So you want to do something great for God…
For generations, Sunday school teachers have heralded the stories of Biblical heros. Noah saved the world through building the ark. Abraham became the father of faith having Isaac in his old age. Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt. Esther saved her people from obliteration. Many of us grew up hearing these stories and decided, “I want to do something great for God too!”
Our individualistic and achievement-driven culture added fuel to this desire. Not wanting to blend into the fabric of Christianity, we hoped our particular thread would be the one that makes the difference for the kingdom of God. American children heard: “You can be whatever you want to be, do whatever you want to do, if you just believe in yourself!” Churches simply wrapped this idea in verse: “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!” (Never mind that Philippians 4:13 is speaking to our ability to be content in both fullness and hunger, in abundance and suffering. We’ll just take the abundance please!)
Still, many find themselves having come up short of greatness. Is this really what God wants from us? To do something great?
I see my generation on the other side of their childhood dreams, entering their 30s somewhat disillusioned. For some working 9-to-5 jobs, the greatest success is keeping the bills paid and the boss happy. For many moms, the biggest accomplishment of the week is a clean kitchen and 15 minutes of Bible reading. Others did some “great” things for God right after college… 2 year mission trips, interning in a ministry, striving to hit it big as a [fill-in-the-blank-with-ministry-job], but seeing that work dwindle they are wondering what’s next. So much for changing the world for Jesus.
Spiritual gifts and noble desires sit on the shelf unused, itching to find an outlet to prove their effectiveness while whispers of what could have been hang in the air.
What are we missing? Did God just forget to use us in His plan to change the world? Did He pass us by to use someone else? Maybe we did something wrong, or weren’t paying attention to hear His call. Unfulfilled longings nag at our souls like a loud ticking clock distracting us while we try to go about life. “If I could just find an outlet for what I’m gifted at,” we think, “maybe then I’d be fulfilled.”
I want to pose a very important question. A question my soul needs answered every day. Does God want us to do something great for Him?
Hear it again: does God actually want us to do something great for Him?
Consider Moses. Of people on the list of “Did-Great-Things-For-God,” Moses has got to be in the top 5. Didn’t He singlehandedly bring the whole nation of Israel out of Egypt?
No. Moses didn’t bring the Israelites out of Egypt. God did.
I am the Lord and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people and I will be your God and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord. Exodus 6:6-8
You might be thinking, “Ok, I know, I know, of course it was ultimately God who brought the people out, but Moses did a lot of the work.” But the answer is still no. Moses did not bring the people out of Egypt. The song of praise after they Israelites cross the Red Sea doesn’t mention Moses one time.
This is not just symantics. This isn’t just a technicality. This is essential to our theology. Moses did not do something great for God. He simply obeyed Him. God didn’t need Moses to do something great for Him. He was perfectly fine to accomplish Israel’s redemption on His own. He didn’t need help changing the world. He wasn’t looking for a man who would do something great. He was looking for a man who would obey Him. What made Moses great and usable by God was His obedience, not his great abilities or aspirations.
As I think about other Bible heros, the same holds true.
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. Heb 11:8
God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make for yourself an ark… Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did. Gen 6:13-14,22
Mordecai (Esther’s uncle) gave him a copy of the text of the edict which had been issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show Esther and inform her, and to order her to go in to the king to implore his favor and plead with him for her people. Then Esther told Mordecai, “And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:8,16
God never asks us to do something great for Him. What He asks is obedience. Ironically, it is often our desire to do great things for God that keeps us from obeying Him. A desire to be a great Bible teacher can distract from God’s call to simply love His Word. A desire to lead many in worship can distract from simply living a life of praise. A desire to be a great discipler can distract from the discipleship of our children.
We’d like to have some say in how we are used by God, but frankly that is none of our business. Whether our obedience to God uses all of our talents or none of them, produces “big” results or “little” results, is not up to us. In fact, there is no such big/little distinction in the kingdom of God. There is just obedience or disobedience. God alone holds the right to determine what His plans are for us.
Do you have a problem with this? Do you dislike the idea of being asked to do something “average” for God? Be reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 9:20-21: “Who are you, o man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”
If I’m not willing to be average for God, to do the ordinary and unimpressive for God, it reveals I only love God so much as He makes much of me. My misplaced desires for greatness are rooted in a misplaced joy in self.
When the desire to do for God supersedes the desire to obey God, it reveals that God is no longer the source of joy. A heart delighted in God desires to obey Him. A heart delighted in self desires to see what self can accomplish. A person delighted in God doesn’t care so much how God uses her, but rather that she is useful to God, the object of her delight. A person delighted in self cares deeply about how God uses her, because seeing the self she loves under-used causes grief.
We don’t need to do great things for God. He doesn’t need our help to change the world or to make Himself great. He has already done something great by saving us at the cost of His son “so that we who live might no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again on our behalf.” (2 Corin 5:15) May we set our minds to live in grateful obedience to the Lamb of God, slain for us. With radical fervor, may we be quick to follow His leading, not our own. Only as devoted servants to God can we best be used for the cause of Christ anyway.
What basic form of obedience is God calling you to today?
For each one of us, obedience begins by growing in the knowledge of who God is and subsequently growing in love for His Personhood. Only the heart captivated by God can overflow with an impartial desire to obey Him. True obedience begins with a determined plan to know God through His Word. As we find Him to be our delight, we will notice an unconditional “Yes, Lord” overflowing from our heart.
The greatest thing you do for God today may be to fight with all your might against sexual temptation (1 Thess 4:3-4). It might be choosing to serve your family with gratitude and resisting the urge to complain (1 Thess 5:16-18). The greatest achievement of this decade of your life might be simply being a faithful employee, or honoring your parents, or obeying The Spirit’s promptings to pray, or being a consistent student of God’s Word. None of these things look impressive to our generation of YouTube sensations and viral bloggers, but this kind of radical obedience is impressive to God.
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word. Isaiah 66:2
What allures the attention of God? Not creating a ministry or changing the world in His name. His special attention is drawn to the one who doesn’t think much of himself (humble and contrite) and is eager to obey (trembles at My word).
Do not be conformed to world’s pattern for greatness, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind to understand true Kingdom greatness: Greatness not measured by the number of lives touched, the amount of money raised, or the recognition of notable people. No, greatness is measured by radical and joyful obedience to the One who paid with His own blood to redeem you.
Today, God isn’t asking you to change the world… He’s simply asking you to obey. The question is, will you?