When I was in my High School years, I regularly heard this from a variety of people: youth pastors, friends, teachers, etc. I never realized at the time how egocentric and ungodly this exhortation to right living is until a few days ago while listening to someone speak on the impact a church was having.
Yesterday, while talking with my mentor, we were laughing together about the personal confessions from a sect of people who believe God to forbid physical labor on the day of worship. They were admitting that they would drive their cars half way to the house of worship and then walk the remainder of the way, so as to appear to other worshipers as to have walked the entire way as driving is forbidden on this day. No matter that God could see their lack of devotion, they wanted the others to think they were spiritual and devout.
I went on a variety of trips while in High School – service trips, by nature, mission trips by name. After going abroad to sing, perform, paint, or provide some other service, the reflection at the end of these trips was usually, “We cannot know the impact that we had” and/or “You never know who was watching”, or some other self-serving, feel good accolade by which we made one another feel good for our fruitless efforts.
That might be a bit harsh.
Yes, it is true, that God has ordained and uses every moment of our lives to His perfect end. And there might be things that we do or say that forever impact another person’s life, or help him along in his spiritual journey. But let’s think about this honestly. How many strangers have forever impacted your life? Or how many people do you observe, and affect you greatly in their successes or failures of faith, service or life?
And even if we did fundamentally impact people regularly, would you want to be that person to someone else?
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
– Col 3.17-23
This passage is riveting by nature because it takes all of the earthly perspectives and focuses them rightly on God. Whatever you do, do unto the Lord. If we serve God, He will work out all of the intended impact that our actions can and might have – for His glory. If we work for man, then no benefit is to be had. Yes, God will use our human efforts to His glory as all things glorify Him, but we will receive no eternal reward (Matt 6.5). If we go out and seek our impact on other’s lives, we are not storing up treasures in Heaven, but our own egos here on the earth.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
– Matt 6.19-20
We deceive ourselves to think that we are so influential that our actions impact the world. We also do ourselves a great disservice to forget that God sees everything and weighs and judges the intentions of our hearts (Jer 17.10, 1 Sam 16.7).
Yes, we are instructed to care for the world: to serve the orphans and widows, feed the hungry, care for the poor and make disciples of all nations (James 1.27, Rm, 12.20, Matt 28.18-20). But our intention is to honor, serve and glorify God, not to impact the world. God will impact the world. That is His right, prerogative, and intention. Therefore, let us be satisfied when we know that we have been obedient to Him, and trust Him to handle the rest. Let us not ease our consciences by assuming that someone was impacted, that someone was watching who went unnoticed. Let us seek God, trust Him and take comfort in obedience and faithfulness to Him alone, as He alone is the judge and He sees everything that we do – including the intention of our hearts!
We do know who is watching. God is watching. Let us live as such!