Have you ever done a favor for someone, and their reaction disappointed you? I know I've been there. It's natural to expect appreciation for our kind deeds. We want to believe that when we do good we will receive good from others. With all the fillers in our lives, we hope that our service to others will give us something meaningful. So when we choose to give our time and energy, we look for rewarding causes. But we shouldn’t aim for self-appreciation; we should aim to show grace. And grace is not about receiving praise in return; it’s about unconditional love. We think we are selfless when we do something that helps someone else more than it helps us, but it's not that simple. So how do we acknowledge what it means to serve for God's glory?
In this cultural moment, we often see life in extremes. We feel like we must either give up all of our own choices or grab the reins and not let anyone else have a say. The truth is that God wants us to live decisively. We aren't supposed to bend to the will of others; we are supposed to show them God's love. For real-life examples, we can look to Jesus. He didn't do whatever people wanted Him to, and He certainly didn't serve in order to receive praise. Jesus served with a purpose, and that purpose was grace. Instead of looking at what will make the most external impact, we should look at what areas we can uniquely portray grace even if we don't see an outcome.
"Each of you should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms." - 1 Peter 4:10
It's easy to think of serving as something obligatory for your church or a charity. Those are great opportunities, but they aren't the only way. We shouldn't serve just for the sake of being "good Christians." If you want to figure out how you should serve, evaluate your gifts and how you can use them to love people. Maybe it's not what your friends are doing, and maybe it's not something you want to do. Maybe it's not even something other people think you should do. The question is, what does God want you to do? There's not always a clear answer, but when we spend time with God in our daily lives, praying, fasting, reading scripture, then we can see the doors He opens for us. When we live out what we were created for, we are willing to serve where our gifts are needed, even if it's unknown territory.
Whether we serve on a large scale or within our families, we are not "better" than anyone else when we serve. Our goal is to follow Jesus. He gave His life for people who scoffed at His name, yet we say, "I'm done." when we don't get pats on the back for our work. The worst part is, we often value our good deeds based on how many people see them. Even when we give privately, we feel good about ourselves because we are “sure” of God's approval. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that feeling. However, that should not be our why. We can't earn approval from God; we can only embrace His grace and share it. His love for us is already whole. So when we do good for others, our happiness should come from how we glorify God. That is a lasting joy that will lead us to serve without the restrictions of our selfish expectations.
"Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others just to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." - Matthew 6:1
Let's get real: sometimes we're afraid to love our neighbors because we don't love ourselves. When we harbor shame and disbelief, we try to prove our worth through what we do. We don’t want to look outside of ourselves because we know we’ll realize the insignificance of our doubts. With that mentality, we serve with our focus on our actions rather than the needs of others. You might think, "If I volunteer to help people, isn't that good no matter what?" Well, yes. In fact, our actions can help to change our attitudes. But when we intentionally set our minds on our goal to honor God, we accept real opportunities to serve with grit. We can see big and little ways to reach others in places we don’t expect. Our calling to serve is not just something we need to do; it’s who we are. When we let go of the need to please, we can love like Jesus in our everyday lives.
"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:13-14
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.