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 prayed and wrote something remarkably similar. They each 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 be 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, I felt God whisper, “Not now! If you do mission work now, you will create an Ishmael.”
How Could My Ministry Be Wrong?
One day 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 its corruption and oppression. The sun came up and the sun went down—for decades!—and zilch. No pregnancy. No baby.
It’s easy to imagine the conversations between Abraham and Sarah. Did God really say that? What’s taking so long? Now we’re just too old. Have we been too passive or too “spiritual”?
Their plot to use servant Hagar as a surrogate mother 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 service to God as our sacrifice for his glory; but God asks for our lives not our sacrifices. He wants our hearts not our heroism.
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 me, doing great things for God! He needs more leading actors like me! But … He doesn’t. The truth is:
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, but it is not what we do for Him that counts, not nearly as much as what He does through us. It was not the boldness of Moses God wanted but his meekness.
Forty years ago this month (after hearing God say to me, “Not now”) I left the mission field. I entered the business world. There I made multiple mistakes, stumbled, and fell. I felt I was no longer useful to God. It was at that point, twelve 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, sin, mistakes, and suffering. He doesn’t need our gallantry as much as a heart that finally surrenders. Let’s all cry, “Uncle!” It is not what we do but what He does through us that matters.
God wants our poverty more than our heroism. Our greatest need is need.
Excellent. Convicting. Encouraging.
This is excellent and really is confirming! Thanks!
Thank you, Sam. We all need to be reminded where the power comes from.
Another excellent post, Sam?
Your response, when your relatives spoke or wrote to you, is typical of all of us, at one time or another.
As Abraham decided to fulfill God’s purpose through his own efforts, so many of us figure “God needs my help”. We don’t say (or think) “God will do this through me”, but rather “I must help God accomplish His purpose!”
In our minds and written words we all say “ God is mighty!” Or “God is all powerful ! “
But in our hearts, we are like the father of the epileptic boy… “I know you can do it Lord, …. BUT , ‘my boy has suffered for so long’“. And, as the the father ended up saying “ Lord, please help me with my unbelief!”
“Unbelief “ is truly the only unforgivable sin because … for some reason, known only to us, we believe God is incapable of answering our prayers. Amen??
Until we can fully believe and accept God’s plan and purpose for our lives, we will remain frustrated in a state of “unbelief”.
“It is not what we do but what He does through us that matters.” That is so true. I have to remember not to take credit for the things that are successful and not feel like I’ve failed when they’re not.
Always good. God’s timing is amazing also. Just when I finally open empty hands and confess absolute dependence and willingness to be used to do next to nothing… He puts me in a situation that were totally unexpected but in which it’s totally natural for me to speak out and bring the fruit/insight from a lifetime of unique life experiences and relationships.
I have nothing more to write than what has already been written, but, like you, it has taken many years to realize that “He doesn’t need our gallantry as much as a heart that finally surrenders.” Spot on brother! Another excellent post. If we ever have the opportunity to meet again, it will be a great delight!
Wow, I may have to print this one out and hang it on my wall. Thank you. I wonder if that’s what Paul meant when he said that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that this power is from God and not from us.” Maybe the modern translation is holding gold and jewels in a Ziploc bag? Lol, in any case, the content far outweighs the container in importance and value!
I love this. I was discipled, in my early days as a follower of Jesus, to “Dream big dreams for God”. It was essentially a teaching that encouraged us to imagine amazing things we could do FOR God. And I guess the assumption was that He would bless those efforts. Later I read the Blackaby book, Experiencing God, and it changed my whole perspective. (Thank God)
The Lord then gave me a picture of myself in the kitchen baking something and my kids wanting to help. As a parent I was aware that allowing them to help me in the kitchen would mean several things: a bigger mess would be made, mistakes could be made that I would have to fix, it would take longer than if I just did it myself, and I’d have a bigger mess to clean up afterwards.
But, the baked item wasn’t the goal. It was the time spent with my kids. That’s how God wants me to approach him. He’s inviting me into the kitchen with Him. He knows I’ll make a big mess of things. He knows it’ll take longer if I participate. He knows that mistakes could be made that he’ll have to fix. But it’s the time we spend together that matters most.
He showed me that everything we do WITH God is just an opportunity to go into the kitchen with him. He’s already busy there. He doesn’t NEED my help. He’s allowing me to help because in doing so, we spend time together. I love that.
I just read your comment again. And then again. And again! I AM SO MOVED. I absolutely love your metaphor of our “serving” Him being like cooking with the kids:
• A bigger mess would be made,
• Mistakes could be made that I would have to fix,
• It would take longer than if I just did it myself,
• And I’d have a bigger mess to clean up afterwards
But He loves to spend time with us, just as we love to spend time with our kids. (Can we, do we, really believe this? Isn’t He a far better parent than we are?)
That may be the most moving picture I’ve ever heard of our relationship (and service) with our Beloved.
Thank you so much!