When I was in high school, I was part of a student club which occasionally did community service projects. Looking back on my experience with that organization now, apparently the point of its existence and of our participation in it was so that people could look at us and think, "O wow, look, they're part of that club that occasionally does community service projects." I remember one project in particular, which we spent more time planning than any other. We had made preparations to give a group of single mothers a special day to themselves. We were going to provide childcare and arrangements had been made for the ladies to have an enjoyable day with manicures and other things that our female sponsor was sure these ladies would enjoy.
It was a good idea, but it fell apart for the worst of reasons. Providing those ladies with a restful and enjoyable day was a very secondary motivation for our group. The primary reason our club worked harder to organize that community service project than any other was the possibility of winning a statewide award for our school's chapter of the organization. The plan was in place: one person had a connection with someone from the newspaper, who would would write up a story about our generous activities that day. Then our sponsor was going to make sure that the media's coverage of us got into the hands of people at the state level of our organization. We were sure that an award and recognition would follow.
The plan came to a crashing halt when, a few days before our project, the person from the newspaper let us know that something else had come up and they wouldn't be able to cover our [ridiculously self-centered] day of service. The worst part of it all (for which I should probably get on my knees right now–two decades later–and ask forgiveness) is that we called the day off because the media wasn't going to be able to cover it.
Lord, have mercy.
As a teenager, I and my peers (and our adult sponsor) obviously didn't know this teaching of Jesus very well:
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4, NIV)
We cannot both be followers of Jesus and do good for others in order to be seen and get credit for it. Rather, followers of Jesus should give/do good for others so often–in every way and at every appropriate opportunity–that it becomes ingrained habit, where we can do good without even realizing what we've done. That's the point about not letting "your left hand know what your right hand is doing."
It's like when we drive a certain route in a car so many times, and eventually our body can virtually drive the route for us. Then sometimes we arrive at our destination and think, "How did I get here? Did I pass the store? Did I stop at that light?" (Okay, sometimes I do this. If no one else does, it might be a good idea for you all to stay out of my way on the road.) From these words of Jesus, we are challenged to give to others often enough that the good things we do become routine–even to the point that we don't notice, and then it certainly won't matter whether others do or not.
A Prayer for the Day:
O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.*
*From The Book of Common Prayer
[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]