About Me

"Humans are amphibians - half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time." -- CS Lewis

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

For Whose Glory?

Missions trips have always been a passion of mine. I love traveling to some remote part of the world’s society to a place where my team can truly make a difference – a tangible, observable difference that I supplied to the lives of the underprivileged. The feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction after a long day of painting houses or building new ones thrills me, and I would leave each trip feeling like I could live just for the look on the people’s faces once they received our kindness.

But then I heard something that rattled my perception of “service.” My youth group went to Brussels in Belgium this summer to join with other youth groups in Europe to do random acts of kindness and service to people on the streets. Just as I was about to head out deliver sandwiches we had made to homeless people on the street, however, my leader turned to us and read us an article on Christian service. It was fairly straightforward, nothing really radical or groundbreaking; nothing special, except for one line that struck me between the eyes. It read something like “We should be just as happy serving others behind the scenes as out directly helping the people being served; we should feel just as satisfied laying down bricks for a schoolhouse as finishing it and presenting it to the exuberantly grateful community.”

None of my friends reacted to this, but I was stunned.

What this had made me realize was that I might have been loving service for the wrong reason entirely. As evidence, just notice the number of first-person singular pronouns in my opening paragraph. The reason I loved serving so much was, in fact, more selfish than selfless; I loved feeling the reward of performing good deeds: recognition. This “glory” of sorts is what CS Lewis address in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” with its misconceptions and misleading nature.

The first thing Lewis draws attention to is the nature of the reward itself. He says that “We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward [from faithful acts of Godliness] makes the Christian life a mercenary affair,” but then goes on to address much the same issues as Plantinga addresses in the first chapter, “Longing and Hope,” of Engaging God’s World: The longings we feel and the rewards we see behind them can so easily divert us from our true divine longing, our summum bonum. Hence we create “dumb idols,” as Lewis puts it, which may give us instant gratification, but in the end detract from our vision of God and of His promises of reward to us. My love for service was (at least in part) misguided, and so I mercenarily sought acclaim and praise.

Thus, the distinction between two different types of glory must be made, as Lewis discusses in his sermon. The first one can most easily be summarized as vainglory; as Lewis describes it, it is the “competitive passion” and “deadly poison of self-admiration” that he sees as being “of hell rather than heaven.” This is the definition of glory as it relates to fame, fortune, and other such combative goals in which the “I” is glorified. Glory in this form is so tempting and so dangerous sometimes because it seems legitimate and wholesome. My own example of vainglory seemed completely innocuous until I was awoken to the reality of it. Temptation in this area is subtle, since it deals with the some of the most basic human longings within each of us. This is our pursuit of “luminosity,” as Lewis calls it.

The second is the one worth pursuing: the glory that comes from serving God and receiving the satisfaction of doing so. In fact, as Lewis mentions, in serving the Lord with the right intentions, this “turns out to satisfy my original desire and indeed to reveal an element in that desire which [we] had not noticed.” This points to the fact that God made us in His image (Gen.1:26), since our longings and desires point to our sense of God, and that the pursuit of them for what they are will ultimately give us Godly glory. This form of glory is the “weightier” of the two, as Lewis describes it, and feels like an actual burden on us. As he writes,

To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God not merely pitied, but delight in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son–it seems impossible, weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

It is a glory so full of wonder and responsibility that it impresses hard on our small, feeble human frame. It must be used to further God’s Kingdom in ways that aren’t necessarily self-gratifying or radiant. In Brussels, I should have been just as happy making the sandwiches we distributed behind the scenes as I was handing them directly to the homeless people. Lewis says that “perfect humility dispenses with modesty,” not with gaudy expressions of what we consider worthy of praise, and so we need to responsibly show God’s love without drawing too much attention to ourselves.

Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside.


  1. Wow, thanks for being so open and honest. Unfortunately I'd have to say I've suffered the same problems that you have. When my high school bball team went to NYC for a mission trip my favorite part was handing out water and granola bars at the public parks... not pulling weeds on the church roof top in 80 degree weather. I don't think we're alone in this though because as humans, we're drawn to self-gratifying and radiant work. This can be a problem but it can also be fixed. Humility is key! Like you quoted Lewis earlier, "perfect humility dispenses with modesty".

  2. I've had similar issues in the past, but there was something about a missions trip to brazil just this past summer in which what you just described here clicked. I began to stop seeing it as something I was a good person or "righteous" for doing, but just enjoyed being worked though. The other part of missions trips that is just amazing is learning from the people you're ministering to. We are such a blind race, and whenever another finds a clearing in the woods and calls others to its light, it is a beautiful thing.

  3. Thanks for the personal story Nathan. Your experience reminded me of my own shameful attitudes during mission trips in places that truly need love, caring, and guidance. Word.

  4. I am going to have to agree with everyone else and thank you for the story Nathan. I think this is something that we have all struggled with. I know I certainly have. I feel like helping others is a big part of any mission trip, but it is so easy to be absorbed by the looks of gratitude that you receive afterwards. This is not a bad thing, but it should not be why we do mission work. We must be careful how we use glory, or we will be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

  5. Thanks for sharing that experience. That was great - really makes me want to try missions work! I definitely want to some day. Good points as well by the way.

  6. Great post! I really got a lot out of that sermon from Lewis because he was so honest and really said things that new Christians should know but also reminded older Christians that we should not get carried away with focusing on ourselves so much during the time we are working to glorify God. It is so easy for everyone to do because everybody loves to be praised.