Impressing God


Last night, I had a phone conversation with a good friend and the topic of “ministry,” and “serving God” came up. We had been talking about emptiness in our lives as we approach a certain age, and our desire to serve God. There was a heavy pause, and she asked, “Why do we do this to ourselves? Does it actually say in the Bible that we have to do something BIG for God?”

That’s something I have thought about (and struggled over) a lot in recent months. There seems to be a driving force among Christians to “do something” for God. But not just anything; something BIG. It haunts our every thought. It mocks our situation. Older people have either overcome it, or never dealt with it in our generation, but as some of us creep toward thirty, it becomes an incessant hammering in our heads: what are you doing for God?

Sometimes I wonder if this lack of contentment in our lives, if this guilt-driven obligation we feel to “repay God” isn’t sent from the devil. Why? God is not a God of guilt. We are forgiven. We are embraced. We are saved. In scripture, over and over again, it talks about His desire for oneness with His followers. God wants obedience and love. Sometimes, He asks certain people to do certain things… but that’s just when He designs the mission. Moses didn’t sit on the mountain and think, “Now, how can I serve God? I know! I’ll free the Israelites!” God went to Him and said, “Get your backside down to Egypt, you have work to do.” (And like most people called, Moses didn’t really like the sound of that.)

What do we believers do? We try and find a mission. Sometimes, we’ll even invent one in order to feel like God approves of our life choices. We assume even if He hasn’t given us any indication of it that we belong in an outreach or “mission” of some kind. We think that the only way to please Him is to serve Him in a “mission,” and if we have an ordinary job, we feel bad about it. We push ourselves to “impress God,” “repay God,” or “do His will.” Instead of being content in our “simple, small lives,” and focusing on what really matters (like our relationship with Him, and in “occupying until He returns”) we seek to complicate them by constantly searching for meaning. We are full of doubt and insecurities, wondering if God, like Zeus, is going to strike us with lightning if we somehow miss “whatever He wants us to do,” or “don’t use the gifts He has given us.”

But here’s the thing about God: He’s not exactly subtle. If like Moses, He calls you to something specific, it’ll be apparent. You won’t miss it. And even if you do, He’ll have other believers pound you over the head with it. Plus, God gives everyone gifts. He’s not an angry dictator waiting to beat you if you use it for awhile and then find another passion. God is a God of Joy and Mercy, not of Guilt and Regret. He gives us free will for a reason.

Deep down, we all want to do something BIG for God. But is it because we want to serve, or because we want to be noticed by other Christians? We want to be a Moses, not one of the unnamed masses. But not all of us are truly called to a mission on that scale. So we invent callings, so as to feel included, and run the risk of displeasing God simply because we can’t be satisfied with whatever life we have been given. Remember, God honors the humble servant much more than the proud one, displaying his piety to one and all.

It’s good to want to honor Him. It’s good to want to serve Him. But Jesus taught us that it’s just as important to wash feet as it is to do the “BIG” stuff.

13 thoughts on “Impressing God

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  1. One of the best books I read on this subject was Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. He asserts that God is always at work around us and we need to be on the lookout and join Him, not looking for our own thing to do to “serve God”. His concepts really helped me!

  2. Honestly, I’ve never thought about this topic in this way. However I don’t know that we want to “impress God” so much as we feel frustrated with ourselves when we feel as if we aren’t using whatever talent we may have. In other words, we are our own worst critic and I think mentally we berate ourselves if we feel as if that talent is maybe slipping away or we are giving up on a something before we’ve even given it the chance to be successful. Because we think, feel or desire to do better – to prove to ourselves that we have the capability, desire and drive to actually finish something. To find out if those passions are what we want out of life in a materialistic manner.

    Callings seem to come and go at my church and it seems odd to me. However I am not privy to the thoughts of these people or what is in their hearts. That remains between them and God, and is not something I can make a judgment on as a result.

    Wonderful observation that we shouldn’t want to “invent” something just to serve God or try to do the “big” things so much as focus on our relationship with Him. When all is said and done, nothing will trump that. Even if it is just in the “small” things of life, He still sees what’s in our heart.

    Thought provoking post, Charity. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  3. I like the Zeus analogy. 🙂

    The Lord wants us to follow hard after Him. That is our primary calling, to know Him. Any sort of service has to be secondary to knowing God. It’s okay if we live our lives in total anonymity, making little differences here and there that help our fellow Christians and possibly take the blinders off a few non-believers. We don’t have to do anything major unless we know that it is God’s will. I hate to think of how many missionaries and evangelists are in that field simply because they feel that they should be doing something major for Christ when he really hasn’t called them. After all, Christ can reach people with or without us. We’re superfluous in the end, but He lets us serve because He knows we want to. Still, we need to wait on Him, until His calling comes to us and we know that it’s of Him. Seeking acclaim only hurts us in the end.

    Great post!

    1. Very well said.

      It also reminds me of the tragedy of the Victorian era, in which the church was a profession that one bought into in order to up their station in life. How many men served as ministers without any true faith, without any true calling, just to have a respectable job in a nice parish? And how sad is that?

  4. Oh gosh–I am so happy I saw your post when I did, (I was in the midst of starting to cry, and worrying that I haven’t been “behaving” well enough for God), especially given that I didn’t expect on update on a Sunday! 😉

    You know, though not yet in the “going to be/just entered” 30 something crowd, I have found myself contemplating this of late. When people blog about a spiritual challenge, does it innocently spring from the desire to inspire, or because they hope other Christians will be amazed and think “I could never top that!”.There’s also the danger I think, that while Christians have managed to avoid succumbing to the addictions, sexual misconduct, etc; of the secular world, we still haven’t been able to avoid the pitfall of avarice, and want to hog the spotlight within the realm of church life. But since we’re doing it for a good cause, heck, the greatest cause, God–it’s gotta totally be a good thing–right? Right? 😛

    I think the desire to seek a mission for God might be good for some people, but as you say, if God has an extra big, important mission for you, He’ll let you know 😉 . The reason that some Christians, and most older Christians don’t seem to struggle with this, is that they might already feel they have a lot going on in their lives, especially once married and children start coming.

    Sometimes stopping to wonder if you could be “doing more” for God, can be a good thing, as it helps you re-evaluate your life, drawing awareness of foolish pastimes or bad influences. But in other cases, as you say, it might be more about impressing fellow Christians. But I think most people don’t want to believe that, the problem though, is that even if we’re Christians, we’re still human, and wherever humans go, there is sin.

    In another odd way, not sure how to put this but–I think we are still influenced by pagan culture, or have a pagan perspective–again–I’m not really sure how to put this into words. We do sorta think that God is like Zeus, keeping a little checklist with our name on it, and hefting the lightning bolt 😛 Like we think that God is going by our same, human standards–almost like the all-too-human gods of many mythologies.

    (Can I just say I LOVE that photo 😉 ? )

    I just thought of another thing–some people would argue that Moses wasn’t the ideal candidate for the job. Given that he had grown up in pharaoh’s court, and he had killed a man, and he described himself as not being a particularly amazing public speaker 😛 Yet he was the person God chose because–why? We don’t know. And what about other people who aren’t even mentioned in the Bible, like Moses’ grandfather or great-grandmother etc;, they probably didn’t know/think they were doing anything “big” for God. They probably just that they were just Jews striving to be God honoring while living in the midst of a very different pagan culture.

    Good post, as ever you provide lots of awesome material to think over!

    1. I’m attending church on Saturday nights now, so since I’m home on Sundays, I thought, “why not?” (This weekend, though, we were snowed in!)

      Deep down, we all struggle with pride, and part of that is advancement and success. For some, the sin of pride might tend toward wanting to “control” an aspect of the church as “their” ministry (I once knew a family who entered a church and took it over, displacing other believers “serving” in the process, because they didn’t like how it was run). Others think about how to “use their gifts” so much that they make their gifts an idol! Instead of thinking about the God who created those gifts, and is generous enough to let us have them, we think about… us! How do WE use them? How do WE benefit?

      Being a young adult is hard, because we’re still “in-between.” Many of us aren’t parents yet (or married, for that matter), so we do have time to think about ourselves, and God, and our responsibilities to use His gifts. Plus, the older you are, (hopefully) the less self-centered you become, and at some point you stop thinking only about yourself and that stops the whole “what point is my existence? Am I doing anything worthwhile?” sob-fest (been there, done that, so you’re not alone).

      Christians tend to either think of God as a loving grandpa who wants us to have a good time (thus diminishing the fact that He is about Judgment in addition to Mercy) or as, well, Zeus, waiting to zap us if we step out of line, don’t do what He wants us to, or make a mistake. Fear of God is a good thing if it keeps you in line, but you have to be careful not to get the wrong “idea” of God; that’s just as bad as thinking you can do whatever you want, without any spiritual consequences.

      (Aw, yeah, the photo is great. I picture me as the tiny dog and God as the Great Dane. Heh.)

      Good point about Moses, although I think God prepared him to lead Israel through his upbringing in the Pharaoh’s court – he would have learned a lot, known multiple languages, understood how procedure in the court went, and been higher educated than a “mere slave.”

      1. Yeah, I think it’s nice to enjoy being good at something, art, music, writing etc;, but often we go from there to thinking about how our talents will make us an awesome super star 😛 .

        Ugh-just the other day, in one of my (many 😛 ) forays into Native American history, I was reading about some…not so nice missionaries, and it occurred to me that the problem with these people, was that they went from caring about God, to caring about how many numbers of converts they could rack up. As though human souls were nothing but figures on a balance sheet. So what if their methods were shoddy or cruel, and in the long term yielded little fruit. Or resulted in generations of people associating Christianity with something forced down the throat like poison, instead of being an offering to partake in the bread of life? What really mattered was that all the natives you had bullied into your church would look so darn impressive to the folks back home, and all those important east coast church societies would send you more funds, and tout your name in large print in the newsletters! We like to think that these are the result of the “dated” attitudes of the past, but they still haunt believers, just taking other forms.

        A dangerous thing about allowing pride, or some of the more “subtle” (and often initially, seemingly “harmless”) sins to creep into our lives, or into our work for God, is that we fail to see the repercussions it can have. Repercussions that can extend far beyond our lifetimes, or the people that we know.

        I think in some ways people can and do become self centered with the years, but in other ways, people can also risk losing themselves, and losing sight of God, as they dedicate their hours to the causes they have found, political activism to save the unborn, working harder at the home business so their little girl can take extra ballet lessons because that’s the one thing her homeschooling mom can’t teach her, organizing bigger and bigger church fundraising dinners each year, and so on. And the sad thing is that if anything, people are less likely to pause for a little self reflection at this point in life. So I suppose in a way, it’s a good thing we go through a period of intense “seeking” at some point during your teens/twenties/thirties. (Hang on, does this mean the “directionless” agony you and I, and our friends have been lamenting could actually be a good thing coming from God? 😉 )

        (Hehe–this reminds me of the ridiculously tiny dogs that try to attack my 50 pd + labrador when we go for a walk 😛 Though I’ve read that other comparisons could be a small child to a parent, we think that parents are “mean” for not letting us play all day or eat dessert for every meal, and while we eventually “know better” we can’t seem to get that God often works the exact same way 😛 And I’m pretty sure my kittens think I’m a sadist for making them get shots and medicine…)

        I’ve thought (and read) that about Moses actually, but I meant from an “outside” perspective, some people might even have thought it was “extra” unfair that Moses represent them, when he’d never actually been a slave.

        1. I think it’s natural to dream about being famous. No one wants to be just a writer, they want to be a best-selling novelist! That “it’s all about me” complex is what started us off in this mess, in the Garden of Eden! Oooh, I get to have as much knowledge as God? Where do I bite?

          Yes, history is ripe with Christians who cared more about “converting the masses” than loving them. It sickens me to look at what we did to the Indians in the name of God and “progress.” =(

          I think life goes through cycles: we start out selfish, we become less selfish, we get preoccupied, and as our death approaches, then we start focusing back on God more, since we realize we don’t have much time left. Ideally, we should focus on God throughout but that’s hardly human nature – it takes WORK!

          I… really hope this directionless agony IS a good thing, because it’s darn annoying! =D

          True, about Moses. But as my parents pointed out this morning, he went from being a “somebody” in the Egyptian court to a “nobody” herding sheep for forty years in the desert. That humbled him! Maybe he wasn’t a slave, but he was also a “nobody.”

  5. Wonderful. In my experience washing feet is the BIG thing we are called to. Its the seemingly small but thoughtful, and done with love things that draw others in. Maybe its our perspective that needs to change. Or mainstream Christian culture. Or both.

    1. (I LOVE your username / blog title. That is awesome.)

      Everyone wants to do the BIG THINGS… no one wants to simply learn how to be humble, how to love the unlovable, how to forgive the unforgivable. We spend so much time looking to do something BIG that we can forget that the kindest, most loving thing we could do for God that day would be to drop in on our Mom and clean her kitchen for her when she’s not looking.

  6. This is something I’ve been struggling with over the last few months. God has used your post here to convict me and show me where I need to change in living for Him. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Discovering something like this is a double-sided coin. On one hand, it’s disappointing to realize that we may never be “important” either in the eyes of society or in the church. But on the other, it’s incredibly liberating to realize that if God wants to use you, He will — you don’t have to agonize about what it is He wants you to accomplish with your life. Just commune with Him, and LIVE.

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