I like to take credit for my garden but really the bees do most of the work.
Every time I pull together a bouquet of flowers, every cucumber my kids pick and eat straight off the vine, every string bean I snap into a bowl for dinner is courtesy of the bees and all the other pollinators who spend their summer flitting from flower to flower.
As far as bees are concerned, their work is to collect nectar, a bit from each flower, and contribute it to their hive. Meanwhile, they carry out a far more glorious task unintentionally because at every flower they pick up and leave behind pollen, completing the reproductive process that allows these plants to bear fruit that will contain seeds for the next generation. Back at the hive, each bee could only take credit for about 1/12th a teaspoon of honey, never realizing the credit they deserve for the beauty of the flowers and the abundant produce of the garden. There is an unseen glory to their work that only we can appreciate.
The Glory of Being Taken for Granted
Of course gratitude is the best form of praise, but being taken for granted is its own form of glory. When we aim to do our work with true selflessness and faithfulness, the greatest sign of our success will be that other people can take us for granted. We serve not to be served (or thanked or owed a favor) (Mark 10:45); instead we are called to “serve one another humbly in love” (Galataians 5:13), using whatever talents we possess to serve one another “as faithful stewards of grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). We serve because we have been served by Christ, not to draw attention to ourselves for our work. Such faithfulness and selflessness will be taken for granted nine times out of ten (Luke 17:11-19).
Many live their whole lives taking God for granted. The very order of the universe that we take for granted is declared by God to be a result of “my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night.” The faithfulness of the sun and moon are so dependable that we order our lives around them. Many spend their whole lives taking for granted that day will follow night, never recognizing the faithful God behind these patterns. Surely he gets a kind of glory even from those who never think to thank him but nevertheless depend on his faithfulness.
It is easy to enjoy taking others’ faithfulness for granted. Every Sunday when we gather in worship, I take for granted that the coffee will be prepared, the nursery staffed, the bathrooms will be cleaned, and the worship music rehearsed. But these things happen because members of our church show up faithfully week after week. It is also good to live with people who do their share of the household chores so faithfully that you can take their contributions for granted.
It is less joyful, however, to be taken for granted. Those of us who serve our families, our churches, and our communities often chafe at going unrecognized. The selfless service described in the scriptures is a high ideal with which I am eager to agree during Bible study but find much more difficult to live out minute to minute. I’ll admit that there are days when I’m tempted to let the dishes pile up or let my kids run out of clean underwear just so they’ll recognize my work. On days I’m feeling sorely used, I have been known to slam the dishes a little louder to suggest that maybe I could use a little help. I don’t want my work to go unnoticed any more than Martha did when she complained to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40). There is a fleeting glory in being recognized right away, but the lasting glory is for those who can endure patiently while being taken for granted.
Those who proclaim their good works now receive an immediate but smaller glory. Public acclaim means “they already have their reward” (Matthew 6:16). When the applause fades or when the feed fills up with new things to like, that small glory evaporates. Living for small moments of glory is a form of vanity as we receive our inheritance now instead of laying up a treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:20).
Fortunately, we serve a God who “sees what is done in secret and will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). Even if no one else pays attention, the work that others take for granted does not go unseen by God. When I am afraid my work is going unnoticed and that I’m being taken for granted, I pray “Remember me for this, O God, and do not wipe out my good deeds” (Nehemiah 13:14). To fortify my self-control and resist the temptation to ask for recognition, I remind myself that it is better to be exalted by the praise of another than to praise yourself (Proverbs 27:2).
It also does my soul good to remember how small a glory I’m seeking to enjoy. Compare it to the glory which Christ gave up on my behalf: not grasping at his equality with God but laying it aside willingly, emptying himself and becoming obedient, even to the point of death (Phillipians 2:8-9). No one has received more glory than Christ, and no one else deserves as much glory as Christ. His name has been exalted above all other names and his work will be proclaimed to every tribe and in every language. And yet, there will always be those who take his work for granted. Who hear the terrible news of their sin and the wonderful news of their salvation, and still fail to be thankful. It satisfies my glory-hungry soul to know that the One who deserves all glory and honor and power will receive it when every knee will bow, even those who failed to recognize and took for granted the gift of his faithfulness while they were on earth.
The Glory of Gratitude
I would like to thank the bees, to give them the gift of insight that would allow them to appreciate the full glory of their tedious work. Perhaps the bees would know how much plants depend on proper proportions of rain and sun, and they’d want to give glory to God for his faithfulness. Maybe they’d even commend me for planting the seed in the first place. Oh, to live in such a circle of shared credit, offering one another the glory we see in one another’s work and receiving the appreciation of others, imitating the holy dance of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who exist in eternal admiration for one another. Glory is not meant to be hoarded but shared, not asked for but given. It will ultimately be our great joy to not only receive our commendation from God (1 Corinthians 4:5) but to give glory to our God who deserves all glory and honor.
[This was the piece I tried to submit to Desiring God this spring. It made it to the editing committee who ultimately decided that it wasn’t one of their top choices. It was my personal writing goal to have a piece rejected this year, so I was both sad and glad to check that one off the list–mostly because it meant I was brave enough to submit out of my league!]