Two simple words that play a significant role in how we judge and value our relationships. We could boil it down even further to one word: appreciation.
My mother (much to my annoyance) would constantly remind me as a five-year-old to say it. Thank you. When I spent time with my niece, she seemed to be going through the same stage of “appreciation school.” If she forgot, I would give her a gentle reminder. “Giselle, have you forgotten something?”
However, as we get older and our acts of service and sacrifice grow, we’re less inclined to demand a thank you. We just expect people to say it. When they don’t, we feel a lack of appreciation, a lack of respect or gratitude.
Without a thank you, it’s easy for us to begin questioning aspects of even our strongest relationships, and run to the wildest conclusions to justify our feelings. But with a thank you — a true sign of appreciation — we feel valued and secure.
Selfishness Beneath Our Service
Recently a friend and I were deciding where to go and eat, when I remembered a few weeks ago she had mentioned she was low on money. After deliberating the options, we decided to go to the supermarket, and when we got to the self-checkout, I put my things together with hers. She asked what I was doing, but I proceeded to pay for all our things.
When we got back to school, I recognized she had never said, “Thank you.”
I asked myself so many questions.
Had she not recognized I’d paid? Is she taking advantage of me? Is she angry with me for something else? Only when I got home did I recognize part of the problem was with me. Yes, she should’ve said, “Thank you,” but at the same time, my own motivations for paying in the first place weren’t totally sincere. If I had truly wanted to help her (and it had helped her), then why was I unsettled? Because there was something else I wanted: I wanted to be appreciated.
Whose Approval Are You Seeking?
Of course, appreciation is a good thing. There’s a reason saying “thank you” is good manners. Jesus himself taught his disciples to appreciate the sacrificial giving of the poor widow (Mark 12:41–44). We should be eager to cultivate in ourselves a spirit of gratitude and appreciation, and it is not wrong to receive appreciation from others (Galatians 4:15).
“There is a big difference between enjoying appreciation and gratitude from others and needing or craving it.”
But there is a big difference between enjoying appreciation and gratitude from others and needing or craving it. As we grow in good deeds, we must grow in our enjoyment of the Lord’s appreciation more than anyone else’s. “Thank you” may become less frequent. But this is right and good. Before we were saved, we worked to receive constant appreciation from man. Now we should learn to seek the satisfaction that comes from knowing God (John 5:44).
God calls us for much more than we can imagine, and his gift is the sweetest: salvation, a gift none of us can earn or deserve. Our lives should be spent responding to his love and mercy, not spent looking for a response from others. We must constantly rehearse with Paul, “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Small Cogs in the Greatest Calling
When I was first saved, I didn’t fully recognize the extent of God’s gift of salvation through Jesus’s death on the cross. Having gone to an Anglican school, around Easter we were all given palm crosses. I was also a big fan of MTV, and my childhood favorites Usher, Nelly, and 50 Cent all wore crosses on chains. The meaning of the cross and the gift of salvation were diluted by traditions and fashion statements. I didn’t fully comprehend how much love it took for God to send his only Son; I didn’t understand the magnitude of what it took to open heaven (John 3:16).
My “thank you” was not really genuine because I didn’t really appreciate the sacrifice that it took. I suppose none of us ever fully will. But as we grow in our knowledge of the Lord and of his greatness and of his love, so should our own sense of importance and significance diminish.
“Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable.” (Job 36:26)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
As we seek to grow in God’s Spirit and seek a heart after his (Isaiah 55:6; Ephesians 1:17), we recognize that we are small cogs in God’s world, working alongside other Christians to perform God’s will (Romans 12:1–2; Ephesians 2:10).
Seek a Greater Pleasure
Though it may be difficult, we should seek to do acts in silence and without fanfare. Jesus even went so far as to say that we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3). Receiving appreciation is not bad for our souls, but it can be dangerous. We can forget that, even in our greatest works, still “we are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).
“Man’s praise is short-lived and shallow, but God himself will reward the things done in secret.”
As Christians, we don’t need to tell people we are serving them. Just serve them. We don’t need to tell someone we donated to his or her fundraising page online. Just do it. It is a sign of our confused values if we think we are losing something when we lose man’s praise. In fact, it is just the opposite. Jesus tells us that man’s praise is short-lived and shallow (Matthew 6:2), but God himself will reward the things done in secret (Matthew 6:4).
We are trading the pleasure of vain, finite gratitude for a heavenly reward. When we train our hearts not to expect the “thank you,” it becomes all the sweeter. We can enjoy it without needing it. Our true reward is being stored up in heaven.