Nobody expected Ken and Janet to leave God's Church. They had been members for such a long time, and they had always been so helpful. Ken built a speaker's stand for the congregation, paying for the materials out of his own pocket. He was always the first to arrive for services, and made sure the hall was ready each week. Janet served also, supervising the mother's room, organizing a used clothing service for the members and helping to start a small church library. Ken's minister was pleased to have such a serving couple. His was a large circuit — he had more than two hours of driving between his two churches. The minister taught Ken to lead the hymns. Ken was no musician, and didn't do it well, but at least it gave the minister a few minutes to recuperate after the drive. Then the minister also began to rely on Ken to read the announcements, and from time to time give a sermonette. After three years of diligent service, Ken was ordained a deacon. And later, the minister began to seriously think about ordaining him a local elder.
And then that minister was transferred. When the new minister arrived in the area, Ken and Janet were naturally the first to welcome them. At first all was well. But after a while Ken began to notice some changes. The new man sometimes liked to lead songs himself, and he always read the announcements. Some weeks after his arrival the new minister held a meeting of the leading members of his congregation — not in Ken's basement, where such meetings had traditionally been held, but in his own home. At the meeting he announced that he was making a few organizational changes. Ken was thunderstruck. He hadn't even been asked! The former minister had always talked things over with him before making decisions. Ken and Janet had a few more shocks coming. Some of the jobs that they had handled for years were given to others. Ken and Janet were hurt, and began to withdraw themselves. Then one Sabbath the minister informed Ken that he was replacing him as song leader. There was really no choice — Ken had not really learned to do it properly. But for Ken it was the last straw. He had had enough. His wife shared his bitterness. Ken looked at his wife. "Well, is that all the thanks we get," Ken asked, "after all we've done?" Ken and Janet drove away and did not come to church again. Ken and Janet are not their real names. But their problem is real. Many people who seem to be good, solid, hardworking Church members have thrown it all away in a fit of hurt feelings and resentment. How about you? Could you, even now, be tricked out of your eternal reward through pride and hurt feelings, because you feel that you are not appreciated?
The prodigal son's brother
Most of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son, who wanted his inheritance in advance. His greed and impatience got the better of him — he wasted his fortune and was left destitute. But then he repented, and his loving and merciful father restored him to the family (Luke 15:11-24). The prodigal son's wrong attitude is easy to see. What is not so easy to discern is his brother's wrong attitude. This son had not wasted his father's money. He had stayed home, working and serving on the family farm. But when the prodigal son was reinstated, he became upset. He refused to join in the celebrations (verse 28). "It's not fair," he reasoned. "I work hard, I never do anything wrong, I don't bring shame on the household, and yet nobody ever thinks of having a feast for me. My brother wastes his inheritance, disgraces the family name and then comes crawling back when he runs out of money. And he gets a big party. Well, if that's all the thanks I get..." (verses 29-30). Humanly speaking, perhaps this son had a point. But what he couldn't see was that he was making the same mistake as his willful younger brother. He wanted his reward now. Although he didn't realize it, he was putting far too much importance on the approval of men. He was doing the right things, but he was doing them for the wrong reasons. When his father lavished attention and love on the prodigal son, the other son's true attitude came out. He had completely missed the point about the reward for loyal service. His father tried to explain this to him: "Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours" (verse 31). In other words, his own reward had not been diminished. His inheritance was still intact, and his father still loved him. But if he had persisted in that frame of mind, he would have become just as greedy and shortsighted as his brother had been. Or as Ken and Janet had been.
Whom are you trying to please?
Let's go back and review the case of Ken and Janet. Nothing the new minister had done had taken away from their reputation or fine record of service. But no position here on earth should be considered permanent. Many of God's leading servants didn't seem to get much thanks for their labors. The prophets had difficult lives, and as far as we know, only one of Christ's original apostles died of natural causes in old age. Many of God's most hardworking servants were persecuted, ridiculed and even martyred for their efforts. If that was "all the thanks they got," it wasn't worth it. But, of course, that was not all the thanks they will get. Service and sacrifice must not be given just for a pat on the back and the approval of others. Otherwise, we are no better than the Pharisees who did their works before men and thus "had their reward" (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16).
What they should have seen
When Ken and Janet decided the new minister didn't appreciate them, they felt this justified their hurt feelings. How else could they have reasoned? Well, if they had had the patience and humility to try to understand the situation, they could have arrived at several conclusions, all of which were better than getting upset and leaving the Church. For instance: • They could have realized: "We have served long and hard. Maybe God now wants to give others the chance so that they can grow, too." With that attitude, they could have cheerfully stepped aside, while continuing to be ready to help when needed. • Ken could have admitted: "Maybe I was being greedy, and doing too much. The new song leader is much better than I could ever be. And people do seem to understand the announcements better when the minister reads them." In Romans 12:3 Paul warns that a Christian should not "think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but... soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith." • Ken and Janet should have realized that Christ does not abandon or discard people. Christ's promise is that He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5) or forget our contributions (Heb. 6:10). But from time to time, God says, He will prune back even His most diligent and profitable servants for their own good (John 15:2). If Ken had been thinking straight, he would have realized that perhaps God was "pruning" him to prepare him for greater opportunities in the future. • Finally, we must consider the possibility that Ken and Janet had indeed been the victims of prejudice. Maybe the new minister was not as aware as he should have been of their record. But even if the new minister had been rather unfair in his treatment of Ken and Janet, was this a valid excuse to get upset and leave? No! Several scriptures and biblical examples could have shown them how to handle this situation. For starters, read Ecclesiastes 10:4, I Peter 2:18-21 and the many examples of David's trials. David remained loyal even when Saul attempted to kill him. With patience, humility and prayer for favor, Ken and Janet would eventually have gained the confidence of their new minister. This couple, in spite of their apparent good attitudes, had proven that they had been men pleasers all along. Sooner or later God would have had to show them what was wrong.
The real reward is coming
Let's not make this mistake. It is not wrong to want to be appreciated, but this should never become an end in itself. Remember Proverbs 29:26: "Many seek the ruler's favor, but justice for man comes from the Lord." Ken and Janet had no reason to leave the Church, any more than the prodigal son's brother had any reason to be upset when his brother came home. And there is no reason for you to become upset if something happens to make you feel unappreciated. Those who are loyal and faithful and who endure to the end will one day receive the greatest thanks anyone could hope for. Jesus Christ Himself will welcome them to eternal life with a resounding "Well done, you good and faithful servant." But Ken and Janet will miss that. They wanted, instead, the temporary approval of men. So they walked away from an opportunity to be a part of the Kingdom and government of God. And that is all the thanks they got.