No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

no good deed

We’ve all been there. An opportunity for a random act of kindness comes up and without much thought or counsel we step forward to meet the need. So far so good. On the surface, we assume our efforts will be helpful and maybe appreciated. Unfortunately, we are often shocked when our good deed totally backfires. Instead of walking away with a sense of peace and joy, we limp away wondering how such a noble gesture could go so wrong. Sadly, No good deed goes unpunished seems more like a predictable law of the universe than a cynical excuse for selfish living. Every helping attempt gone awry leaves us a little wiser and a little more reluctant to volunteer to be the Good Samaritan again.

And so the dilemma unfolds: To do a good deed or don’t do a good deed? As Christians we are commanded to help others. By doing so, we reflect the character of our Lord Jesus Christ. The entire biblical record from Genesis to Revelation supports the idea that we are to be merciful to those in need. We absolutely understand that our faith is validated by our actions (James 2:14-17). However, as you move toward ministry opportunities, you will want to be careful. In this Mission Fortnight I’ll offer you a few principles to limit the fallout from doing those extra chancy good deeds that can whipsaw back in your face. Take it from me, in missions, there are way more ministry opportunities than any of us can perform. You won’t last very long as a fulltime Christian worker if you try to eat the entire ministry buffet by yourself.

• Beware of making exceptions. One of the most deadly errors on the front end of a good-deed-gone-wrong is that we often bend our rules for wise living. Beyond obvious matters of morality, ethics and the law, we all have acquired wisdom that protects us from disaster. We typically learned these life lessons the hard way. For example, everybody knows you never cosign a loan for a friend. Obedience to this life rule will save a lot of heart ache and strained friendships. Still, nothing begs us to make an exception like a worthy cause. We think the virtue of the act will outweigh the risk of probable bad outcomes. Sorry. It doesn’t work like that. Next time an opportunity to do good comes up, check your personal catalogue of life lessons. If there is a solid prohibition for taking on an optional good thing, defer to your life rule. Really. The standard exists for a reason. You don’t necessarily have to reconfirm its legitimacy.

• Count the cost. There ain’t no free lunches is wisdom for the ages. Every good or bad deed costs something. A careful appraisal of the cost versus benefit potential is absolutely necessary on the front end of any good deed. Before you pay the full price for that act of kindness, take a hard look at what you’re buying. The deed will cost you. Can you afford to take the loss? If you are low on resources going in, better rethink your decision. Very few good deeds are one and done efforts. Your initial generous gift is often just the beginning. Make sure you have enough time and energy to take the inevitable next steps.

• Gauge your expectations according to reality. Don’t expect glory or honor or thanks or even incredible results from your efforts. Do the deed and don’t look back. As a young counselor I agreed to take a 4 PM counseling appointment on a Christmas Eve. The couple was coming from a foreign field hurt and angry and ready to quit missions. I gave them two hours of free debriefing and support and advocacy. I thought this above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty sacrifice would encourage them that the Lord cared about their pain and that their mission sincerely was there for them. Shortly after our time together they submitted their resignations claiming that they were afforded no help or support or caring from the mission. Their letter included an angry refusal to receive any further counseling from me. Ouch. I repeat: Do the deed and don’t look back.

• Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. This is the final rule for staying out of trouble when volunteering to do that extra good deed. Most of us can do a variety of jobs. We are better at some tasks than others but can do passible work at almost anything. I frequently remind my counselors to stay in their role. It is imperative to know what you do and what you don’t do. If you’re floundering in a task you volunteered to do, better step aside and let someone who knows how to do it, do it. Many competent people may be walking past that position because it is filled with you. Do everybody a favor and turn down those opportunities that you can barely do or maintain.

Final note on what I’m NOT saying: I’m not saying be so picky about the good deeds you’ll do that you don’t do any. I’m not saying that you should fail to intervene on behalf of someone in physical, moral, or spiritual danger. I am not saying that there is no room for courage or bold faith. I am not saying that prayer and obedience to the Lord’s clear direction isn’t imperative. Quite the contrary. I am saying that you don’t have to keep affirming that no good deed goes unpunished. Believe me. I dine daily at the all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of helping opportunities. You can’t eat it all. If you try, you’ll get sick. Very sick.

So…go out there and have an awesome fortnight. Don’t try to do it all…fortnight and good deed opportunities will come around again. Trust me.

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