I’ve come to an interesting, and rather disturbing conclusion regarding myself: I’m not a real big fan of serving in private. I don’t want to do acts of service that nobody is going to see. I want to be up front, in the public eye, serving heroically for all to see. I want to be “Mr. Servant Leader Man”, who is admired by thousands for his selfless sacrificial serving (try saying that over and over). I don’t want to be the guy who is quietly painting a back room in the church, or the guy who faithfully prepares the church budget year after year, or the guy who patiently teaches third graders every Sunday. I want the attention, the glory, the fame of…serving.
At this point some of you are thinking, what a sad little man, and making a mental note to never ask for my help with anything. Pretty ridiculous, isn’t it? Actually, it’s shameful. In my sinful pride, I want to be recognized for my acts of service. I’m not really interested in God’s glory, I’m interested in my own glory. But I want to change. I want to be like John Thornton. Never heard of him? Not surprising. He was a member of “The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants”.
Thornton lived from 1720 to 1790, and was absolutely loaded with cash. He was the type of guy who could have done his shopping from the Neiman Marcus catalog, and then actually bought Neiman Marcus. But Thornton refused to live an extravagant life, instead living in a “…simple manner of life [which] left a large surplus out of his income, the chief part of which constantly flowed into the channel[s] of his beneficence.” (from William Wilberforce: A Hero For Humanity) In other words, Thornton lived simply so that he could pour money into God-honoring causes.
Thornton paid for Bibles to be printed, and then used his own company ships to send them throughout the world. He gave John Newton an annual allowance of 200 pounds (worth approx. $50,000 today) so that Newton would be free to write songs, books, and be a pastor. He was described as being “plain, frugal, and self-denying in all matters of private expense; and yet liberal in supplying the want of others…”
Do you think many people knew about John Thornton’s sacrificial giving? I doubt it. Yet think of the great good that he accomplished. Because of his secret giving, thousands of Bibles went forth throughout the world. Because of his secret support of John Newton, Newton in turn affected the lives of thousands. Thornton was a secret servant whom God used to accomplish great things. Thornton will receive a glorious reward from the Savior on the final day for his acts of secret service.
What about you? Are you content to serve quietly, secretly, and without anyone knowing? Are you happy to serve wherever there’s a need, even if you don’t get any recognition? I want to be like John Thornton, a happy, quiet, secret servant.
I’m going to sign up to join “The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants”.
photo by Peter Morgan