On my twelfth birthday, I received four birthday cards, each with a personal message. My grandfather, my parents, my oldest brother, and an elder at church each took time to pray for me, and each of them wrote something remarkably similar. They said, “When I prayed for you, I sensed God say, ‘You are to listen to God’s people and to speak to God’s people.’”
I immediately figured God wanted me to a missionary. So I read biographies of Hudson Taylor, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, and Amy Carmichael. I wanted to be like them. In university I studied Intellectual History to understand modern thinking, and I took classes in Hebrew and Greek.
My first “job” out of university was working in Europe, reaching university students and building Christian communities. I was doing exactly what I always dreamed to do.
One day, in a normal, everyday prayer time, the tiniest thought flashed through my mind. I felt God whisper, “Not now! If you continue to do mission work, you will create an Ishmael.”
How Could My Serving God Be Wrong?
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of God’s people, and from those offspring would come one who would save the world from the twisted corruption in our lives. And then, for decades, the sun came up, the sun went down, and nothing seemed to happen. No kids.
It is very easy to imagine dinner conversations between Abraham and Sarah. Did I hear God? Why is he waiting so long? Now we’re too old to have children. Maybe he doesn’t want us to be so passive.
Their plot to use servant Hagar as a surrogate mother would have made perfect sense. It was acceptable in their world, and they’d be helping God bring about goodness in the world.
Our desire to do great things for God is the biggest hindrance to intimacy with him. It’s why:
- Abraham and Sarah birthed Ishmael;
- Moses murdered the Egyptian;
- And Saul built a monument to his own honor.
We think of our service to God as our sacrifice for his glory; but God wants our lives not our sacrifices, he wants our hearts not our heroism.
He Needs Our Poverty Not Our Strength
Something in every human soul wants to play the hero. Why else are superhero movies so popular today? We imagine risking our lives to slay the Terminator, destroy Sauron’s ring, battle Voldemort, or unmask Darth Vader.
But these heroic self-images are just prettied up pharisaism’s; Look at us, doing great things for God! He needs more leading actors like us! But the thing is, he doesn’t. As someone once said, “God created the world out of emptiness, and as long as we are empty, He can make something out of us.”
God does want our service to him, and our longing for glorious valor only hinders his great work in our lives. It is not what we do for him that counts, not nearly as much as what he himself does through us. And that is a very different matter indeed. It was not the boldness of Moses God wanted but his meekness.
Thirty-six years ago (after hearing God say to me, “Not now”) I left the mission field. I entered the business world where I made multiple mistakes, stumbled, and fell; I felt I was no longer useful to God. It was at that point, ten years ago—when my inadequacy to serve God was most apparent—it was then that God whispered to me in an ordinary prayer time, “Now!”
Do you know what my life is today? I listen to God’s people and I speak to them. But the path to today was storms, droughts, struggles, disappointments, mistakes, and suffering. He doesn’t need our gallantry as much as a heart that finally cries, “Uncle!” It is what He does through us that counts.
God wants our poverty more than our heroism. Our greatest need is need.
P. S. To fully image and glorify God, we need a deep, intimate connection with him. We need a divine dialogue.
My publisher dropped the Kindle price of Hearing God in Conversation to 99 cents. (The print copy is also reduced from $15.99 to about $12.75). Good to through November 30th.
God is the good Father who wants to enter into that divine dialogue with each one of his kids. To grow in that conversational connection with him, please watch the video bel0w (Is hearing God normal?), and buy a copy of Hearing God in Conversation.
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Thank you for this reminder! It is actually a relief to remember that it’s not all up to me.
Samuel C. Williamson
Yeah, sometimes we want to be the hero, but in our saner moments, we realize that our shoulders aren’t that wide.
Katherine Scott Jones
What a fascinating story. Thank you for sharing so authentically in this space. There’s something for everyone to hear in your humble tale, I think. I continue to be so grateful for your ministry.
Thank you for this countercultural insight! So much of our American Christian teaching stresses doing the heroic rather than simply following Christ in daily obedience. (Which might eventually lead to heroic deeds.)
I was recently reading Colossians 1:11, where Paul writes that he and Timothy have been praying that his readers will be “strengthened with all power according to [God’s] glorious might so that. . . .” I want Paul to say, “so that you can perform miracles, move mountains, and do awe-inspiring deeds in his name.” That’s the kind of power I want to experience. Power to travel around the world, burning the candle at both ends, healing the sick, adopting the homeless, preaching the good news, leading thousands to Christ. Being heroic. But instead Paul says he prays for this enormous power “so that you may have great endurance and patience.” At first glance, I don’t like this kind of power. I want the power that generates a sweet life, not just the ability to tolerate a bitter one. I want the power to be a hero. (Adapted from my blog at https://thosewhoweep.blogspot.com/2018/09/power-in-weakness.html.)