Carl (not his real name) looked at me in disgust. “What do you mean I shouldn’t expect to be thanked for my gift? Or that I shouldn’t want to be appreciated for what I did?”
I paused a moment, silently praying for wisdom and tact, unsure how to help this brother in the Lord. “I know how important it can be to us to be appreciated,” I finally began. “But what I am trying to say is that we don’t serve God, help others, give our offerings, or even just go to church because others reward us. We don’t do the right thing because we get a pat on the back.”
“I’m not doing that!” he retorted. “I just think that when I help someone, I should be appreciated. If they’re not going to thank me, then I don’t see the point in doing it.”
“So you’re saying that if you don’t feel appreciated, you’d stop helping someone?” I asked.
He faltered. It was difficult to admit the truth. Painful and ugly as it was, however, his refusal to accept it stood in the way of his walk with God.
“You said you’re not doing that, but isn’t the thanks you feel entitled to a reward? Something in return for something? And if you get mad because there isn’t recognition and you stop doing what’s right as a result, isn’t that proof that recognition was the reward you were in fact seeking?”
Carl turned a deep shade of red and blustered something that sounded like an accusation that I didn’t understand and that I was persecuting him unfairly. He left without changing his mind or position on the matter and made good his promise of quitting things.
He felt that I didn’t understand. The thing is, I understood all too well what he was feeling and knew intimately the temptation of doing my “righteous deeds”, if not for a material reward, for at least an ego-soothing pat-on-the back.
Don’t misunderstand. It is natural to want to be thanked, to be appreciated, and to be rewarded for working hard, making sacrifices, and helping others. And we should all endeavor to encourage and appreciate what others do for us whenever we have the opportunity.
But as far as being on the receiving end of it, we must never let the approval of others become the determining factor for doing what is right. More specifically, we should never let recognition by others be the criteria we use for serving God.
The bottom line is that the instant we do, we have erected an idol in our lives. What is that idol? The idol of self. And the praise of others that we demand for our deeds is the worship we covet.
Jesus explained this principle in Matthew 6 when He admonished His hearers to not conduct their spiritual lives in such a way that our deeds “may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:16). In fact, Jesus transitions from that thought to the dangers of storing treasures for ourselves on earth – material and immaterial (Matthew 6:9-21).
So whether I am serving Him now in order to materially benefit or in order to be noticed by others, I am in both cases missing the point of serving God. Serving Him should be the expression of our daily trust in Him as we delight in His glorious majesty. Serving Him should be the fruit of our savoring the intimacy that Jesus’ blood on the cross bought for us when He died for our sin. Additionally, in all things we owe Him everything, our thanks and faithful service simply the effect of gratitude within us.
The “why” of doing what’s right, particularly if you’re wanting to serve God, is at least as important as the “what” of your service. Consider the widow described in Mark 12:41-44 who “put in more than all those who are contributing.” When she gave, she gave out of her poverty, but did so unreservedly to God trusting Him for her needs. When the others gave, they gave out of their excess and only did it to impress those who were watching.
So whether we’re talking about the giving of financial resources or the giving of our time, energy and service, can we not lavish upon God what we have and what we are simply because He is worthy? Can we not give Him of ourselves because He is a greater treasure to us than all other things and His opinion matters to us more than anyone else’s?
Take in hand your attitude towards giving to and serving God. Take hold of how you express that in helping others. Serving God, helping others, making sacrifices are noble things, but are noble only when done for noble reasons. Remember that your reward is not here on earth, but is one with your heavenly Father. In the end, to hear the Lord say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Luke 19:17) as He welcomes you, His precious child, into your heavenly home, is a reward with which nothing else on earth can compare. So live well today as you look to Him Who holds tomorrow.
A little caveat to our congregations regarding the pastors they call to lead them: take care of your pastor. Be as mindful of him and his family’s needs as you expect him to be with you.
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 24 ½ years, is the author of Led by Grace, The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)