“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:3–11)
I see you. I know how little sleep you’ve had. I know how many noses (and other ends) you wiped today. I heard you lose it with your four-year-old. I also heard you an hour later when you held your tongue and prayed for grace and spoke softly. I saw you put away the shoes scattered across the foyer for the fifth time today. I know you cooked dinner (not hot dogs!) even though it inspired three individual hunger strikes. I know you met an important deadline at work this week in the midst of your full-time momming. You’re doing it all. You’re juggling all the balls. You are giving your all every day.
This is all we want to hear, isn’t it? It’s what we crave; it’s what we’re longing for. Recognition. Validation. Encouragement. We don’t think ourselves prideful; we just want to know that our hard work is appreciated, that it’s not for nothing, and that these people we love so much can see all we are doing for them. That’s not bad … right?
We have our good days, when it all feels worth it and we feel appreciated, but what about when our efforts are ignored or trivialized or taken for granted? What do we do when we are so tired from giving and just want a break? How do we fight off the resentful and bitter voice that starts slinging accusations around in our tired brains? What’s the point of trying if no one even cares?
It starts with shifting our perspective of what it means to love and whom we are serving. The Apostle Paul offers us this reminder for that very moment:
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23–24)
One more time, for those in the back row: “You are serving the Lord Christ.”
“Not for men” means not for my children, not for my husband, not for the eyes of others, and not for my own glory. We pray for patience, ask God for endurance, praise him for our Starbucks, and all the while look right past him while we long for our families to validate our efforts. We place an unbearable burden—that of refilling our depleted hearts—on the humans closest to us, and fail to see that every single task put before us each day is meant to be done in service to the Lord Christ. If my work is ultimately for Christ, more than it is for them, then it is his glory and delight in me that matters, not theirs.
My performance doesn’t need to be fueled by the recognition of my kids. I don’t need their gratitude, or the praise of my mother, or to win the who-is-the-most-tired competition with my husband.
Jesus not only gives me a better motivation for my service, he also provides a powerful example of selflessness in serving.
“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26b–27)
We’re tired, because we’re incredibly busy people. We have households to run, careers to cultivate, babies to turn into functional adults, meals to cook, minivans to navigate in soccer field parking lots, husbands to stay connected to, dogs to walk, and homework to supervise. It’s taxing and it’s sacrificial and can feel thankless, and sometimes we want to set our hair on fire. Don’t we sometimes feel the work to which we’re called is work that is beneath us?
Look again at the words of the verses from Philippians you read a few minutes ago: “...though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Christ Jesus emptied himself to become a baby and later die a death he didn’t deserve so that he could raise you to eternal life. That work was not beneath the Son of God. And Paul tells us in Philippians that this mind of humility and selflessness is ours in Christ Jesus.
The coming of Christ not only offers us both a more worthy object of service and an example of selfless service, but also the power to serve selflessly through the gift of the Holy Spirit. I can put the needs of my family before mine (and do it with joy!) because of Jesus. I can let the bitterness melt away and dismiss all the resentful titles I give myself—a chauffeur, a dairy cow, a short-order cook, a maid. I am none of those. I am a daughter of the King, redeemed by the blood of the Son, and I have the power of his Spirit in my body to empower me to selflessly serve the way that my servant King came to selflessly serve.
I can consciously dismiss my resentment each time it tries to slip back into my exhausted head by “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2a).
He is the joy set before you and me, and he came to free us from our desperation to be seen and appreciated, as well as from guilt we feel for longing for that recognition. He lived the selfless life we could never live in our own strength, offered himself as a living sacrifice for us on the cross, and enables us now to die to our sin through the gift of his Spirit who empowers us to fight the flesh and work joyfully.
Your Father in heaven sees you—not just the work you have done, but the redemptive work of Christ on your behalf. You can serve out of the humble knowledge that you are seen, rather than the prideful desire to be seen. Go and serve with joy and selflessness because this servant King has served you, and he is worthy of your service.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:
Does your work as a mom ever feel thankless and beneath you? What specifically causes you to feel this way?
How does the picture of Christ becoming a baby and later dying an undeserved death provide encouragement to you there?
What would look different if you were to do the work before you out of thankfulness and appreciation of your Servant King instead of the desire to be thanked and appreciated? Your attitude? Your relationships? Your work itself?
Print and put Philippians 2:1–11 in a place in your home where you are tempted to resent your work or your people. Ask the Holy Spirit to transform your heart and motivation into that of Christ Jesus.
Karin Curtis lives in Bluffton, SC with her high school sweetheart (now husband) and their three sons. They spend a lot of time at the beach and have no idea how spoiled they are. Karin works from home, surrounded by soccer balls and Lego, as a family photographer and as the communications coordinator for Hilton Head Presbyterian Church. She really likes running, brownies, and donuts, and plans to sleep when she’s old. You can find her normal life on instagram as @karinsc or her family photography at @karincurtisphoto.