The kind of service we can offer depends upon our own spiritual evolution. We need not refrain from offering service to others just because we are not able to render the highest service, which is the gift of spirituality. Giving food, saving or extending life, providing education-all are important on the road to spiritual realization when we have an attitude of worship of God dwelling in the recipient of our service.
According to the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 17), superior service is that which is offered to a worthy recipient, at the right time and place, without expectation of a return or favor, without desire for the fruit of action, and with due respect. Only this kind of service can help us grow spiritually. To render such service we need discrimination, training, and self-effort. Without these, service will just be another activity and not a means for inner purification. Combined with sacrifice and austerity, service leads to purity of mind and inner growth.
He who accepts our service gives us an opportunity to practice selflessness and become pure. If we expect anything from him, our service becomes unproductive and meaningless. We should rather be grateful to him. Swami Vivekananda's words in this regard are valuable: "Look upon every man, woman, and everyone as God. You cannot help anyone, you can only serve: serve the children of the Lord, serve the Lord Himself, if you have the privilege. If the Lord grants that you can help any one of his children, blessed you are; do not think too much of yourselves. Blessed you are that that privilege was given to you when others had it not. Do it only as a worship. I should see God in the poor, and it is for my salvation that I go and worship them. The poor and the miserable are for our salvation, so that we may serve the Lord, coming in the shape of the diseased, coming in the shape of the lunatic, the leper, and the sinner."
"No beggar whom we have helped has ever owed a single cent to us; we owe everything to him, because he has allowed us to exercise our charity on him. It is entirely wrong to think that we have done, or can do, good to the world, or to think that we have helped such and such people. It is a foolish thought, and all foolish thoughts bring misery. We think that we have helped some man and expect him to thank us, and because he does not, unhappiness comes to us. Why should we expect anything in return for what we do? Be grateful to the man you help, think Service As a Spiritual Discipline of him as God."
Our sojourn in this world is brief, lasting but a few decades. Millions of people come into this world and leave without creating the slightest ripple. The less we are attached to the body, the more will we progress spiritually. We then begin to understand that the world is not for our enjoyment, but for our spiritual growth. Says Swami Vivekananda, "The world is a grand moral gymnasium wherein we have all to take exercise so as to become stronger and stronger spiritually."