Then last Thursday, I landed at Goodwill on the hunt for polos and khakis for sprouting up boys. It didn’t take long to find those. Which left time me some time in the ladies’ tips. So I rifled through the color lines. Through purple, cream, black, blue and green- and came up dry.
But then I saw it. Across a crowded aisle, on a rack jammed with a hundred styles, one alone caught my eye. It was a peachy-pink floral print with undertones of goldenrod and hints of forest green, with the delicate cut neckline and flouncy cap sleeves.
Not quite princess, I thought, but still feminine and pretty and casual enough to wear with my jean capris.
And so I did. I wore it to work the very next day- my new floral shirt with the just right neckline and the flouncy cap sleeves. And, wouldn’t you know, my new shirt garnered some praise. So I donned it again for church that Sunday.
I like your top, Hon, Jim said at breakfast. I smiled, demure. And that pretty little shirt got more shout-outs at church. I don’t think I owned a more fetching garment than that frilly floral find acquired from the pink shirt rack for just $1.99.
Then I washed my new shirt Sunday night. I paused before tossing it into the dryer long enough to locate the special shirt’s brand name: Gilligan and O’Malley.
But there was another word too, in fine print on the far side of the tag. What was it? I scrunched up my eyes to read it:
Yes. It was. My fine new shirt was a Target brand pajama top. And I’d felt so smart at work and at church in that pretty pink shirt.
Soon my face matched my shirt and I laughed and laughed. And I shook my head and I laughed.
That could- maybe should- be the end. But I’m an inveterate meaning seeker; I’m ever on the hunt for a moral to the story and lesson in the mess.
So what do you think of these three?
Laughter is good medicine. It just is. Replaying my days in the delicate floral garment and the unwitting compliments on it was just what the doctor ordered in the midst of some extra stressful days. It was exactly the “don’t take yourself so seriously” tonic I needed. “A joyful heart is good for the soul,” (Psalm 17:22). It just is.
Associations matter.I bought my flouncy, cap sleeved, pretty floral top because it was hanging with the real shirt, on the pink shirt rack. I wasn’t shopping for jammies. But associations are powerful. “He who walks with wise will be wise,” (Proverbs 13:20a). And so my PJ top was sanctified.
Never say never. Poetic justice. You see, I’m the Grinch on every school spirit “PJ Day.” I don’t participate. And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it ten times: I never wear PJ’s out of bed. Never. Wearing pajamas during the day makes me feel lazy. I like to get up and go and I don’t like to feel lazy. No PJ’s in the day. Truly, “with God all things are possible,” (Matthew 19:25). His ways are higher.
Enjoying an undeserved dinner out tonight, the caption under the smiling couple in the bright booth read.
Correction: Deserved, a friend’s comment said.
It was a sweet comment with kind intent. Completely innocent.
But it still made me wince.
Why Deserve is a Dirty Word for Me
Because if I’ve learned anything on my own clumsy quest to keep a thankful heart, it’s this:
Banish I deserve. Replace with My pleasure to serve. Or with that line from Luke 17, I’ve only done my duty.
Because I’ve learned that whenever I start to think I deserve- whether praise or a shout-out or a dinner out-I’m heading right for Discontent Falls. Whenever I start thinking relaxation or reward is my right or appreciation or applause is my due, I’m setting myself up for an ugly spill.
Because deserve means worthy and earned, and flies in the face of unmerited favor. Deserve, therefore, cannot coexist with grace. And God’s servants stand in grace.
Because I deserve breeds ingratitude and God’s Word says ingratitude is a sin (Romans 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:2).
That’s why I wince at deserve.
Owned, Not Owed
Being a Christian means we are owned by God, not owed by God. We have been purchased by the blood of Christ, redeemed from sin at very high price.
No matter how long we’ve been at these works of faith and labors of love. Or how many dinners we’ve served and dishes we’ve washed or how many times we’ve forgiven when we’ve been hurt.
No matter how many years we’ve written the checks or worked the nursery or taught Jr. High Sunday School.
Because all that’s our job- all a day’s work. Because we are owned not owed. We’ve only done our duty.
When Pride Rears Its Ugly Head
But the flesh isn’t totally dead. If it doesn’t get us with self-pity when we don’t get the praise we crave, it might snare us with boastful pride.
It can happen like this: You start feel like God is using you, and it feels good, so then you start to think, “You know, I’m doing okay living for Jesus. There’s some fruit. I’m helping folks know Christ. My life is sort of in order, I’m growing in self-control and getting more patient and kind and… Aren’t you impressed, God?”
That may have been happening with the apostles in Luke 17.
So Jesus told them a little story.
We’ve Only Done Our Duty
The parable, found in Luke 17:7-10 takes aim straight at my I-deserve, entitled heart.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Did you catch the three questions? Jesus meant them to be obvious- no-brainers.
v. 7- Would the master treat the servant like an honored guest, and invite him to sit down to dinner? (No.)
v. 8- Would the master expect the servant to do what servants are supposed to do? (Yes.)
v. 9- Would the master thank the sermon for doing what he was told to do? (No.)
Easy, right? Because most of us don’t have any problem pretending we’re the master.
But, then, verse 10 hits us like a cold shower: So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Duty is defined as a moral or legal obligation; conduct due. It’s what’s expected of our station.
It’s why we’re not applauded for paying our bills. WeEnergies and Kohl’s don’t throw a party for me when I pay my bills. My boss doesn’t throw a party when I meet my deadlines at work.
Nor should they. I’ve only done my duty.
There’s no fanfare, applause, or medals. But there are a couple big perks for servants.
Servant Perk #1
The Greek word for servant in the Luke 17 story is doulos.
A doulos was bound to a master and cared for, kept in the home like a family member. He had stability and work to do there. This is doulos, a bond slave, which meant he was basically attached to the owner, lived in his house, was cared for, provided for… It was a wonderful thing when it was handled well.
By contrast, day laborers would have to hope someone would show up and hire him each new day. No long-term work meant no security and no stability.
So that’s servant perk #1: Servants have steady work and provision.
The second servant benefit is even better.
Servant Perk #2
Servant Perk #2: A servant is close to the action of his master.
In John 2, when Jesus turned the water into wine, the host didn’t know where the wine had come from. But the servants who had drawn the water knew. They were close to the Master had done the miracle.
Darrel Cook says, In Christian service, when we’re up close to the Master, when we’re right out there where the action is, when he chooses to do something for his name’s sake-we’ll get to see what He’s doing for his glory.
It’s counterintuitive to think that we’ll see God’s glory when we are just doing our duty. But it’s how He designed it.
We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power… and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. If we will do the duty that lies nearest, we shall see Him. One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is realized.
If we will do the duty that lies nearest- the dishes, the youth group, the forgiving, the patience and kindness- we shall see God.
Blessed are the [dutiful, undeserving] pure in heart for they will see God.
I like the answer Lorne Sanny, former president of the Navigators, gave when a man asked him how he could know if he had a servant attitude.
Sanny replied, “By how you act when your are treated like one.”
When someone treats you like a servant, do you get offended and think, “I deserve better treatment than this?”
Or, do you say- and mean it- “It’s all good. because I’m an unworthy servant.”
For a servant’s duties might not be ones they’d pick, or would have imagined. Like what just came at me tonight- recouping pricey Pokemon cards stolen from one son and acquiring an Abe Lincoln hat the another.
George Eliot was right: We must find our duties in what comes to us, not in what we imagine might have been. The Master assigns the tasks we can’t imagine.
And, yes. This can be so hard.
I feel it too. Because too often after a day at work then helping with homework then dinner and dishes, I do feel like I deserve better. Like confetti from heaven should dump down and we should all hear the thunderous voice declare, “This is my hard-hardworking daughter. With her I am well pleased. She deserves a night out.”
Because Jesus told another parable about servants and masters and sitting down to eat. It’s recorded in Luke 12,
Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.
2. I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention in a post on duty, what John Piper famously called, “that dangerous duty of delight.”
The Bible does not teach that we should treat delight as a mere byproduct of duty. C. S. Lewis got it right when he wrote to a friend, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” Yes, that is risky and controversial. But it is strictly true. Maximum happiness, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is precisely what we are duty-bound to pursue.
3. A favorite George Washington quote: The consideration that human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected will always continue to prompt me to promote the former by inculcating the practice of the latter.
4. A poem.
“When He Comes”
There’s a king and captain high, And He’s coming by and by, And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes…
There’s a Man they thrust aside, Who was tortured till He died, And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He was hated and rejected, He was scorned and crucified, And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
When He comes! When he comes! He’ll be crowned by saints and angels when He comes.
They’ll be shouting out Hosanna! To the Man that men denied, And I’ll kneel among my cotton when He comes.
George Washington was born on January 22, 1732. He was God’s gift, the perfect fit- modest and wise- to govern our infant, rebel nation.
These 10 Washington quotes remind me why.
1. Nothing is a greater stranger to my breast, or a sin that my soul more abhors, than that black and detestable one, ingratitude.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Governor Dinwiddie, May 29, 1754
2. It is with pleasure I receive reproof, when reproof is due, because no person can be readier to accuse me, than I am to acknowledge an error, when I am guilty of one; nor more desirous of atoning for a crime, when I am sensible of having committed it.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Governor Dinwiddie, Aug. 27, 1757
3. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address to the People of the United States
4.While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case they are answerable.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Benedict Arnold, Sep. 14, 1775
5. The determinations of Providence are always wise, often inscrutable; and, though its decrees appear to bear hard upon us at times, is nevertheless meant for gracious purposes.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Bryan Fairfax, Mar. 1, 1778
6. Do not conceive that fine clothes make fine men any more than fine feathers make fine birds.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Bushrod Washington, Jan. 15, 1783
7. To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to James Welch, Apr. 7, 1799
8. There is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, First Inaugural Address, Apr. 30, 1789
9. The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, First Inaugural Address, Apr. 30, 1789
10. The views of men can only be known, or guessed at, by their words or actions.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Patrick Henry, Jan. 15, 1799
Those who knew Washington best never doubted his sincere Christian faith. His mottos were, “Deeds, not Words”; and, “For God and my Country.”
Washington’s wisdom was uncommon. He knew what was in the heart of a man. George Washington also knew that, though at times inscrutable and painful, the purposes of Providence are gracious.
But President George Washington was also a modest man. Like the best of leaders, his humility was great.
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.