A few years ago, I gave sewing lessons to two different teenage girls. The first girl was eager to learn, and she was a joy to teach. When her first sewing project was finished, she presented me with a $20 gift card to a fabric store. The second girl did not like sewing very much and was always trying to weasel me into ironing her project or finishing the edges for her. While she sewed, we would talk about her struggles at home and school. I was not sure she was learning very much about sewing, but I knew that the time I was spending with her was making a difference in her life.
One day during sewing lessons, my second student decided to cut out a pattern on top of my bed. While cutting out the fabric, she cut a big slash through my comforter. When I saw the destruction, I quickly left the room. Tears were flooding my eyes, and I did not want my emotions to show through to my student. 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 comforter. It’s only a thing. And on the other hand, I kept reminding myself of how much money the comforter had cost and how it had been just the right one in the store. So the tears kept rolling out. My self-pity continued as I began to entertain bitter thoughts toward my second student: I spend all this time teaching her, and I get no thanks—only a ruined comforter. My first 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: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, 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 (Matt. 6:1-4, KJV).
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, KJV).
I told myself, Well, Addy Forrest, if the reward you want is 20 bucks, you’re aiming for a small reward. Wouldn’t it be better to count that comforter as a small loss in your service to Christ? Suddenly, I had the right perspective on my situation. After kneeling over the air-conditioning vent for a few minutes to dry out my eyes and whisper a prayer of repentance, I was ready to go out and face my student with a Christlike response.
It is so easy for our motivation in ministry to be focused on the praise of men. We look for those earthly rewards like little gifts of appreciation or acknowledgement from the pulpit. Or, more often, it is not even the words of affirmation that we are looking for. We are serving with the goal that others will look at us and think we are “spiritual.” When we work for those kinds of rewards, we are forfeiting 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 when, all the while, we are loving ourselves instead of Jesus. In Matthew 6 we are told to “let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” Sometimes we are guilty of impressing ourselves with our own generosity. Maybe no one knows about the good work you are doing, yet you are patting yourself on the back, reminding yourself what a good Christian you are. If so, you have received your reward.
I wonder how many times I have forfeited an eternal reward because I have been working for temporal, earthly ones. Probably more often than not. I am still not spiritually mature enough to have my heart in the right place a lot of the time when it comes to my motivations. Those silly, earthly rewards still have a lure for me. Looking back, though, I cannot even remember what I bought with that gift card. Must not have been that significant. But a heavenly reward presented by my Savior—now that will be something!
Addy Forrest has been a contributing writer for several BJU Press elementary textbooks. Her original children’s Christmas program, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” is available from SoundForth (Greenville, SC).