When it comes to serving God, there are two main ways that Christians spin off course. The first is not understanding what soul attitudes are pleasing to God. These attitudes are reverence, submission, dependency and trust. Their polar opposites are fearless disrespect, domination, independence, and doubt. In the Church, we find many servants who are trying to make their Master serve them. Instead of waiting for God to assign tasks to them, these Christians are constantly assigning tasks to Him and then grumbling against Him when He doesn’t stay in alignment with their agenda. Such attempts to dominate and control God will get us nowhere. Before we can even begin to experience serving the way God intended it to be, we must remember that our role is to receive orders, not give them. We do not direct God. He directs us.
The second way we go astray is in not understanding what God’s motivation is in asking us to serve Him. In this post, we’ll dig deeper into this second topic and learn how a proper understanding of God’s goals leads us to form correct expectations about how He might ask us to serve Him in the future.
God didn’t create you to complete Him or assist Him. He created you to have a relationship with Him. He gives you assignments in order to create opportunities for you to bond with Him in new and deeper ways. Serving God is all about fostering communion between your soul and Him. Once we understand this, it drastically changes our perspective on serving. Our love for God becomes our source of motivation for doing the task that He has set before us. And once we are operating with the correct soul attitudes, we do not attempt to serve Him in our own strength. We recognize that we are totally dependent on Him to provide the resources we need to carry out any kind of task.
Once we understand that the purpose of having us serve Him is to strengthen our soul bond with Him, we realize why God is so displeased by grumbling, griping servants. To reject the task that He has put before us is to reject the opportunity to draw closer to Him. It’s insulting, to say the least.
Now God is a very jealous Creator, and He is constantly calling us to turn our focus onto Him. He resents it when we devote ourselves to masters other than Him. Other people are the masters we most commonly choose over God. In the Church, we do many acts of service solely to please the local leadership or impress our peers. To drive us back on course, God intentionally sabotages our efforts to serve other masters. One of His most effective methods is withholding the empowerment we need to do a task well. We find ourselves drawing a blank when trying to write a Sunday School lesson. We find ourselves painfully annoyed by the other Christians we are stuck working with in the homeless shelter’s kitchen. Instead of seeing the kids in our class as souls that God loves, we see them as an annoying group of mouthy brats. When tragedy strikes in our personal lives, we inwardly exult that we have a valid excuse to skip out on our usual ministry duties. When we find ourselves in these miserable situations, the solution is not to keep pressing on, but to recognize that God is refusing to bless our efforts and He doesn’t like what we’re doing because our focus is no longer on communing with Him.
We humans are obsessed with productivity. God is not. We humans want to be able to see statistical evidence that we are making an impact, changing lives, expanding our audience, saving souls. Far too often it is more numbers we are after, not a better personal understanding of our Lord. It is human approval that we’re coveting, not His approval. When we are turning away from God in our hearts and scorning His priorities for us, He often leaves us to squander our lives in ministry efforts which we have come to believe are critical to the kingdom, while in reality they are nothing more than useless trash to God. When we treat God’s approval like some cheap, worthless thing that we can gain whenever it suits us and then dream of all the rewards He’ll heap on us out of gratitude for all the ways we assisted Him on earth with our brilliant ideas, we only delude ourselves. God will not be directed by us. We will never succeed with Him by defining the terms of our service. We must submit to HIS agenda for us and align with HIS priorities. He tells us that we exist to know Him. Life is about pursuing a deeper relationship with our Creator: one in which we are the lowly slaves who thrive in the care of our kind and loving Master. God’s plans for us are truly wonderful and when we serve Him the way He wants to be served, we experience abundant soul satisfaction and joy.
Now then, if God calls us to serve Him in order to strengthen our core bonds with Him, should we expect every assignment to be pure joy? Of course not. In this world we learn that developing meaningful relationships with other humans is a complex experience involving both joy and pain. God is far more complex than humans are and the dynamics we experience with Him are far more extreme. To build an intimate bond with God requires a lot of intense wrestling. We must work our way through disturbing questions, we must be willing to struggle through some unsettling fears. God carefully selects assignments for us which will challenge our current understanding of Him and raise new questions about Him in our minds.
From the human perspective, feeding the poor is just about helping the downtrodden in our community. Yet if God calls you to join in such a ministry effort, He isn’t going to be looking for you to help Him manage the local population. God doesn’t need your help. Always the assignment He gives you is about turning your mind onto HIM and developing your bond with HIM. When you start handing out sandwiches, you may well run into people who repulse you by the way they look or act or smell. Good. What an excellent opportunity to stir up questions that you normally don’t want to hear yourself asking because they sound so carnal. Questions like: “God how do You really love these people? Honestly, what’s to like? Your compassion is such a mystery to me.” Do you see how this kind of thinking opens the door for God to teach you more about who He is? And if you are serving Him for the right reasons, then you are going to want Him to resolve the glaring difference between your view of people and His. God is never put off by a person’s external appearance but we humans certainly are. How can we learn to see souls through God’s eyes? How can we learn to get more on His page? By placing us in situations that draw out less than pleasant aspects of ourselves, God motivates us to want to be changed by Him into creatures who love like He loves.
Now not every assignment is about improving our view of others. Our relationship with God is vast and complex. It has a thousand different aspects to it, and God will be constantly changing which of those aspects He wants to work on with you personally. God has equipped you with specific talents and skills. There are some things that you really enjoy doing. You should expect Him to sometimes call on you to serve Him in ways that utilize those skills. And of course when you’re doing something you’re naturally good at, you will really enjoy it. But remember to be looking for the relational lessons in the midst of the fun, because they will always be there. Sometimes it’s as simple as learning to relax and enjoy being in sync with God. When the inspiration is flowing from Him to you and you recognize that He is the Source of your ideas and skills, you stop seeing your work as something you’re doing in your own strength, and you start really enjoying the experience of being led by Him. Serving God can be compared to the joy two experienced dancers share as they move in a smooth waltz across the floor. To dance well, there must be an understanding that the man is leading the dance. The woman has to be focused on the man’s subtle body movements, swiftly aligning her own movements to respond to his in perfect rhythm. Smooth dancing requires some degree of submission. If both dancers try to lead, the result will be painful collisions. But if the woman fully embraces her role as responder and imitator of the man, then a truly beautiful choreography results. It is the same with us and God. When we choose to delight in Him leading us and we put our energy into being fluid followers, then a glorious harmony results.
We should expect a wide variety of assignments from God. Some will be a breeze, others may be quite challenging. Some will be fun, others may be miserable. It is foolish to expect every assignment God gives us to be fun from start to finish, but we should certainly expect Him to clearly communicate to us when He is in fact wanting us to do something. God is always clear when there is something specific He wants from us. He does not shroud His will for us in layers of impossible mystery and then punish us for not being able to read His mind. When God wants you to do something for Him, you will know it. You will be certain. If you are serious about pleasing Him with your life, you will feel compelled to obey, even if the actual assignment seems repulsive to your flesh. We don’t use our flesh to discern God’s will for us. We don’t say “Unless it feels wonderful, I’m not doing it,” nor do we say “Unless it feels horrible, it can’t be God’s will.” Discerning God’s will is something we do with our souls, not our flesh. We listen for His Voice and only His Voice calling on us to come commune with Him in some particular earthly mission. We go into it out of love for Him, and we leave as soon as He cues us that He’s done by turning the thing into some purposeless, tiresome chore. As long as God is in something with us, we will feel certain in our cores that we’re where we are supposed to be. We might not love every aspect of the job–in fact it might be a major trial at the moment. But we will still know that we are where God wants us because He will make us sure. We won’t be doing a thing just to please our pastor or impress other Christians or to convince ourselves that we’re not carnal slackers.
The way that God works in this world is awesome to behold. His methods are ingenious, His timing impeccable. Watching Him work up close is like watching the hands of a concert pianist fly over the keys with breathtaking speed: we just stand there marveling as He showcases abilities and wisdom that are infinitely greater than our own. It is a thrilling experience to see God in action, and nothing gives us a better view than watching Him carry out some particular assignment through us. When we are serving with the right focus, it isn’t what we’re doing that matters. Instead we are joyfully focused on the fact that God has invited us to come along and watch Him perform His glorious wonders in the world. Why? Simply because He delights in our company. How blessed we are to be the creatures of such a wonderful King.