This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “King & Country: The Story That Changes Everything,” coming in summer 2017.
When I was in college, I had a campus job at the student union. Most shifts, my job was cooking food, making lattes, interacting with patrons, and other enjoyable and creative tasks like that. It was a great job.
But every once in a while, my manager would send me down to the basement of the student union to do sorting or cleaning. I understood that it was a job that needed to be done, and I never complained to my manager about those assignments. But boy did I hate those shifts. Coming into work, anticipating an exciting shift in the café, only to be sent down to the dark and lonely basement, was a bitter pill to swallow. And one day in particular, I found myself in the basement with a particularly gross task: sorting rotten bananas. I was supposed to separate out the bruised and mushy fruit, chop them up, and put them in bins to be frozen and used in smoothies. I’m not a big fan of bananas to begin with, and spending hours soaking in the mushy, sticky-sweet stench of the beginnings of fermentation was enough to make my stomach turn.
So there I was, alone and up to my elbows in bruised fruit, silently grumbling about my lot in life. The dialogue in my head would be familiar to anyone who has been in a similar situation. Why can’t I ever be scheduled upstairs where all the fun is? Maybe I should quit and go back to my a job as a lifeguard. I never, ever want another smoothie for as long as I live. And on and on the bitter complaining went.
It was into this morass of grumpiness that the Holy Spirit landed with piercing and gracious conviction. A text from Colossians jumped to my mind, wielded by the strong hand of God like a two-by-four to the back of my head. It was a text addressed to workers, perfectly suited to my situation.
Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:22-24)
“Whatever you do”—including peeling rotten bananas—“work heartily as for the Lord and not for men.” In that moment, the gentle and firm voice of God spoke to my heart: “Brendan, you can peel bananas for me.”
It may sound cliché, but that simple truth changed everything. It was like a light went on in my heart, and suddenly the dark basement was transformed into a cathedral, and my disgusting labor was transformed into worship. My complaining gave way to thankfulness. “Thank you, Lord, that you care about the little things that I do, and thank you for the privilege of doing them for you. Help me to do this with a thankful heart, giving this labor as an offering to you!” I could peel rotten bananas for Jesus, and that made all the difference.
In the years since that basement encounter with God, I’ve forgotten and re-learned this lesson more times than I can remember. And each time I slip into habits of selfish whining and God graciously delivers me from myself, my experience of this passage in Colossians grows richer. In my most recent cycle of backsliding and repentance, right in the middle of writing this book, it was verse 24 that went off like a bomb in my heart: “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”
In light of the great story of king and country which God is writing, this is a truly staggering promise. That inheritance, as we’ve seen, is to be co-ruler and co-owner with Jesus of the entire universe. It’s glory beyond my capacity to imagine, a future greater than my wildest dreams. The inheritance is, “The kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:27).
And that inheritance, Colossians says, is a reward for peeling rotten bananas. Or changing diapers. Or taking out the trash, or doing the dishes, or filing expense reports, or doing your homework, or “whatever you do,” the ten million little responsibilities and drudgeries that fill our lives. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote,
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
Even a street sweeper can worship with his work, and all of heaven takes notice when he does. Our faithfulness in how we convert the raw material of tasks and trials into worship will be rewarded beyond all comprehension in the age to come. No matter how mundane, every moment is an “internship for the eschaton,” preparing us in small ways for the massive realities being birthed in the new creation. Randy Alcorn writes,
“Every kingdom work, whether publicly performed or privately endeavored, partakes of the kingdom’s imperishable character. Every honest intention, every stumbling word of witness, every resistance of temptation, every motion of repentance, every gesture of concern, every routine engagement, every motion of worship, every struggle towards obedience, every mumbled prayer, everything, literally, which flows out of our faith-relationship with the Ever-Living One, will find its place in the ever-living heavenly order which will dawn at his coming.”
With our future defined by resurrection, everything matters if it’s done for the King. As C.T. Studd’s famous poem stated, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” Everything done for Jesus lasts, including my offering of rotten bananas. Stars will burn out, galaxies will crumble into dust, but the value of the “insignificant” and “invisible” acts of service that we perform today will stand in eternity as monuments of an undying kingdom. The promise of Colossians is that nothing done for Jesus—whether it’s preaching the gospel or peeling bananas—will go unnoticed, uncelebrated, unrewarded. In this kingdom, nothing is wasted.