point in my life, I lost a job at the same time I was going through a divorce. What I did was pay my own way through college so I could get a better job and pull my self up.”
      This is an example of someone “speaking from his throne”, a place of pride and arrogance, rather than having come to terms with his own suffering so that he could serve others at their own level (from his knees) – a place of humility.
      (Post-script: That commissioner lost his seat in the last election.)


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