One thing led to another, and I ended up knee-deep in my mother’s bedroom after emptying her two closets and every drawer in the dresser and bureau. What started as a 10-minute effort to make it easier to find a shirt turned into an episode of Extreme Clutter. The sun burned hot in the sky when we started, and had sunk into sleep by the time I left. But oh what glory: We classified and sub-classified into “winter tops,” “winter slacks,” “summer tops,” “summer slacks,” “lose 5 pounds,” and “thrift store-bound.”
By the end of the day we sat exhausted on the bed admiring our bagged and labeled piles and the clean look of the closet, with slits of light between each article of clothing. My mother was elated, and at some point during the course of the day I noticed that I had done a good deed. Good deeds that reflect too much on themselves turn poisoned, of course, and we are to be unconscious enough of them to be like a left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3).
Nevertheless, we are to be conscious enough of doing good deeds to be able to put our minds to doing them. Jesus commends good deeds and goes so far as to say He will judge us on Judgment Day according to whether we were busy performing them (Matthew 25:35; John 5:28-29; Romans 2:5-10).
But almost simultaneously with my being glad that I had done something that pleased both my mother and God, there was another thought that kept the first thought within proper bounds. It was the parable in Luke 17 in which Jesus reminds his followers that when a servant comes in from the field after a good, solid day’s work, his master does not typically fawn over him and pamper him, but tells him to serve him his supper and that afterward he can eat, too. This is a parable about attitude: We are to be satisfied with our work but not to start posing for a bronze statue.
God commends both the taking of satisfaction and joy in our work (Galatians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 12:11), on the one hand, and the resisting of the temptation to think inordinately of our effort, on the other. Between these two self-images as “worthy” servants (Ephesians 4:1) and “unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10) is the sweet spot that God delights in and man finds his contentment in.