So This Is The Thanks I Get?

October 23, 2012
by Associate Editor

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People can be so picky, critical, and ungrateful. I know — I’ve served them for more decades than I’d like to think about, and bear the wounds in my psyche to prove it!

You pour your heart out. You give unstintingly of your time and your energy and so often it goes unnoticed, unappreciated, or taken for granted. Even worse, you get picked at by some well-meaning — and some not-so-well-meaning — folk who feel that God has given them “the gift of criticism.” In truth they have the “gift of sandpapering the saints.” Thankfully this description doesn’t apply to ALL of God’s people!

Feel unappreciated? Understand that you’re in good company. If I were to recount all the leaders in the Bible who were mercilessly criticized and greatly unappreciated, it would be a long list.

Moses leads God’s people out of Egypt after 470 years of captivity, but when times get tough they say, “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death!” Only after his death do they really appreciate him. Some consolation prize!

Job lives a righteous life before God, but who appreciates him when the tide turns against him? His wife calls him a fool, and his so-called “friends” try to hammer into his skull the message that it’s all his fault. Poor Job. What an awful whipping!

Every minister of any appreciable length of service at all, knows what it’s like to be attacked by a band of “Job’s friends.” Along those lines, let me say one thing: you’ve never been beaten until you’ve been worked over by self-righteous, Pharisaical Christians who browbeat you with a Bible. They will even use verses against you that were meant to build you up.

Jeremiah has the unhappy mission of declaring to Israel that Jerusalem will be destroyed and the people will go into exile for their sins. Who appreciates him? No one! He is slandered, arrested, imprisoned, and called a traitor — by his own people who he was sent to serve.

Paul spends long, grueling years in missionary work, but some of the churches he himself founded discredit him. To his detractors in Corinth he bares his soul, and in his words you can feel his pain:

We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (1 Cor. 4:10-13)

God’s work can indeed take a heavy toll on us. Paul writes again to the Corinthians:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. (2 Cor. 1:8)

Then, when he has recovered a tad, he tells them:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Cor. 4:8-10)

In the midst of the incredible pressure, he receives strength from God that helps him to make it through.

Jesus said:

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat. 5:11-12)

An unmarried evangelist acquaintance of mine has done much for the cause of Christ, including writing several books on dealing with discouragement. He tells of the time when he’d just gotten through speaking to a large convention and felt his work wasn’t understood and his efforts to encourage people had missed the mark. He was devastated. He called his fiancée and poured his heart out to her that evening and when he’d finished he heard her say in a cryptic tone, “sounds to me like you ought to read some of those books you wrote.” Years later my preacher friend is still single and by all accounts his former lady-friend is also. I could be wrong, but I think he was looking for a companion who would encourage him in his valley experiences.

Satan is hard at work to magnify our hurts, rip off the scabs covering our wounds, and to fan flickering flames of anger in our broken hearts until they burst into a conflagration that is out-of-control and terribly destructive — of ourselves and those around us.

There have been times in my life when I felt I was in a rowboat filling up with the water of hurt and bitterness. If I didn’t keep bailing it out, bailing it out, bailing it out, the bitterness would soon overwhelm the boat and I would sink in the sea of self-pity.

When I read Jesus’ words, I am rebuked:

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
(Luke 6:35; NASB)

I hear Jesus telling us that real love doesn’t give in order to get; it gives without expecting to get anything back, including love. Most TV ministers won’t tell us this. Many Christians have so far to go in this walk! Jesus told us that his Father is “kind to “ungrateful and wicked” (KJV). Sometimes our thoughts haven’t been very kind regarding those who have been unkind, ungrateful, or wicked to us.

Pardon me for pointing out the seemingly obvious, but everything we do must be done UNTO GOD, rather than people, including our service.

I’ve learned that I cannot afford to let anger and bitterness grow in my spirit. I must flush them out to the Lord every day in prayer, sometimes many times in the day, whenever those feelings of hurt and self-defense begin to rise up in me. I’ve needed a lot of flushing in my life and times. How about you?

Again, if you and I are to avoid deadly discouragement, don’t serve the Church, don’t serve people, serve Christ! The Church might (or might not) write you a paycheck, if you are a paid minister, but it’s not your real employer. Paul’s admonition to slaves speaks to my own wounded spirit:

Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free. (Eph. 6:7-8; NRSV)

Sometimes we forget whom we really serve. When people are ungrateful, we want to tell them off and quit. But, then God reminds us that He’s the one who called us, and that we’re serving Him first and foremost of all.

An assurance that he was serving God was the only thing that kept Moses going through a hailstorm of criticism. It’s all that kept Jeremiah on track when everyone told him he was wrong.

You and I serve God, not people, really. We are intermediaries, or human proxies, of God’s love for them, and if, by God’s grace, that love can flow through us in spite of our hurts, in spite of our buffeting, then we can continue to minister to them on behalf of God. But, if Satan can shut off the love for others that flows from God through us, he has neutralized us, and worse yet, if we allow bitterness and anger to continue to fester in our soul, we could become disqualified as an intermediary as well.

By the grace of God, I’ve stayed on the rails for well over half a century by constantly reminding myself that I one day want to hear one simple sentence spoken to me personally by Jesus: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Mat. 25:21).

I want God to be pleased with me. It doesn’t matter if people are selfish and critical, insensitive and unappreciative, all that really matters is God’s approval. That is why I serve — because I love Him.
David was playing beautiful harp music and dodging Saul’s javelin at the same time. Sometimes we have to “serve and duck!” particularly in the ministry. But David learned a secret while he existed for years on the lam; the secret was to encourage himself in the Lord.

I want to challenge you to become a one-person encouragement-center. Look for people who are serving Christ in your church, see what they’re doing for Christ, and then stop to encourage them, by saying something like:

“Your piano playing is such a blessing to me.”

“You certainly do a wonderful job with the children.”

“I can see your heart for the Lord as you take special care to have the church clean and fresh every Sunday morning for worship. Thank you!”

If you feel under-appreciated, don’t wallow in your misery. Get up, and start actively giving to others what you yourself desire. Start a verbal appreciation campaign. Get some other folks to join you. Set a pattern of appreciation that will overtake your entire church and community.

While you’re at it, go out of your way to show appreciation to your pastor and family. Tell them with your words they are loved and appreciated. And then give them a little gift that says, “We love you, we care.” A home-cooked dinner that they don’t have to prepare. A weekend away, all expenses paid. A card that says, “I appreciate your ministry.” A special gift on the pastor’s anniversary of ministry at your church — that puts a huge “Yes!” in the appreciation column. In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus tells us: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” (Mat. 25:35)

When you encourage others, you’re serving Christ Himself. When you speak words of appreciation, you’re speaking Christ’s words. When you encourage, you’re doing Christ’s work. When you hug — physically or figuratively — you show Christ’s love in a way that can be felt.

I must admit that we’re surrounded by way too many insensitive, critical, ungrateful people. Maybe that’s all they know. By our example, we can begin to change that. We can begin to establish a new pattern of thanks and support, of caring and appreciation. We can set a pattern of love by which outsiders can discern that we are indeed Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35). It starts with me and you.

One passage of Scripture sticks in my head and plays itself over and over. Let me share it with you, so it can repeat itself in your brain until it does its work:

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, RSV).

Don’t Be Like The Prodigal’s Elder Brother

The story of the prodigal or lost son is probably one of the most familiar parables Jesus taught. A son rejects his living father as dead, wants to cash out his inheritance now, and run off with the money to party and live life to the fullest. The parable is about that ever so difficult homecoming when the lost son returned broken and empty-handed to beg for food and a place to stay from the father he’d disowned. Consider how the father and the older brother each reacted.

The lost son was lost when he squandered all his father’s inheritance in wild living. Then he returned to his home and to his father, but when he arrives, in another way he’s still lost. He doesn’t know his own father, so he comes on the grounds of his own merits. But he realizes that he’s shot any merits he’s had to oblivion. He’s a lost cause if ever there was one. He has no grounds or basis for re-admission to the house. To say he’d been a bad guy is an understatement. He had every right to expect that he’d be regarded as an outcast and one who’s disowned by the family. He’d decided to count his father as dead to himself, so that he could claim his share of the inheritance. He had every right to expect that he’d be regarded as dead to the family. So he comes to enter the household on the grounds of being a servant — the lowest position in the house — to plead for simple necessities of life — food, shelter and water. He thought he could work for his father to earn his keep, and be treated as a servant.

There was something right about his approach to his father — he came in humility and sorrow over what he’d done. It was a real offense against heaven and against his father that he couldn’t repair or undo.

It’s right that we approach God in true brokenness over our sin, acknowledging an utter dependence and need for His mercy. We shouldn’t be indifferent to our sin, as if God shouldn’t mind anyway, and come back thinking that God owed us anything. So in this way, the prodigal’s approach to his father was correct. True repentance of heart was necessary.

But the father was having none of it. He forgave his wayward son and restored him to full fellowship. Don’t we have a merciful Lord?

But, what about that older son? He was coming in from the field when he heard the music and dancing. He’d loyally labored long in the field for his father. He wasn’t so insolent and disrespectful as to demand his share of the inheritance to cash out and spend on wild living. He was moderate and respectful and carried out his duties. But he lacked his father’s love and concern for his brother.

When he heard the servant’s report that his brother had returned safe and sound, he should’ve cried with joy, “Where is he?!” He should’ve run to his brother with the same warm embrace of his father, to welcome the lost back home. He could’ve said, “I was worried about you, but I’m so glad that you’re alive. You can’t imagine how much father prayed for your safety and return. He was heartbroken when you left; you should’ve seen how he wept. We wish you’d never left. But welcome home brother — you’re back where you belong.”

Didn’t happen! The older brother was indignant; angry that the father and family would celebrate the return of this rebel, this scoundrel, this disrespectful young man who’d shamed his family and their name. With self-righteous anger he lashes out at his father: “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes; you killed the fattened calf for him!” As if to say: “This is the thanks I get for all the hard work I’ve done and the loyalty I’ve given? And you go and reward that miserable son of yours?”

The contrast between the father and the older brother is so stark. That older brother, so far from loving his brother and showing concern for him, disowned him and counted him as dead. The older brother didn’t even acknowledge his family ties to the prodigal, calling him, “that son of yours.” Maybe if the older brother would’ve received his younger brother back at all, he would only be satisfied if he were treated as a servant. “Make that miserable son work off his guilt. Let him labor in the purgatory of his own making and see if he can work off the guilt and shame he’s accumulated. Maybe after he’s suffered long enough, we can begin to think about whether he’s worthy of being called son and brother again. But he better not think he’s going to get off scott-free.”

The older brother apparently wants to call the father “back to his senses.” The father shows that he still loves the older son, and hasn’t forgotten him, saying: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found!” The father gently reminded his older son that he’d lost nothing as a result of the father’s mercy and forgiveness to the younger son. Everything the son had was still his, and he was just as much loved by the father. But it was necessary to celebrate the lost brother, because he was dead to the family, dead to God, but now he was alive and restored. He was lost — lost in rebellion, selfish pursuit of his own desires, lost pursuing the false and fleeting dreams of wealth and wild living — but now he was found. He was home in the fold, back in the family where he belonged, redeemed from the fatal influences of the worldly life he’d left behind. He was truly found.

When have we been like that older brother? Indignant and jealous of the mercy and kindness shown to such a sinner. Would we be ashamed or too offended to call as our brother one who had fallen so far and come back? One who had insulted and dishonored our father, who wasted the family inheritance on prostitutes and reckless living? Would we expect them to crawl back on hands and knees, and continue to suffer the shame and regret of their sin, until we counted them worthy to stand and be counted as a brother, as part of the family? Or would we continue to deny them welcome into the family?

Sometimes there’s a sense of entitlement and privilege that can creep out of our sinful nature, even as Christian, though hopefully not in such blatant ways. But, there’s nothing at all Christian about having such a sense of entitlement and self-righteousness. Our sinful nature will express itself one way or another, whether or not we’re involved in open, overt sins. In the case of the younger brother, the sinful nature expressed itself through open and brash acts of sin and immorality. In the case of the older brother, he wasn’t openly sinning, but his sinful nature manifested itself in his jealousy, lovelessness, and lack of concern for his brother. This is often how that sinfulness manifests itself in us as Christians. We might act like we’ve earned our place (we haven’t), we might act like our record is cleaner than the rest (it isn’t), and we might act like the church would be a better place if there weren’t so many sinners here (we’re all sinners!).

Now the church is not told to associate with openly unrepentant sinners — those who still cling to their sin and refuse to repent. In fact, the church is to avoid association with such people (2 Tim. 3:1-5; Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10-11; 2 Cor. 6:14-16; et al.). But that’s completely different from welcoming the repentant, the sorrowful, and the lost who seek the mercy of God. In this, we are all the same. We all call on the same forgiving and merciful God for the same mercy and forgiveness for our sins, so we ought to welcome such people with the same open embrace that our heavenly Father does. We should celebrate whenever lost sinners come to our Father’s embrace. We should celebrate and be glad for the lost sister or brother who’s now found and is alive in Christ Jesus.

ASAPH

was a musician in the court of King David many centuries ago who went through a rough patch seeing the ungodly prospering while he endured so much pain and suffering. In Psalm 73:2-5, he said:

But as for me my feet had almost slipped; I nearly lost my foothold, for I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man, they are not troubled by human ills.

As we follow him in the chapter, we hear him say in essence: So this is the thanks I get for being good?

Right in the middle of this Psalm, verses 16 and 17, Asaph entered a worship service and had an encounter with God which helped to clear his thinking and come to grips with the questions that plagued him. His attitude became:

“I really don’t have a lot of material goods, popularity and health like many of the wicked do. But look at what I do have — I have something better — I have a relationship with the God of all creation and I wouldn’t take anything for it!

Look at what I do have — I have someone who is constantly with me (v. 23).

Look at what do I have — I have someone who promises me a “forever.” You’ll guide me with your council and afterward receive me to glory (v. 24).

Look at what I do have — I have someone who is better than anything. There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you (v. 25)!

Look at what I do have — I have someone who gives me strength for living. God is the strength of my life (v.26)!

Look at what I do have — I have something and someone to sing about. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge. I will tell of Your marvelous deeds (v. 28).

As Christians, you and I can stand in the face of the world today and instead of saying, “So this is the thanks I get?” — we can declare: Look what I have!###
______________________

John Stallings is an award-winning Southern Gospel songwriter, who wrote numerous classics such as: Learning To Lean, Love Grew Where The Blood Fell, Touching Jesus, One Day I Will, You’re All Invited To My Mansion, Blessing After Blessing, Light The Light, Angels Camping All Around Me, God’s Gonna Do It, and many more. His songs have been recorded by many well-known Gospel artists, including The Blackwood Brothers, The Speers, The Stamps Quartet, J.D. Sumner, Wanda Jackson, Del Reeves, Wendy Bagwell, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, among many others. His singing career was launched at the age of six in a citywide revival at famed Soldier Field in Chicago. At the age of sixteen he began preaching. John was Nashville’s prestigious Dove Award recipient in 1977, and many other awards over the years. He’s also a veteran pastor, evangelist, church-planter, and travels internationally with his wife, Juda, as singing evangelists. They reside in Altamonte Springs, Florida. John’s twin-daughters, Mary Alessi and Martha Munizzi, are both award-winning Gospel recording artists and songwriters in their own right, who with their husbands co-pastor churches. John’s blog, Wisdom and Wit of John Stallings, is a featured column here on Spirit Life Magazine (see left sidebar).

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