He Didn’t Even Notice

Published on February 1, 2010 by CT in Blog, Stories

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This is Part 3 of the Unseen Fruit of Obedience Series (Part 1:  “Go Tell Him I Love Him;” Part 2: “Unseen Fruit of Obedience”).

We had a pretty big snowstorm in Northern Virginia recently.  By pretty big, I mean 4 more inches than I ever experienced when I lived in Los Angeles.  Any of you in colder climates probably scoff at rookie drivers like me that are affected by a light dusting like this.  But it seemed to me that my car was buried under an avalanche.

I’ve never actually cleared off a car completely covered by snow.  Crazy, right?  But Anna and I needed to get to church the next day, so I headed outside to get the car ready.  While I was there, I noticed something strange:  It wasn’t just our car that was covered in snow—it was every car in the parking lot.  Imagine that.

That’s when I heard the still, small voice that often comes to me when I’ve been focusing on myself so much.  God said, “Why don’t you clear off some other cars too?”  “Why?” I asked.  “Maybe they won’t need to drive anytime soon.  And it’s still snowing for crying out loud.”

His response was familiar:  “Why don’t you clear off some other cars too.”  So I did.  I started clearing the car at the end of the lot, slowly working my way back up the line of car that were all buried under this avalanche.  I imagined one of the car owners seeing me from his porch and coming out to ask why I was clearing his car.  And I would say, “Because I love Jesus, and you should too.”  And he would say, “OK.”  And it would be great.

After 13 cars, my arm was pretty tired, and I thought it was pointless because the snow was still falling.  And no one had actually seen me clearing these cars, so it wasn’t like this was actually bearing any tangible  fruit.  So I quit and headed back inside.

The next morning, I awoke to the same still, small voice:  “Why don’t you clear off some more cars.”  What?  Not again. I rattled off the same list of excuses but eventually threw on my warm clothes and headed downstairs.  The snow had stopped falling, and the sky was filled with the brilliance of the sun.  Each car sat ready for my brush and my broom.

After the fourth car, I saw a guy walking out into the parking lotHere he comes, I thought.  This was going to be the “OK” guy.  But he walked past me and unlocked the door of a car a few rows back.  I recognized this car—I had cleared it the night before.  There it sat, with the windshield and windows essentially clear.  But he got in, started the car, and pulled out of his space.

He didn’t even notice! He just hopped right in and drove off.  How inconsiderate!  I didn’t even get to share the gospel with him, and even worse, I didn’t get the credit for what I had done.  So I asked God what was going on, and he reminded me of what He’s been trying to teach me about obedience.

We’ve been taking a look at what happens when we obey God and see no immediate payoff.  Is there redeeming value in obedience for obedience’s sake?  Or should we just trust that God is doing a thousand things in and through our obedience that we may not see?  And we’ve seen that God is in the business of producing fruit through our obedience, whether we always see that fruit or not.

What I also realized that morning was that love means putting someone else first even when no one is looking.   But that’s nothing new; I have heard this hundreds of times.  But what God also showed me was that love also means putting someone else first even when they don’t even know they’re being loved.  Or to put it another way—when they don’t know they even need to be loved in that way.

This has implications for every relationship in my life.  I prefer to serve people in love when they notice and serve me back.  But it’s another thing entirely to love and serve people that don’t notice and don’t even know they’re being loved and served.

God reminded me that He “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Before God saved me, I didn’t notice the ways in which He loved me.  And I didn’t know I needed His love in that way.  But Christ died for me, even while I was still a sinner.  And He died for me, now justified, and being sanctified, while still a sinner.

So glory be to God who loves us when we don’t notice and loves us when we don’t know we need it.  And may we be the kind of people who love others in this way.

Question:  Have you ever had the chance to love someone who didn’t know they needed it?

  • http://twitter.com/katdish @katdish

    I participated in something called The Ten Dollar Challenge in December. Basically, I looked for opportunities to help someone out in $10 increments. I thought it would be an easy way to show God's love to complete strangers without asking anything in return. Yeah, never easy. Not once. Made some care packages to pass out to homeless folks. Drove up and down I-10 looking for them. Every single time I spotted someone, they were on the opposite side of the overpass, so I had to make a u-turn and make my way to them. Now, as I type this, I realize how incredibly selfish that sounds, because it's really not such a big deal. But I think God was trying to tell me, "Do this for Me, not for yourself." So yeah, I get that.

  • NOVA mountain man

    Chris the man Tomlinson, you speak the truth.

  • Chelsea

    reposted this on my facebook, and two others have reposted it already…. so if you get a lot of hits from facebook, that's why :)

  • http://5minutesplease.wordpress.com/ Krista

    I am betting that your neighbor DID notice that his car was cleared of snow (by someone). As you have said, we may not see the fruits of our labor. You never know what a difference your gesture may make in the neighbor's day. He may even "pay it forward" in some other way. I think what you did is a good place to start.
    I recall your story of suffering and your visit to the ER. Do I correctly recall that your success came when you started a "harmless" conversation with the gal?
    Jesus said, "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'" Matt 25: 31-46
    I think my theology is correct in that Jesus directs us to serve basic human needs to demonstrate the Gospel. For when the body's physical hunger is met, then we are open to addressing our spiritual hunger.
    Would enjoy your thoughts on this. (i am putting this on your facebook page as well.)

    • http://5minutesplease.wordpress.com/ Krista

      I had an additional thought. Perhaps our obedience to God and our "fulfillment" as a Christian comes when we extend such gestures because we WANT to and not because we HAVE to. We do these things because it feels good and it's NATURAL to do so. It is following the nature of God–and we our created in the image of God.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Hi Krista,

      I think you're right that we may never know the difference our gestures of love will make in the lives of others'. And you do recall correctly about the girl in the ER. It does seem that the most fruit often comes as a result of a simple action.

      The passage in Matthew that you quoted is a very interesting one. And your point about meeting physical needs before (or in addition to) spiritual needs is an interesting one as well. If the question was posed to me: Which is more important, or which should come first–meeting physical needs or spiritual needs–I might have to answer "yes, and it depends."

      The gospel is first and foremost a message of good news to be shared and heard and responded to. So in that sense, I don't know that we demonstrate the gospel in the strict sense of the word. We are to demonstrate fruit of the Spirit and the love of Christ, and they both should demonstrate the reality of the gospel-induced transformation in our lives.

      But at least several of the passages that talk about meeting physical needs of the poor (Leviticus 23, Matthew 25, James 2) have inward orientations, meaning they speak of members of the community (the Leviticus passage speaks to the poor and the foreigner among the nation of Israel, and the passages in Matthew and James speak to brothers and sisters within the body).

      Coupling this idea with the Great Commission, I draw from all this that our primary outward orientation to the non-believing world is a gospel-orientation, meaning the sharing of the truth of the good news of Jesus. And the primary inward orientation to the body is a gospel-orientation, meaning the demonstration of the reality of transformed lives in meetings the needs of one another–which also serves to demonstrate to the world the reality of the Gospel in the first place.

      I don't know that this means we are not to meet the physical needs of the unbelieving world; the neutrality of audience in James 1:29 could suggest that meeting the needs of unbelievers to be of primary importance as well. But I think all this should serve to drawn back in part of the excesses of the social gospel in which the physical needs of the world are seen as the gateways to meeting spiritual needs.

      At the end of the day, perhaps having a gospel-orientation to the world means standing ready to meet the physical and spiritual needs of unbelievers we come into contact with as well as the needs among our own church body as well.

      Let me know if you have other follow-on thoughts. Thanks for the conversation!

      • http://5minutesplease.wordpress.com/ Krista

        Wow Chris. That is heavy. I have t think about it for a while.
        I agree with ALL of what you said. And I think I correctly recall (you are obviously more versed then I in the scripture) that Jesus himself met both needs. Sometimes each exclusively and sometimes in correlation with each other. (I welcome your correction, guidance, teachings.)
        The phrase "walk the talk" comes to mind. I reiterate my second comment regarding a "natural obedience." Are are we obedient when our words and actions about our faith are worn on our sleeve? When our actions and our conversations naturally include the Word of God? (Which does not necessarily mean that we do so humbly–we still need lots of practice and will never reach perfection.) Our words confess and welcome others to the simple faith of the love of God and Jesus. I think that our actions tangibly demonstrate the gospel. We need to trust God to show us which way (or both) to start with for each individual we encounter.
        Thank you.

  • Dan

    Really liked this post. How often does God call us to do something and all we end up doing is asking why? Its totally natural because we make decisions every second and making the decision to be obedient is great for a moment. Usually its five or fifteen moments later when you ask, "why am I doing this again?" that the answer of "being obedient" doesn't seem to work anymore because that was answer the first time you asked. Now that it's later you have to have some new reason. At least that is how it feels to me. Occasionally it backfires and you end up doing something silly because you started doing something silly and felt compelled to stick with it.

    Nevertheless I often find God is asking me to do something to be obedient and it seems daunting and silly but God has a plan. It may be cliche to say that we don't know what God knows but really, how many times do we either never know or find out so much later a reasoning for God's calling us to do something? When we see the real reason, which will probably only happen in heaven, we are going to laugh. That's why I know there's laughing in heaven. Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=855270290 Robin Bryson Talmadge

    What if the person had somewhere that God wanted him to be at a specific point and time and you allowed that to happen just because he didn't have to take the extra time to clean off his car. Maybe his car being where it was in that instant kept another disaster at bay. What if he really had no idea that you cleaned off his car but was so happy that he didn't have to take the time to do that as he passed other snow covered cars he just praised God for his being clear thinking that God provided a miracle for him by keeping the snow off his car.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=855270290 Robin Bryson Talmadge

    Maybe we are all just praying for him to be saved and notice that Jesus is the Lord right now if he doesn't. Maybe he was just trying to teach us all that obedience is better than sacrifice . I am not sure but I do know that as Isaiah 55:8-9 says His thoughts and ways are so much higher than we could ever know. So, while I am curious I just trust that His ways are sufficient.
    Isaiah 55
    8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.

    9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

  • LeAnn

    Thank you for a great insight into God's ways.

  • Debbie

    Just thinking Chris, while no one on this earth noticed (that you know of) there is one — actually a multitude who did. That would be God and the great cloud of witnesses — both good and evil. Your obedience, I think, had implication far beyond what we can imagine or grasp.There is a spiritual dynamic (I think, I'm pondering on this) that surpasses what the eye sees and knows.We have no idea what happens in the spiritual when when we listen and surrender to God's calling and "no one sees". I'm thinking, too, that even w/o the could of witnesses, even if "only" God saw, wouldn't the joy and delight on His face be wonderful & enough?! Someday, I think those "unseen" things will be fully seen and we will dance in the light of His joy in our surrender to Him.

    I love your winsome, wonderful words that point us to Him!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      You are right. Who knows who's watching? And our audience of One matters most anyway! Thanks for the encouragement. And blog comments are a great place for lazy English, so no worries =)

  • Debbie

    I really should proof read before hitting "Post". Forgive the lazy english. I'll do better next time (?).