The ego is such a delicate thing, isn't it? Recently, mine was deflated when I was told to head a project at work and when all the critiques were hurled back at me and the deliverables were made under the weight of strict guidelines, the project was rejected for not being good enough. Not being good enough? I didn't put this weight of guidelines on my back, did I? In the middle of my incredulous protest and agape frustrations, the Holy Spirit whispered through my dejection and gave me a reality that is very hard to face.
I am working under authority.
Really, it's a simple phrase but it relates to all the areas of our life, not just our performance-based areas. And through the Holy Spirit, I realized that it was my job to take the weight of guidelines and critique (helpful and harmful to my result) and under it produce great work. Even when I am instructed to do something that I don't see as helpful, it is my job to take that instruction and turn it into something even better than before (instead of just ignoring it in entirety).
There was a time when someone gave me a chance and hired me in the first place. There was a time that I wasn't given this amount of responsibility. But authority decided to give me a job, give me responsibility, and now I am to respond to and listen to that authority. So let's take this concept to Church.
Serving and being in the Church is definitely a unique concept because in a traditional setting, there are people on staff (smaller in number, usually in leadership) and there are volunteers (larger in number, and usually report to staff) instead of a corporate organization where most everyone is paid. So at Church, a lot of people are doing this for free. Many of Sunday Services around the world are done by people giving up their time and resources to feed into the local hope of Christ with no monetary reward.
So- what is our reward?
I believe this question reveals a lot of the heart of why people serve at Church, and why people serve Jesus at all. If the desired reward is to be heard, seen, and praised, then the tendency is to ignore authority. Why? Because if you do something under authority, it is no longer "yours", it becomes "theirs" or- in the context of the Church, "ours". This means that the worship song you lead or wrote is no longer "your" worship song, it becomes the praise of the Church to raise back up to God and not to you. This means that the photo you took or the church promo post you created is no longer "yours", it becomes the image of the Church to invite people to God and not to you. This means that the small group you lead is no longer "yours", it becomes the gathering of the Church to bring people together to experience God's heart and not yours.
Being under authority means that people aren't always seeing what we do behind the scenes. Being under authority means that people don't always hear about what we did to make something happen. Being under authority means that people won't praise our name, even if we had a big part in doing something great for Jesus. Because the reward is not to be seen, heard, or praised.
"The fire will test and prove the workmanship of each builder. If his work stands the test of fire, he will be rewarded. If his work in consumed by the fire, he will suffer great loss" -1 Corinthians 3:13b-15a TPT
When we are serving in the Church and we come under fire, whether it be about our musical, creative, administrative, leadership, or technical abilities, it definitely feels like a slap in the face. Especially if you're doing this thing for free out of the kindness of your heart! But 1 Corinthians reveals that fire tests our work and toil. If we can stand through the fire of authority (good or bad), the fire of criticism, the fire of not getting picked, we can be truly rewarded. But if we completely go against authority, if we ignore all criticism, if we lash out because we weren't picked to do what we wanted, we're actually losing out on what Church is really supposed to be about.
"For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift of God that brought us to Christ! So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving." -Ephesians 2: 8-9 TPT
It is only by Jesus' grace that we can receive the Holy Spirit to believe in him in the first place and it's only by his grace that we get to be a part of his family. There's no work we can do, no worship song we can sing, no creative thing we can form, nothing we can lead, that could earn us the right to be a part of God's saved kingdom. God's pretty gracious to have picked us at all to bring us to Christ. Our reward for serving the Church is to see of and hear the salvation of and praise Jesus. It's basic. It's foundational. God is not out to make sure our church experience is us receiving everyone's gaze. God is not out to make sure our church experience is us being heard by all. God is not out to make sure our church experience is us getting the accolades and praise and attention that belongs rightly to Him.
Under authority, our ability to brag is stripped away. And to be real, that hurts. But luckily we get to get healed of ourselves. Our sweat and straining and tears can be healed under the shadow of the wings of God's authority. Our striving and frustration and pushing can be healed and we can find rest under the protection of His command. The tension in the muscles of our performance mindset can relax. The tearing of our working mind can be mended. The restlessness of our hunger for praise can be satiated and fed not by men's compliments, but by God's graceful kindness.
The ego is delicate, but God's authority is so much stronger. I praise Jesus that he is carving out of me the rebellion that would tear me limb to limb spiritually. When I am critiqued and under the weight of authority, I am being refined under a helpful fire. And through this, I am always deemed enough in Christ. My success is not "mine", but for the glory of "us" to share to find God, not others to find me. In the middle of my incredulous protest and agape frustrations, the Holy Spirit whispers through my dejection and gives me a stunning reality that is gentler, kinder, and is ultimately about his salvation as my reward.