I strained on my tiptoes, stretching to reach the edge of the ceiling with a tiny paintbrush to fill in a third layer of paint.

My arms were burning.

I was covered in itchy, splotchy wall paint.

My head hurt.

I was tired.

All my leaders were cranky.

I couldn’t help but want to complain about the project we were smack dab in the middle of–the ambitious remodeling of two large rooms that we were converting from storage rooms to youth rooms.

It was a daunting project, involving hours of hauling large desks and stacks of chairs and music equipment around the campus, as well as organizing piles of random articles that had built up over years of chucking supplies into a room and shutting the door. And after days spent sweating through this difficult task, we had days of painting the two rooms ahead of us with some colorful–and complicated–designs that took countless hours of painstaking effort.

It was on night three of painting, as I teetered on a folding chair with a pencil-thin paintbrush in my hand at nearly two in the morning, that I hit my limit.

I leaned my head against the wall in a sudden burst of emotion, feeling overwhelmed and angry and frustrated all at once.

I can remember my thoughts exactly: “Why am I spending so much time on this? Will these kids even appreciate this? Why am I working my leaders so hard, trying to finish this? What will this even matter? Will anyone even care about this? Is all this effort pointless?”

And, in a sudden burst of anger, another question hit me even harder: “What am I really doing this for?”

It wasn’t until I had climbed down from my chair, reloaded my paintbrush, and sighed as I readied myself to carefully apply another layer of paint to the edge of the wall that a deeper thought hit me:

“It’s not about what I’m doing this for…it’s about Who I’m really doing this for.”

So often, I lose sight of why I do my small part in God’s kingdom. It’s not about attempting to have the best youth program in town, or having a stellar reputation among my peers or being chosen for prominent positions within my church body–though those things are not necessarily bad.

My role is simply to serve the people God has placed around me with faithfulness, integrity and love, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s not about “what” I’m doing it for–it’s about Who I have been called to work for.

The temptation always before me is to make my service as a youth leader about me. And when I start to worry about worldly success, reputation, financial gain or whatever bait Satan is holding out to distract me with–I take my eyes off of my Savior. I shift my motivation from gratefulness for what Jesus has done for me–freely giving me forgiveness when I don’t deserve it–to thinking that God somehow needs me to work as His servant.

It can be especially tempting for those of us working with pre-teens and teenagers, who often openly adore us, can’t it? We can easily get an inflated ego from a bunch of well-meaning students, if we’re not careful. We can start to feel that we’re important, that God does require our assistance somehow.

God doesn’t need us to accomplish His mission, because God Himself has unimaginable power. Our God who created the universe, as we are told in Jeremiah 10:12: “But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.”

The Bible is full of rich descriptions of God’s immense power, and we’ll never be able to fully comprehend it, as we’re reminded, “And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” (Job 26:14).

Instead, God offers us the opportunity to be a part of His incredible kingdom here on earth, as it says in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

To me, the bottom line is that we serve in whatever role God has placed us because we are expressing our gratefulness at what Jesus has done for us.

Colossians 3:23 reminds me, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”.

And in those moments when I’ve lost sight of Who I’m really doing it all for, this verse pointedly reminds me about the truth: I’m “working for the Lord”.