“But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does” (Matthew 6:3, World English Bible).
Charles called me last night and asked me to stop by his apartment on my way home from the hospital. I had helped him through a difficult health issue, and he is also a friend who has taught me much about Christian prayer and service. More than anyone I have known, he has an ear for God’s whisper coupled with the inclination to follow. He has brought the presence and gospel of Jesus to hundreds of lives through unknown and unremembered acts of kindness and grace. In our conversation today, he was explaining how God has worked in his life for God’s glory, “Last summer I was walking along a bay in Louisiana near where large vessels were going out to sea. The constant churning of water from their wake pushed the froth up against the beach, mixed with the oil from their engines. The oil had infiltrated the froth and produced large bubbles. Because of the oil, the bubbles reflected light in radiant colors. They looked like brilliant jewels at the water's edge. The oil produced a cohesiveness that allowed me to actually pick up the bubbles without breaking them, and I was able to hold these beautiful jewels in my hands. When I was finished with the beauty of each, I tossed it back into the bay. My service to God has been like one of those waterside jewels. Not to be kept and held, but to beautifully serve the plan God has for that moment and then to be released without ownership or even retrievability."
I loved the image Charles described. For my own life of service, I have always wanted a way to commemorate the work God is doing through my life: a way to remember what He has accomplished with me, even if others don’t, as a sort of affirmation of my usefulness. But I think Charles is right. When God uses us for His glory, it is His glory to be remembered. Our part in it, our usefulness, should be released like a jeweled bubble into the bay, a beautiful thing of His making without our grasping it as ours. If we seek to hold onto it, it becomes tainted by our ownership and may be twisted into pride, control or a false signpost for future direction. Our service is much like prayer, as Fosdick described it in his Meaning of Prayer: “Raphael used to wear a candle in a pasteboard cap, so that, while he was painting, his shadow would not fall upon his work. Many a man’s prayer is spoiled by his own shadow.”
Or as Dominque Voillaume wrote: “If God wants it to, my life will be useful through my words and witness. If He wants it to, my life will bear fruit through my prayers and sacrifices. But the usefulness of my life is his concern, not mine. It would be indecent of me to worry about that.”
I personally like Charles’ picture of the oil bubbles. I need to enjoy the moments in which God finds me useful and then let my part in them go. Not only do I need to keep such usefulness secret from those around me, as Matthew 6 suggests, but from my personal accounting as well.
I am overwhelmed with the notion that you are willing to work through me to redeem the world. Let me only remember your glory in each of your successes.