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Honor, Recognition, and Ministry

By Alan R. Johnson

A Lesson Learned

My wife and I found ourselves in a position to help an elderly woman. She needed to make a sudden change of plans in the middle of her trip because of a crisis in her family. What we did was not difficult or time consuming, and it did not require great sacrifice. Anyone in a similar position would have been glad to offer this woman help. Under normal circumstances the help given would have assisted the traveler, given us joy to perform, and have created a bond of friendship between our families. All these happened.

These, however, were not normal circumstances; there was another dimension at work. This elderly woman was well-known and loved by many people. Because of a small deed that anyone would have been glad to do, we have been profusely thanked, honored, and recognized. To this day, we meet people, and they thank us for what we did for this elderly woman. We have received so much gratitude that we almost began to think we had done something special.

As I look back on the small amount of help we rendered and the great amount of thanks and recognition we received, I learned an important lesson concerning ministry. There may not be any connection between a given deed and the recognition or honor accorded to the doer of the deed. It is possible that the more sacrificial the deed, the less recognition might be given. True.

Sacrifice Is Often Unseen

In my own life many efforts have taken far greater personal sacrifice than that required to help this elderly woman. These are the seemingly minor activities of life that go unseen by human eyes and thus unrewarded by people — being patient when pushed to the end of one’s rope, saying a kind word in return for criticism or insult, or rearranging one’s schedule to accommodate another family member’s needs. Such actions are important in character development, because they show what we are when no one is looking. It is one thing to rise to the occasion when a crowd of onlookers is cheering us on. It is another to be faithful, kind, and patient when no one will see or recognize what we have done.

Most people have a deep need to feel important, have significance, and be loved. Receiving honor and recognition for our labors can help meet these needs. Honor and recognition, however, even in Christian circles, is often given based on the world’s criteria rather than on the values of the kingdom of God. Most sacrificial labors in the ministry are not seen by the crowds, but are known only to God and those who are helped by our kindness and attention.

Jesus showed us that life lived under the rule and reign of God turns things upside down that the world system takes for granted. In the kingdom of God the last are first, the greatest are servants, and the meek inherit the earth. In the Kingdom it is not the rich, powerful, and intelligent who enter, but those who humble themselves and become like children. What God values most in His servants are not the kinds of notoriety that land you on the cover of a magazine or a television interview.

Focus on Kingdom Values

How do we put our need for recognition and significance into proper perspective knowing that, for the most part, our deeds will not be publicly honored? The answer is not in striving to do activities that will bring us honor, but in immersing ourselves in the values of the kingdom of God. Three Kingdom values need to be kept in perspective as we serve God.

1. God Alone Gives True Honor

God works out His purposes in the world, lifting up and bringing down according to His will (Psalm 75:6,7). God often brings earthly honor to His servants to advance His purposes. However, we need to remember that even though God may bring honor and recognition to His servants, He is not impressed by it. It is also possible to be honored and recognized by people who are operating with limited knowledge and biases. God is not impressed with us when we receive the honor and recognition from the world, neither is He unimpressed if we never receive a single accolade from our peers. He is concerned about whether we are loving Him heart and soul, mind and strength, serving and loving one another, humbling ourselves to become childlike, and denying ourselves so we can find life in Him.

Reading Christian magazines has helped me realize that just as the world system has its heroes, so does the Christian realm. In professional sports, it is possible for two athletes to play equally well, be equally skilled, but receive different levels of recognition for their play. Part of what makes a person a superstar is his involvement in a major media market and the opportunity to play on a great team. Place and time have a great deal to do with how much recognition a person is given and how much honor he receives.

We need to admit, even though we may not like to do so, that this same phenomenon happens in Christian circles. One servant of God may find great recognition during his years of service, while another may be completely unknown. But in the end it is God’s evaluation and His alone that really counts. The honor that may or may not come in one’s course of service is a moot point. To have been recognized or unrecognized by the Christian world is not to have been greater or lesser in the eyes of the Harvest Master.

2. God Sees in Secret

In Matthew 6, Jesus highlights three religious activities and instructs His followers how to engage in them. With almsgiving (acts of righteousness), prayer, and fasting, the disciples of Jesus were not to be as the hypocrites of their day. Their motivations were mixed by a desire to been seen of men and receive glory of men. By contrast, the disciples were to do these activities without the knowledge of men, without the left hand knowing the activity of the right hand, in the secret prayer closet, and with a joyous face, because your Father sees in secret.

You may not be ministering in a high profile place or position. Your sacrificial deeds may be unseen and unappreciated by men. But your Heavenly Father knows and sees, and He will reward you. Every good deed and act of sacrificial service is noticed by the Father, so we are freed from needing to impress others or work for their recognition.

3. God Cannot Love You Anymore Than He Already Does No Matter How Much You Do

Have you ever experienced this dilemma? I have prayed that God would use me, and then wrestled with my motives for praying that prayer. Mixed with a sincere desire to be used of God and to further His purposes and glory was the personal desire to be recognized as one who was used by God and spiritual.

Underlying this struggle is the assumption that we need to do or produce something to be valuable.

In battling this wrong value I have come to appreciate the message of Romans 5:8. Paul tells us that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” It was while I was hostile to God, and His enemy, that He showed me the full extent of His love. This brings me to an amazing fact: If He loved me that much before I was His child, there is absolutely nothing else I could possibly do to make Him love me more as His child.

This balance between being and doing comes by recognizing that as we use the gifts He has given us, we please the Lord. As parents we know the joy that comes from watching our children excel. We would never think of looking down on one child or favoring another simply because they were good at different things. We delight in what each child can do well.

In the same way, our Heavenly Father delights in us as we operate, to the fullest of our abilities, in the gifts He has given us. The Father does not love those who have bigger ministries more than those who have smaller ministries. He delights in us as we work with the gifts and graces that come from His hand. This liberates us from having to prove anything to God or anyone else, and we can feel fulfillment in what we are doing now rather than always looking ahead to bigger and better opportunities.

Freedom To Honor Others

When we own these three truths, we become free to do what Scripture teaches — serving others, loving others, and honoring others above ourselves. If we are unsure about our own sense of importance and significance in the world, it is hard to esteem others because we want so badly for others to esteem us. These scriptural injunctions are based on God’s love for each of us. He has given us unique gifts that He wants us to use for His glory. He sees our labors no matter where we are, and rewards by His grace all that is done for the glory of His name.

It is both frightening and comforting to know that our Father sees everything we are doing. It is frightening because He knows and sees our motives. It is comforting because whether anyone ever recognizes our service, ever pats us on the back, or says an encouraging word, our Father sees us and will reward our faithful service one day.

The next time you are feeling down about your ministry, talk with the Lord, revel in His love, remember He is watching, and remind Him that your heart desires His honor and His alone. Then, when you are walking in victory and success, and have received the honor and recognition of your peers, resist the temptation to believe the press reports about how much you have done. Take a moment to thank Him that all you have comes from Him, enjoy His love, remember that He knows and sees your heart and motives, and remind Him that your heart desires His honor and His alone.

ALAN R. JOHNSON is missionary in Thailand, serving there since 1986.

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