“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1
Somebody Framed the Cow
Most people are familiar with the Great Chicago Fire. Most of us (adults anyway) learned about it in school. Even today you may think of a certain lady’s cow who took the blame (not true, by the way*).
You may recall other details about the fire from your history class or from hearing about it here and there during your life. In that fire 300 people perished and approximantly 3.3 square miles of the city was destroyed.
It was, by all accounts, a legendary fire. Reminders of it are still circulating almost 150 years later.
Peshtigo was not Front Page News-then or now
But, did you know there was another, much larger, fire that night?** October 8, 1871 came at the end of an extremely dry summer and had unusually high winds–a perfect combination for hungry flames.
Those conditions were not just present in Chicago that night, but also in the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin where an enormous forest fire spread so fast and so far that people had no way of escape. It claimed the lives of somewhere between 1500 and 2500 people. It also destroyed approximately 1875 square miles of land.
Though its scale was much larger, the Peshtigo fire just did not and does not receive the attention of the one in Chicago.
Our Impact is Not Determined by the Amount of Attention we Receive
I think there is a lesson there for those of us serving the Lord. Our impact for the Lord is not determined by the amount of attention we get for doing what we do. It never will be.
Every single one of the lives that were lost in Chicago that long ago October night were extremely valuable. The souls who died in Wisconsin that night were just as valuable. The importance of each of those lost was equal to the other.
Spread Love, not Fire
Likewise, as we serve, the impact of each life we touch for the Lord is equally important. Of course, we are not spreading destruction as we work. No, we are spreading hope and joy and peace which are all the results of sharing the relentless love of Jesus and the saving message of His Gospel.
It’s a Heart ‘Thang‘
So, if attention, accolades, and awards don’t determine the value of what we do, what does? Well, if I am reading my Bible correctly, I believe it is the attitude of our hearts.
Our work is valuable when it is done for the Lord and only for the Lord. Read the Lord’s words from His Sermon on the Mount:
” So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:2-4
“Whenever you pray, you must not be liked the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6
“Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18
An Audience of One is all We Need, and Should be all we Want
God sees what we do for Him. He sees the little things we do and the big. When we serve with the sole motive of honoring Him and Him alone, we please Him. Whether our work receives a spotlight or we are always working behind the scenes matters not. All that matters is that we do all for the Lord. When we do, the results will be as legendary as the long ago fire, but, of course, in a good–no, great– way!
Our Chance to Respond
Dear Heavenly Father, so often I feel unnoticed as I serve. While it seems others are always gaining attention for their service, I seem to garnish none. Oh Lord forgive me for wanting it-for ever seeking anyone’s attention and approval besides Yours. Yours is all I need and Yours is truly all I want. Oh Lord, help me to work to please You and You alone. Amen
More Interesting Facts (the footnotes)
*Sadly, that story about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was fabricated by those who’d hoped to cast the Irish population of Chicago in a bad light. It was a lie perpetuated by those who were prejudiced against the Irish. The true cause? No one knows, but maybe an errant spark from someone’s chimney.
**In addition to those two fires, there were several across the state of Michigan in the cities of Holland, Manistee and Port Huron. Each of those fires killed between 50 and 100 people and destroyed much property.