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What If No One Thanks You?

Thank you – just two words, two syllables, eight letters, but it’s a powerful phrase. I remember writing an endless stream of thank you notes after holidays and graduations, my fingers cramping a few notes in, and my hand covered in smeared ink (the struggle of being left-handed is very, very real). My mother sent me to enough etiquette classes to know that it was the right thing to do, though. Showing gratitude is important. It affirms people, builds them up, and lets them know that what they’ve done – and even more so, who they are – is important to you.

Sometimes, especially in ministry, we don’t get to hear the thanks we think we deserve, though.

On more than one occasion we’ve hosted teams that have served in big ways, and yet, they didn’t hear any words of appreciation from those they helped. So what do you do when you’ve poured yourselves out, gone the extra mile, and really exemplified Christ in the way you’ve served, and yet you don’t get a single “thank you?” Even worse, what do you do when you’re bombarded with words of complaint instead of affirmation? It can be especially tricky to navigate these kinds of situations, especially if you’re leading a mission team.

I came across this blog post a few years ago, and the message has stuck with me, especially this poignant bit: “The Bible is clear. God doesn’t want my good deeds to be aimed at gaining the applause of people. He wants me to have a pure heart and motives undergirded by a desire to live a life pleasing to Him. Even if no one else is watching.”

You could just as easily revise that last sentence to read, “Even if no one says, ‘Thanks.’”

The book of James offers us more than one gut check, but we can find an especially relevant message in the second half of chapter 2: we serve, we work, and we do good deeds not to receive praise or earn our way to salvation. Instead we do them as a way to show that we’ve been changed by the gospel.

Our faith is exemplified and stretched and made stronger as we serve the Lord by serving those around us. When we find ourselves in those moments where we’re lingering awkwardly, waiting for our pat on the back, we have to do a quick heart scan. What is it that we’re really looking for with our service? What’s driving us, the potential for praise or the desire to live out our salvation in tangible ways?

When you and your team serve without any sort of praise or gratitude, how will you respond? Are you going to stop serving and doing and sharing? Or are you going to use it as a teaching moment and show your team that it’s not about the “thank you” or the Instagram picture tagged #grateful? Whether the thank you card is in the mail or not, we do because we are called to do. We share because we are called to share. And we love because we are called to love.

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