During one of my experiences working in a school, I encountered a new disciplinary system. Operating under the philosophy that positive reinforcement would encourage students to do their due, the school offered students tickets.
A small “store” was open during lunch so students could exchange their tickets for various goodies.
Although possibly a good idea, there were no standards for what merited a ticket.
Throughout my shift, I’d hear the frequent warning offered by co-workers to preteens: “If you do that one more time, I will not give you a ticket for two weeks!”
I vividly recall a group of students crossing their arms at the end of the lunch period, one explaining: “We will not clean the table unless we all gets tickets. Not ‘maybe’- you said that yesterday. Tickets. Or Mess.”
Then, some took it a step further. If they felt they weren’t being recognized sufficiently for doing their homework, they would cease completing assignments until tickets were offered regularly. A crew of sixth grade boys with side swept hair and a disregard for respect developed a philosophy:
“It’s not like we get paid to come here and do what you tell us to do. If you give us tickets, we’ll work.”
Most of the students seemed to think that nothing should be done as a matter of duty. Work, to them, was only valued by the corresponding recognition or reward.
Jesus challenged his disciples on being motivated by rewards and recognition with a story about a servant and master:
“When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’
And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not.
In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’” –Luke 17:7-10 NLT
Our modern day version of this often looks more slapping #adulting on photos of us paying our taxes as if we ought to get sympathy or accolades for participating in life. We want our due for whatever we do.
Like the #humblebrag, our tendency towards seeking recognition for doing what we really ought to do is like #AiringCleanLaundry. No one needs to see our skivvies- freshly washed or not. Yet we long for folks to look (and like!)
All of Jesus’s “don’t tell anyone” and “do this in secret” statements are currently counter-cultural.
In fact, I’ve seen “share” buttons in emails from Christian groups thanking individuals for their donations. I’ve watched ministry workers quit when passed over for promotions and I’ve faced the temptation myself to cancel all pants-washing until someone says I’m a good laundress.God’s Word says to be faithful in the little, not faithful in the limelight. Click To Tweet
The solution offered in Ecclesiastes to longing for meaning in life is likewise: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” Although Solomon experimented with the satisfaction potential of various rewards and types of recognition, he also said:
“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.” –Ecclesiastes 2:24
Serving Christ, whose makes our yoke easy and burden light, means doing our duty as His humble servants. Our work is part of God giving us good gifts. That means we’re motivated by our identity in Him, not by recognition or reward.
Working unto the Lord frees us from striving for gain and praise. We know our labors aren’t in vain.
“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands…”-1 Thessalonians 4:11
That’s how God gets His work done.
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