When traveling, I always like to stop in at the local USO (which stands for United Service Organizations). For over 77 years the USO has served those who serve in a variety of ways. Typically, a major airport will have a USO somewhere inside providing round the clock hospitality for military members and their families while traveling. The USO is a quiet place where I can grab a free cup of coffee, charge my phone, enjoy a home-baked snack, and maybe even engage in conversations with current service members or listen to sea stories from salty retired folk.
As I sat in the USO during a recent layover, I found a quiet corner to listen to the many conversations going on around me and indulged in a few minutes of people watching. I was fascinated by the volunteers who staff the USO. They went quietly about their work almost unnoticed in the background, restocking shelves, making coffee, warming homemade cinnamon rolls, and cleaning up behind the travelers as they came and went. I watched one older man crouch down to reload the cooler with fresh water, noticing how he was labored in his movements and took some effort to stand up. Yet this gentleman did his task with no complaint. When asked if he needed any help, he simply responded, “You do enough, this is my chance to serve.”
It was amazing watching these older, retired volunteers who staffed the USO. Every chance they had to thank a serviceman or servicewoman, they did so. A pat on the back, a firm handshake, a smile; they welcomed every man, woman, and child who entered their doors. And then they dutifully made sure everyone was cared for, fed, nourished, topped off with hot coffee, and of course, noticed the free wi-fi password on the wall.
The hospitality was outstanding! It always is at the USO.
These folks, these unpaid volunteers, seem to live for the opportunity to serve those who serve. All the USO volunteers I have met, take joy in their work. Whether the task was great or small, they did it cheerfully, believing wholeheartedly each task was a benefit to someone, who in their mind, had sacrificed so much and served so many. I noticed most of the guests did take a moment to thank these volunteers as they left. Even then, each volunteer was quick to point out how they were doing what they did so they could proudly provide this service to those who serve: “No thanks necessary.” Servants every-one, truly a blessing!
Selfless service is a rare commodity these days and not always the easiest thing to come across. But Jesus warns His disciples in Matthew 6:1-4,
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in Heaven. 2 So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
Jesus’ instructions seem to be lost in today’s praise hungry, look at me now, society. Does it even count anymore if you do something nice, unless you post it somewhere? “Pics or it didn’t happen,” so they say.
But this issue is not a modern thing. It existed when Jesus walked the earth. It happens in churches, and I know of more than a few pastors who have dealt with the fallout and lost members after they neglected to publicly thank someone for their generous donation or efforts.
One of my favorite displays of this desire to be thanked and remembered is inscribed on a 12 x 12 brass plate on a church organ. It reads in giant letters, big enough to read from the back of the church, “This Organ Donated by Mr. and Mrs. So and So, on Such and Such Date,” and then in letters, almost too small to read, the plaque faintly reads, “Soli Deo Gloria – To God Alone Be the Glory.” I always laugh when I see that organ, because it illustrates so beautifully our sinful desire to be noticed when we do something good, donate something, or serve in some way or another. We want to be justified before others. Desperately we want others to think we are good and righteous because of what we gave or what we did. We want to be remembered for all time for our goodness.
Pastors do it too. We want to be justified before others and be appreciated for our service. Each month I submit a lengthy report of my activities to my Elders hoping the sheer length of the report will justify me before them. And even though Eugene Petersen warns Pastors should never pride themselves in being labeled as “busy”, I find that all too easily, I buy into the idolatry, laziness and vanity of being “busy” as I attempt to prove my worth to others.
To some degree, I think we all believe, “If people know what I do, how I serve, what I gave, etc., then they will show appreciation for my efforts. I will be justified.”
Sadly, it does not seem to be enough to quietly do the tasks we have been given to do, finding joy in the opportunity to serve others. No, we chase the gold star, the “Kudos.” We want that, “Atta boy,” the pat on the back, and when it does not come, we feel cheated.
But like Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in Heaven…”
So, today I am going to take a lesson from the volunteers at the USO, and I hope you will do the same. Find joy in serving others! Consider it a blessing to be able to serve the people you encounter. And do what you have been given to do, with no thanks necessary.