A few years ago, I invited two teenage girls over weekly to co learn how to cook. The first girl was eager to learn and was a joy to teach. After a few weeks, she presented me with a thank-you note and twenty-dollar gift card to a restaurant. The second girl didn’t like cooking very much and was always trying to weasel me into doing all the work I asked her to do. While the girls mixed and measured, we talked about their struggles at home and at school. Although I wasn’t sure ,y second student was learning very much about cooking, I knew that the time I was spending with her was making a difference in her life.
One day, when I left the room for a moment, my second student reached into an upper cabinet to get a beautiful, expensive dish I had received as a wedding gift. It slipped out of her hands and crashed to the floor, pieces scattering everywhere. When I saw the destruction, I handed her a broom and told her I’d be back in a minute. With tears flooding my eyes, I found refuge in the bathroom and allowed myself to have a good cry. A battle began to rage in my spirit. On one hand, I kept telling myself, “It’s just a dish. It’s only a thing.” And on the other hand, I kept reminding myself of how much money the dish had cost and how it had been a special wedding gift. So the tears kept rolling. My self-pity continued as I thought bitterly, “I spend all this time teaching her, and I get no thanks – only a broken dish. My fist student was so nice – she got me a gift card.”
And at that moment the Holy Spirit began to convict me through the Word:
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when though doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the street, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” Matthew 6:1-4
“And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” Luke 6:33-35
I told myself, “Well, Elaine Johnson, if the reward you want is a twenty-dollar gift card, you’re aiming for a small reward. Wouldn’t it be better to count that dish as a small loss in your service to Christ?” Suddenly, I had the right perspective on my situation. After kneeling over the air condition vent for a few minutes to dry my eyes and to whisper a prayer of repentance, I was ready to face my student with a Christ-like response.
Our motivations in ministry can easily become focused on the praise of man. We look for those earthly rewards like little gifts of appreciation or acknowledgement from the pulpit. Or, perhaps, we may be serving so that others will think we’re “spiritual.” When we work for such temporal rewards, we forfeit the eternal rewards we could have received if our hearts had been focused on serving for Christ’s sake.
Misplaced motivations are a subtle sin. We can look like wonderful, servant-minded Christians on the outside, but be filled with pride on the inside. In Matthew 6 we are told to “let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” Sometimes we’re guilty of impressing ourselves with our own generosity. Maybe no one knows about the good work we’re doing, yet we pat ourselves on the back, reminding ourselves what good Christians we are. If so, we’ve received out reward.
I wonder how many times I’ve forfeited an eternal reward because I have been working for temporal, earthly ones. That’s probably happened more often than not. And I would have to say that I still struggle to have the right motivations. Those silly, earthly rewards still lure me. Looking back, I can’t even remember what I ate when I used that gift card. The meal must not have been that significant. But a heavenly reward presented by my Savior – now that will be something!
Written by Elaine Johnson. This article was published in the Spring 2007 edition of The Beautiful Spirit magazine.
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