Are We Merely To Be Good, Or Good for Something?

I remember the first time I visited the home of one of my high school friends. A corner of his family room housed a music section with a baby grand piano, some brass instruments, and a beautiful old guitar lying on a shelf.

The guitar looked like something special. I took it down from the shelf, dusted it off, tuned it up, and strummed it. I thought I was in love.

I asked my friend about its history. The guitar has been given to his mother when she was young. old gibsonShe had never learned to play it, but she had a sentimental attachment to it, and she loved seeing it sit in their music corner.

I wrote down the model and serial number and visited my favorite guitar store to discover its roots. It was a customized 1940’s Gibson guitar with rare Indian Rosewood sides, real ivory inlay, and a custom fingerboard. It was a literal treasure.

Years before some unknown master craftsman had fashioned this custom guitar using special woods, saws, braces and glues, to make a masterpiece. Now it sat on a shelf gathering dust. My friend’s mom thought, “It added atmosphere.”

I think this is the common picture of Christian calling: to look good on the pews—maybe a little dusty—while missing the God-designed purpose: releasing our music.      

God’s plans and our plans

The Ultimate master craftsman crafted us. He custom made each of us. He had a plan in mind, and it wasn’t just to look good on a shelf. He made us for a purpose.

There is something God wants each of us to bring to this world; something each of us is uniquely qualified to do. Jesus says, “We must do the works of him who sent me” (John 9:4); that is, God made us and then sent us for a particular purpose.

This is true for Jesus (of course); he was the Son of God whose purpose was to save all of creation. It’s also true for us. God himself designed something particular for us to do.

We must do the works God designed for us. In Ephesians, Paul explains the why of our salvation, why we are brought from spiritual death to a spiritual life,

For we are God’s masterpiece, created in the Christ Jesus to do the good works that God prepared long ago for us to walk in. (Eph. 2:10)

We are not merely meant to be good; we are meant to be good for something.

Two opposite errors

C. S. Lewis says that Satan “always sends errors into the world in … pairs of opposites” (Mere Christianity). This is certainly true with the way Christians approach calling.

On one hand we sometimes see people who are so singular about their calling that they refuse to do anything else. They say, “I’m a prophet; I can’t set up chairs or teach a class.” This is the same type of error as the man who says, “I love my wife and I love candlelight dinners, but I refuse to take out the trash.”

Some services are needed regardless of calling, just to keep things running.

On the other hand we sometimes see the “I’m just a servant” calling-error. Some Christians say, “My calling is to be a servant.” This error is harder to spot because it reeks of religious jargon, and besides, we are designed to serve.

But it doesn’t mean we should take a custom-made guitar and use it to hammer a nail.

The religion of “duty” can—perversely—make an idol of serving in services we are unfit for. It’s possible to say to ourselves, “I must be laying down my life … because I hate every moment of this service.”

Would God really ask us to be accountants simply because we hated math?

Our choice: discontent or delight

When we live in the “I’m just a servant” calling-error,

We become one of those people who “live for others” but always in a discontented, grumbling way— always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of ourselves. (Mere Christianity)

When we walk in our purpose—the design God had in mind when he made us—we find we actually enjoy the work itself. Dorothy Sayers wrote,

When a job is a labor of love, the sacrifices will present themselves to the worker—strange as it may seem—in the guise of enjoyment. Moralists, looking on at this, will always judge that unpleasant sacrifice is more admirable because the moralist has far more respect for pride than for love….

I do not mean that there is no nobility in doing unpleasant things from a sense of duty, but only that there is more nobility in doing them gladly out of sheer love of the job. (The Mind of the Maker, slightly edited)

There is a deep spiritual mystery here; we are meant to delight to do his will. Not just duty, delight; and not just for “goodness,” good for “something-ness.” As Eric Liddell said, “God made me fast … and when I run, I feel his pleasure” (Chariots of Fire).

Freedom to walk into God’s design

I said earlier that the “I’m just a servant” calling-error is hard to spot because of its religious overtones, but it’s still spottable.

When we find our service is mostly mere duty and drudgery—month after month and year after year—God might be saying, “I didn’t make you for this. I’ve got someone else who will love it. Let it go. Get down off the shelf.”

The dusty guitar on the shelf doesn’t add that much atmosphere after all. Let’s take it down, dust it off, and strum it.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll make some music.

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What do YOU think?

16 thoughts on “Are We Merely To Be Good, Or Good for Something?

  1. Sam, you caused me to think again about who am I, who has God made me to be, am I living from that place ?? As I begin to learn more about myself, understand that I am “a beloved son”, God has begun to open me up, allowing me the to “see” me from Gods perspective. Thanks for you insight. Lyle

    • Hi Lyle,

      You make a great point. We must receive from God before we can give to others. As you point out, we must receive–deep in our hearts–our identity from God.


  2. This is great Sam. So Trinity, take me down off the shelf, dust me off, tune me up and start making some music with this life of mine.

    • Hi Alex,

      Great prayer, “Father take me down off the shelf….”

      Let me add, “And Father, help me no longer be satisfied with sitting on the shelf.”

      Alex, you rock!

    • David,

      The problem with “just a servant” is we ARE to be “just a servant.” And also … not. We’re also to be a “masterpiece” and we are to be sons and daughters.

      And we are meant to be good; but also, good for something.


  3. “If you hide your contributions from us, you can’t be considered an artist, because it’s not art until a human connection is made.” (Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception)
    How often to we choose to hide our contribution out of fear?

    • Berry,

      Really good quote. I love the reference to connecting to another human, and that being the determination if it’s art. Wow!

      And yes, fear keeps us from contributing which keeps us from connecting.


    • Hi Bob,

      I don’t remember what the shop valued the vintage guitar at, but it was WAY more than a poor high school student could offer.

      It did influence my guitar choices though. In the mid 70’s I bought an “old” Gibson guitar (1967) with Indian Rosewood and real Ivory. I still have it, and it still plays lovely.

      And I’m still in love with it.


  4. Sam,
    Some parallel thoughts on your excellent points. First, “there is none good but God alone.” Any goodness within us is a product of His perfect and infinite goodness. Second, “My Father is working, and I am working.” “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” God’s goodness within us is active not passive. Third, Andre Segovia’s best guitar works were done with an entire orchestra behind him. God did not intend for us to perform solo.
    May you and Gary have a good weekend. May God use you to open ears to the music of the kingdom.

    • Hey Doc,

      Thanks for the parallel thoughts. And I love your conclusion: God did not intend for us to perform solo.

      I think God didn’t even intend for us to learn our Calling solo. We need others to see in us that things we don’t see or don’t value. We need the eyes of others.


  5. Gday Sam

    I LOVE that, God didn’t intend for us to perform solo, or to learn our Calling solo.
    It is so very important to walk beside others, encourage, lift up, and give courage, so many people have a fear of not being good enough, a fear of being rejected, a fear of being a ‘has been’, covered in bust. An instrument has to be fine tuned, a tool has to be oiled and greased, a person has to be encouraged and loved. My challenge from your words today is to walk in my Calling, which is to encourage people, walk beside them, lift them up and prophesy over there life, to give joy and laughter and to pass on the peace of God that passes all understanding.

    Thanks Sam for walking in your Calling. You have encouraged me once again.

    Just listening to Chris Tomlin Hello Love – I Will Rise………

    • Hi Wannabe,

      Good point. I appreciate your perspective. Let’s do what God made us for, rather than what others want for us.