“You choose a thankless job, you can’t be upset when nobody thanks you. Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.”
– Ron Swanson
Have you ever gotten upset that nobody noticed your work? Maybe you worked really hard on that project for school, and nobody seemed to appreciate your effort. Maybe you went above and beyond the call of duty at work, but nobody seemed to recognize you. Maybe you spent hours upon hours struggling to write and then deliver a sermon to a congregation only to have them walk away without returning so much as a “Thank you.”
I’ve found discouragement to be a heavy hitter in such situations as these. After pouring out your heart to accomplish a responsibility, you expect people to take note, to appreciate all that you’ve done. You expect people to care about how much you care. At least, that’s how I think and feel most of the time. Interestingly enough, however, Jesus calls us to a different way of living and working. He says,
Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
This passage convicts me just about every time I read it. Jesus is telling his followers to selflessly do what they’ve been called to do without seeking thanks. And yet how often do I expect recognition and appreciation for doing the work assigned to me? How often do I desire to be honored for doing my job?
A proper look at reality completely destroys any delusions of grandeur. The truth is that a completely holy, completely powerful, completely loving, completely just God created me for fellowship with himself and for service. Instead of submitting to his good lordship, I sought my own glory and rebelled. By my sin, and mine alone, I earned the wrath of God. I deserved nothing less than to perish for my crime. Yet this God showed mercy by staying his hand for a season (Romans 3:25). This God showed love by sending Christ to die in my place (Romans 3:21-25; Romans 5:8). This God showed grace by counting my faith in Christ as righteousness (Romans 5:9-10). And as if that wasn’t enough, this God has called me his son, appointing me as an ambassador for his name among the nations (Romans 8:15-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20). Nothing can now separate me from God’s love, and neither can anyone condemn me (Romans 8:31-39; Romans 8:1-2). It is only by grace that I am saved, meaning that I did nothing to earn my place in God’s kingdom; God, according to his own good pleasure, saved me to life and good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
The crazy part is that I, after being called by God and empowered for service only by his grace in spite of my sins, think that I deserve honor for doing the very works I ought naturally to be doing. I’m like a student who turns in his homework on time and says to the professor, “Here is my homework. Now where is my praise?” That’s crazy. And just like the student shouldn’t expect praise for simply doing what is required, neither should I expect praise for accomplishing the ministry God has called me to do. Service is my calling. All glory is his.
As I reflect on this, I want to remind myself, and each of us, to do two things. First, encourage someone around you. We all work thankless jobs to some extent, and we ought to work as unto the Lord regardless of whether or not anyone else notices our efforts (Colossians 3:23-24). Nevertheless, a word of thanks or encouragement can serve a brother or sister well. So thank God for thankless servants and encourage them to keep up the good work. Second, trust that your work for the Lord is not wasted. Success is not measured by the thanks we receive from men, but by the Lord. Work as unto him and serve faithfully as a sinner saved by grace. And let all know, by your words and by your deeds, of his great grace and love. His is the name we want the world to know and praise.