God could end your life at any time. This is true for all of us, but for the most part, we don’t really give much thought to God’s absolute control over life and death. But when God arranges for us to have some close brush with death, suddenly our perspective changes. Maybe He healed you from some fatal disease. Maybe He saved you from dying in some horrible collision. Maybe He botched your attempt to commit suicide. Maybe you were impaled by a bullet or a knife that barely missed puncturing some critical organ. Maybe you almost died on an operating table. Maybe you’ve lived past the expiration date that medical experts put on you. Maybe you survived someone’s attempt to have you killed in the womb. Maybe you were saved from execution at the last second. Whatever the circumstances, when God does this sort of thing, He’s forcing you to see how easily He could have taken your life. He’s also making His decision to prolong your life on this planet feel like the very personal, purposeful decision that it is. The big question now becomes: why? Why is God keeping you here? Why didn’t He have you die when it seemed you should have? Why is He making an exception in your case? If you’re currently pondering these questions, then you’re definitely on the right track, and helping you stay on the right track is the purpose of this post.
There are many answers to the question “Why am I still here?” But what you need to realize is how often people run with the wrong answers and thus end up getting all tangled up in wrong priorities. Perhaps you’ve been told that you’re here to help some other human make right spiritual choices in life. Or maybe you think you’re still here to finish some project or to launch some ministry or to make some positive impact in the world. These are certainly nice sounding ideas, but if you make any of these things your top priority, you’re going to end up in a mess. You see, God did not save your life so you that you could spend it chasing after things that don’t matter or waste your effort trying to do what is impossible. It’s not possible for you to convince other humans to get serious about God—that’s His job. It’s not possible for you to fix the world, and God isn’t holding you responsible for the decisions other humans are making. Trying to change other humans is always the wrong focus. Trying to better the world is a total waste of time.
This is God’s world and it’s in a mess because He wants it to be in a mess. He didn’t put you here so you could go around criticizing and fixing His work. That’s certainly what many Christians are doing, and they’ll try hard to get you to join them in their efforts to save the lost, spread the Gospel, minister to the poor, and fix the broken. The problem with all of these endeavors is that they cause us to focus on helping created beings when we should be focusing on pleasing our Creator. You see, you can’t live for God and people at the same time. You have to choose one or the other. Many Christians will tell you that living for people is what it means to live for God. They’ll say that it’s by loving others that we express our love for God. Well, no, it’s really not.
Let’s use a metaphor to understand how Christians interpret the concept of “living for God.” Let’s imagine that we’re all a bunch of peasants living in a kingdom which God is the King of. God spends His days sitting on His royal throne in His royal palace. As King, God has created a whole body of laws which He wants us to live by. Those laws give us a lot of guidance about how God wants us to treat each other. He says things like, “Feed the poor,” and “Treat others like you’d want to be treated.” He tells us to be merciful and compassionate and to not seek revenge. Well, these guidelines are nice to have, but now what? Should we spend our days trying to obey as many of God’s laws as we can? Or maybe should we choose just a few laws to focus on—like feeding the poor—and devote a bunch of resources into obeying those few laws really well? Is this what it means to please God? Many Christians think it is.
Christians are taught that “living for God” means running around trying to improve the quality of life in God’s kingdom. The problem with this theory is that while we’re busy doing things for God, we’re never spending any time with God. While you’re helping your neighbor Joe put a new thatch on his roof, are you getting to know your King any better? No, because He’s far away in His royal palace, sitting on His throne, waiting for you to come to Him. And yet for all your talk about how much the King means to you, somehow visiting with Him never makes it onto your daily schedule. You were going to see Him on Thursday, but you got tied up with helping to run a fun festival in your community. At the festival, many of your fellow peasants stood up and made long speeches about how wonderful the King is, but like you, none of them have visited the King in a very long time. The King is just someone who everyone talks about—He’s very popular among His citizens. But day after day, the King sits on His throne, waiting for someone to come visit with Him and no one ever does.
How loved does the King feel when He looks out over His kingdom that is filled with busy peasants who are running to and fro? Does He feel like anyone’s priority? No, He doesn’t. It’s obvious to Him that the peasants care way more about each other than they do about Him. He’s just Someone they talk about a lot. In fact, every week, the peasants get together to “celebrate our fabulous King”. But no one ever actually goes to visit the King and really spend focused time with Him. Now and then someone shows up bearing some gift that they want the King to be impressed with—it’s always something that they’ve decided He should like and they’re not receptive to Him telling them otherwise. But when the King invites them to sit down and talk or to take a stroll with Him in His royal flower garden, there’s always some excuse for why they have to hurry off. “I’d love to visit with You, Your Majesty, but I’m so busy working to make Your Kingdom a better place,” is what they often say, and then they’re out the door before the King can answer. So a bunch of time passes and the King walks alone through His flower garden, thinking about how tiresome it is that none of His subjects are willing to give Him what He really wants.
This rather depressing metaphor depicts the common Christian understanding of what it means to “live for God.” It means you spend your life focusing on other humans while you barely give God the time of day. Then you act like God owes you a bunch of rewards for spending your life ignoring Him, and you stand around taking credit for the stuff He did through you in spite of your refusal to listen to Him. This is a very lousy way to treat our glorious King.
DOING IT RIGHT
So what does it look like to do it right? Does it mean you have to lock yourself in a prayer closet until you’re bored to tears? Does it mean you have to spend countless hours reading your Bible? Not at all. The point of our metaphorical story was to help you understand that God wants you to care more about Him than you do the people around you. The two goals of loving God and loving people are never meant to compete for first place in your life (see Choosing the Right Priorities: How does God want us to treat our brothers?). God wants to be far more important to you than people—so much so that you are willing to cut ties with other people if He ever asks you to do so.
In real life, it takes a whole bunch of maturing to get our priorities where they need to be, and the Church’s constant emphasis on works isn’t helping us get there. In our metaphor about a King, what do your neighbor’s needs have to do with whether you decide to go visit God at His castle? Perhaps your neighbor is hungry, poor, or suffering in some way. In such a situation, most Christians would say that your neighbor should become your top priority—that you should ditch your plans to go hang out with God until you do all that you can to make your neighbor happy. But no, this is all wrong. You need to go visit with God. You need to make cultivating your relationship with Him your first priority, and leave it to Him to tell you if, how and when He wants you to go help some other person in His kingdom. If instead you just pick some random command out of the Bible and act like it supersedes all others, you’re guaranteed to fall out of alignment with God, because you’re not listening to Him. You’re letting other people and Christian traditions take the place of His instruction in your life, and you’re not leaving any room for Him to lead you in some unexpected way.
God doesn’t need your help to do anything in this world. Understanding this point is critical to you staying on track. When God spares your life, He is demonstrating your great dependency on Him. Well, that dependency doesn’t cease just because your circumstances have normalized. You’re just as dependent on God now as you were when things were in a crisis. It is the fact that your dependency on God is so vast and absolute which makes the idea of you helping or saving other people all on your own such a crock. You can’t even breathe on your own, so how are you going to teach other souls truth or turn some prodigal around or help make the world a better place? You can do nothing without God. He is the One who causes changes to happen in this world. He is the One saving lives, imparting wisdom, teaching truth, and addressing needs. When you roll up your sleeves and go marching into your new chapter of life ready to make some great impact in other people’s lives, you’re letting arrogance get the best of you. You can do nothing without God, and that means you can’t take the credit for jack.
You don’t want to get sucked into the pompous mentality that God saved you in order to get your help to accomplish His agenda in this world, because nothing could be further from the truth. If God had killed you off, He wouldn’t be hurting. He wouldn’t be stumped or lacking or frustrated or stalled. God doesn’t need you. He doesn’t have you here so you can play the part of His little helper. God created you for the purpose of you revolving around Him. It’s all about the relationship. If you’re not nurturing the relationship by focusing on the soul attitudes which please God, then you’re missing the whole point and just wasting the time He’s giving you.
You need to see your situation as a big wake up moment: a time for you to give serious thought as to what you’re supposed to be living for. There’s only one right answer: you need to be pursuing a closer walk with God. You can’t get there by trying to earn His love through your hard work. You can’t get there by telling yourself He needs your help. You can’t there by barging into situations which you don’t begin to understand and deciding that you know what everyone needs.
The management of other humans is a God-sized task which only a true God can handle. As a mere created speck, you don’t see the big picture of why God brings trials into people’s lives. You don’t see the many positive purposes He’s working on, so before you go around trying to fix, save, help, and cure people, you need to stop and wait for Him to invite you to participate in His work. Then you need to realize that it will always be His work which you’re participating in, and that you are never going to be more than an instrument who He decides to use for some temporary moment. We humans aren’t the stars of this place. God is the only One worthy of praise. We just tag along when He invites us, but serving God for the right reasons has nothing to do with helping Him and everything to do with wanting to get to know Him better by watching His brilliance in action (see Understanding Why God Calls Us to Serve Him).
When God makes you feel like you’re on borrowed time, it’s usually because you need a wake up call. You probably weren’t living for the right priorities before now—most Christians aren’t. But this is when you want to change all of that and break out of the rut you were in by asking God to help you be all that He wants you to be. When God speaks, He always turns our focus on to Him and our relationship with Him. He doesn’t encourage us to get distracted by what everyone else is doing, and He certainly doesn’t encourage us to embrace the delusion that we can help others all on our own. To please God, we must be following Him, not trying to lead Him. We need to get into a mindset of leaning on Him in life—not on charging out and then calling for Him to keep up. When you find yourself suddenly getting another chance to do it right, you don’t want to waste it by letting other Christians pressure you into pursuing goals that they’ve decided God must want for you. Ask God to teach you what living for Him really means and ask Him to help you get to a place where He really is your First Love in life.
Practicing Dependency: Appreciating the Wisdom of God
Debunking the Great Guilt Trip: It’s Not Your Job to Save the World
Improving Our Treatment of God: Why We Shouldn’t Pray for the Lost
Giving to the Poor: Cautions for Christians
Soul Attitudes That Please God: What They Are & How We Develop Them