Bringing God Our Emptiness

My leadership at my church feels fruitless and my last few sermons stank; in the first 34 weeks of this year, I published only 25 “weekly” articles; and all my service to a partner charity feels last minute, like I’m doing everything in the nick of time.

Recently, I spend less time with my wife than I want; my brother (who lives in Australia) is visiting for two months and I’ve only met with him once; I’m having far fewer one-on-one meetings to care for acquaintances; and I’m falling behind in paperwork, housework, and email.

Bilbo Baggins once reflected, “I feel like butter scraped over too much bread.”

My heart says, “Me too.” I have too much to do and too little time to do it. My activities suffer from inadequate attention because I’m off to the next thing, which I’ll also do badly because something else (or someone else) cries out for attention. This morning I read this old quote:

God created the world out of emptiness, and as long as we are empty, he can make something out of us.

God is calling me to embrace my emptiness.

He Guides Us All There

Time management wisdom tells us to focus on the important and shed the unimportant. That’s easy when you have one “kid” but when about when you have nine? I don’t sense God releasing me from any of my “dependents” (though I keep asking!).

God stretches us, leading us to a life beyond natural resources. There is something he likes about the poor and he seems attracted to the needy. Because we cry out to him. He not only calls us to being poor in spirit, he guides us to that very place:

  • He leads Moses and Israelites into the Red Sea” trap”, where only God can save.
  • He calls Gideon to reduce his army from tens of thousands to three hundred.
  • He sends schoolboy David—not strapping Saul—to fight hulking Goliath.

Why does God continually maneuver us into places of weakness? Because he needs our poverty more than our riches; he wants our neediness more than our usefulness.

Which is exactly where God is bringing me. It’s the total opposite of self-esteem and natural giftedness; he is transforming my spirit of pride (I can do it!) into a spirit of emptiness (HELP!)

God’s friendship is with those who know their poverty.

We Need That Friendship

Too many books on spiritual wisdom teach us exactly how to prosper: The Seven Essential Steps to Raising Godly Children, or The Manual for Successful Preaching. But Christianity teaches us that our greatest need is friendship with God. Oswald Chambers said it this way,

He can accomplish nothing with the person who thinks that he is of use to God. The most important aspect of Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship [with Him] that we maintain and the surrounding … qualities produced by that relationship.

That is all God asks, and it is the one thing that is continually under attack.

Amid my “too much to do and too little time to do it,” God is calling me back to friendship with him. It’s not the giftedness I offer, but the poverty I bring.

All we really need is need.


I need your help; because You are my marketing department.
  The primary reason people read these articles is because friends like you share them with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Would you please share it by pressing one of the share buttons above?
I can't thank you enough.

I reserve the right to remove offensive, off-topic, or lengthy comments (see the Comment Policy page).

What do YOU think?

25 thoughts on “Bringing God Our Emptiness

  1. Amen. A brother shared a concept with our group this morning, which waylaid me, having to do with “meeking a horse” – that discipline and training wherein a rider and horse become one (think Lippazaner Stalions). I have never thought of the beattitude – meekness, as such an active verb before, that of being one with our Lord. To indulge in the friendship of God is to be in the center of his will. Everything else is extraneous.

  2. You describe the way I’ve been feeling lately, Sam. It’s an apt post. Funny–just before I read it, I was thinking about all the concerns this country faces, from Houston to North Korea to our self-worshiping culture. And I was praying for God’s mercy upon us all–upon my our nation, my family and friends, and most surely upon me. I am constantly reminded how much I need him, how I just can’t make it without him, nor do I want to. He’s all I’ve got. I don’t mean to say I’m not blessed in many ways. But all of it seems futile, meaningless, apart from him in a life that is still so often a struggle. I appreciate your honesty, Sam, in describing how that reality has been playing out in your own life recently. Your leadership is far from fruitless, your teaching is significant, and these things extend beyond the boundaries of your local church. Yet it seems that when our Lord inhabits our hearts, he reminds us constantly that his version of success for us has to do with the vitality of our relationship with, and our dependency upon, him.

    • Hi Bob,

      When I think of all the concerns our country faces, I too am at my wits’ end. My problem (well, one of them) is that I get to the end of my wits quickly with global problems, and then I somehow think I can handle my own problems just fine.

      (Even though my own personal history proves the exact opposite.)

      Thanks for your kind comments about my service; I think God DOES lead us into emptiness so that he can fill us. But he partly fills us with graceful affirmation from loving friends.


  3. Thanks again Sam, for the honesty. I cling to “If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” Most every day I have the thought, “This is stupid, this doesn’t matter,” and yet I believe it is what God is calling me to and that it matters to him. Think woman who pours expensive oil on Jesus and gets chided for it. In a sermon I heard this spring in NYC, the “wasteful obedience” is not wasteful to God. Giving what I have to give, counts. Yes.

  4. Mm. That was actually difficult for me to read, because it resonated so LOUDLY in my heart. As I am living through chronic illness, and at the same time our church is coming to the end of its permanent endowment fund and dealing with the reality of scaled-back staff (my husband resigned his position as youth director to help) and $0 spending outside already-budgeted cost, I am wrestling with myself on two similar fronts. I physically cannot do much, so the housework and the creative work that I do as a second revenue stream are not getting done. I can’t meet with my mentoring student as often as I’m supposed to, I can’t practice guitar, I can’t even play with or babysit for the grandbaby very often. I feel useless. I have lots of time, no strength, to serve my loved ones. Same at church. I have nothing to bring to the table, and it feels like the rest of the church is running around looking for ways to make up for the financial loss and none of us are waiting on God and bringing our emptiness to Him. I know in my head that my relationship with God is the only thing He really wants from me, but I don’t believe in my heart that He would find that relationship worthwhile. I know in my head that He made me and then He bought me back, on purpose, and with deep joy, but I actually believe that in my heart for you more than for me. I am having a really hard time bringing my emptiness to God, and I am recognizing that I have been in this place for YEARS. And I don’t like it.

    That Oswald Chambers quote is worth memorizing. (He’s another truth-teller that can be difficult to read, so you’re in good company.)

    This is one of those times where I wish you’d been slightly less transparent, because it has made me examine my own emptiness. But thank you for today’s post. God is using you even when you feel like He isn’t.

    • this is exactly how I feel! Most of the time:

      I know in my head that my relationship with God is the only thing He really wants from me, but I don’t believe in my heart that He would find that relationship worthwhile. I know in my head that He made me and then He bought me back, on purpose, and with deep joy, but I actually believe that in my heart for you more than for me.

  5. I can identify with your frustration and feeling overwhelmed for I too feel that way. My problem is, I bring my emptiness to God and what do I get? More emptiness…:-( I don’t have the patience to wait for God to fill my emptiness and so I give into the the quick fix of sin, which ultimately drives me away from God. It is a vicious cycle. Thanks for pointing out that God does not expect perfection, only obedience.

    • Hi Tom,

      Yes, we tend to fill our emptiness us sin (and other useless matter), don’t we!

      I think the hardest thing in the world for us is to “Wait on the Lord.” But it is also the most fulfilling (and filling).


  6. Hi Sam. Thank you for posting ‘Bringing God Our Emptiness’. You’ve described my current state of ‘swimming upstream’ quite eloquently. This summer, I feel like a salmon… flipping, flopping, strategically dodging bear claws, straining to reach a restful place, and desiring a sense of accomplishment.

    Letting go of pride in workmanship has been a lifelong battle. Checking things off my ‘to do’ list used to make me smile and congratulate myself for a job well done. What a bunch of hooey!

    Your words are a timely reminder that I am a daughter of God, and He is all I need. Abba My Father seeks a relationship, a friendship with me. That’s a mind-blowing Truth!

    You’ve given me food for thought… “It’s not the giftedness I offer, but the poverty I bring.” Friendship with God requires my emptiness, my poverty. Less of me, more of Him.

    And on that note on a hot summer night, I’m going to enjoy a Mexican pistachio popsicle under the stars, ponder your words as well as the beauty of God’s creation. And thank God that the family who makes these amazing frozen treats lives down the street. Hallelujah!

    • You describe my life perfectly: “like a salmon… flipping, flopping, strategically dodging bear claws, straining to reach a restful place, and desiring a sense of accomplishment.”

      And I like your comment that it “blows the mind” that God would care so much for a relationship with us.


  7. wow:He can accomplish nothing with the person who thinks that he is of use to God

    I have been praying for God to use me, so I could be useful to Him. But now I get this is a flawed wish… It means I would like to be entitled, then His love for someone like me would not require so much work from my side. I could say I am already doing enough with a ministry and could brush over in some areas where I am failing. But when it is grace, then I have no entitlement and I feel the need to pursue Him in every area…And now I am not so sure my text makes sense to anyone else but me:D

  8. Thank you Sam — another great piece; another great reminder of what is trully important in life. We are now in Bulgaria — my home country — and though we were meant to rest here, I find all kinds of issues, inner motives and desires wrestling within me, far more than in my daily life. Today, I sensed God telling me to stop working out (I had a full-blown addiction to bodybuilding since my teens and though I am now free, I am still prone to turning there for self-worth) — and that in the midst of a time when I am being fed by my mother the way I once was, and where, for three weeks, I have already gained three kilos! Indeed, he is calling us all to stay empty; empty from the things we ‘feed’ ourselves in order to feel better, or even ‘be’ someone we`d like to be. But, as you know well, it is only in that emptiness that we need Him; it is only in the not knowing who we are (apart from the things we normally do), in that proverbial ‘losing of ourselves’, that we actually find ourselves…and oh, what joy, what freedom that brings!
    The battle never ends, but the fight brings good, eternal fruits — the spoils of this war do not perish; they build the soul which will live forever.
    Thank you for providing a heling hand along the way; for offering a tool for this work and a weapon for the battle.

  9. Thanks Sam. My life is a testament to desperate neediness… hanging on by a thread. But… God keeps saving me again and again. He keeps coming after me… that one sheep, out there on the cliff again. He is Faithful and True. I don’t understand why He is so good to we who are the most helpless. Thankfully, He has never required that I understand Him, but simply invites me to come bask in His love, be strengthened and made whole. His example in Jesus 30 years walking the earth shows what normal looks like amidst an abnormal world. He invites me into this. I pray He will get and keep my attention again today.

  10. Skimmed your thoughts and then got back to being busy, but had enough common sense to leave it in the in box. Just got back to it, read it twice and found it perfect for giving me an insight into why I’m feeling the way I am right now. Thanks.

  11. Hey Sam-

    You nailed this one (as evidenced by all the comments). Your quote from Bilbo Baggins is one of my all time favorite quotes (and not just from the Lord of the Rings). The fact that I am just know reading your August message says something about how behind I am in this, that, and the other thing.

    I was going to reference another one of my favorite quotes, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly” but I see that has already had several mentions. I hold on to that probably much more that I should…what a motto to live by!

    Anyway, keep up the good work, you and your ministry are in my prayers (really!)