How do we draw other people closer to God? We don’t. He does. This is one of those simple truths that has a profound impact on how we will attempt to relate to both God and humans.
Now at first, it’s easy to shrug and say, “Well, of course God is the One actually drawing people closer to Him—that’s obvious.” Christians are quick to agree with statements that sound God honoring, but they rarely stop to really absorb those statements into their theologies. Take the idea of putting God first in life. We all know that He’s supposed to be our First Love—the One who we’re living to please. “Put God first” is a common Sunday School mantra, but saying the words and understanding what they mean are two very different things.
As long as you feel a burning need to pray for other people to come to God, you have yet to understand that God is the One who draws us closer to Him. He is the One. You are not the one. Your role in the process is so unnecessary and expendable that it’s beyond ludicrous for you to try and take one iota of credit for saving someone. If your pride is starting to get miffy just reading this paragraph, it’s because you have yet to really understand what it means to put God first. You see, these two concepts are intimately linked. It is living for the right priorities which takes all of the sting out of realizing how utterly incapable we are of helping other people understand spiritual truths.
So what stops us from living for the right priorities? Living for the affirmation of humans. As long as we are living for the affirmation of our own kind, we will need to feel like a critical part of God causing others to spiritually mature. The apostle Paul was merely advertising how wrong his personal priorities were when he made this ridiculous statement:
But how can anyone call on Yahweh to save them unless they believe in Yahweh? And how can they believe in Yahweh if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Yahweh unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Rom. 10:14-15)
Paul needed to believe that his work as an apostle was giving Yahweh critical assistance. He wanted to think that God would be rendered helpless without the aid of human evangelists. But why did he need this? How did it help Paul to think that Yahweh was such an inept, co-dependent God? Well, by setting himself up as God’s instrument of salvation, Paul could then make people feel like they were spiritually indebted to him, and this led to people serving and worshiping him. Because Paul lived for people, not God, he reduced God’s abilities and exaggerated his own in order to keep the human affirmation coming. Paul wanted people focused on him and looking up to him as a spiritual superstar, which is why he said:
Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ. (1 Cor. 11:1)
Paul was so focused on people that we find him endlessly fretting in his epistles over the state of his followers. Were they growing? Were they veering off course from the teaching Paul gave them? Were they starting to lose interest in Paul and drift to other teachers? Paul frets and stresses and reminds people that he is praying for them all constantly. What an epic waste of time it all was. Paul’s praying for others did nothing but drag him off course with God, for while he was busy telling God how to help people, he never got around to admitting how out of line it was for him to act as God’s instructor.
God is first. Pleasing Him is all that matters. When we really understand these principles—when they become woven into the very core of our beings—then we realize how irrelevant the soul choices of other humans really are to us. It really doesn’t matter if your neighbor ends up in Heaven or Hell—what matters is that your Creator is pleased with you. It’s not your job to make your friend see the errors in his theology—it’s God’s job, and God will never invite you to play the role of His Teacher. When it comes to helping human souls along in their journeys, none of us have the slightest clue about what is best. We only think we do because we make the same mistake Paul did by minimizing the abilities of God while we exaggerate our own. God is the only Wise One. We humans are just a bunch of dolts. If we say something wise, it’s because we’re repeating something God has said to us, for we have no wisdom on our own. But even quoting God Almighty is a useless endeavor, because when they are only spoken by our lips, His words have no effect. It is God who gives life to His messages, and until He is the One speaking truth to a soul, we can yammer those same truths at them all day and they’ll learn nothing.
Pleasing God is all that matters. When we really understand this and set our priorities accordingly, then we stop stressing about being useful or making an impact. We stop trying to brainstorm brilliant sermons or rehearse smooth testimonies. We don’t waste our time trying to come up with rebuttals for every clever argument some God hater might throw at us. We don’t need other people to understand us—we just need to please God. We don’t need other people to make the choices we’re making—we just need to know that God is pleased with our choices.
God is first. When we really understand what this means, we stop letting other humans control our convictions. We listen for God’s Voice, and we tune out all the other yammering. Pastor John needs someone to help out in children’s Sunday School. The director of missions wants volunteers to go overseas and shine the light. Clark wants us to help him pray his unsaved brother into repentance. The requests and needs and manufactured emergencies flow in from all sides, but what is God telling us to do? There is never any true crisis in a world that He reigns over. Instead of letting other people suck us into their stressful frenzies, we listen to God. When He tells us to speak, we speak. When He tells us to wait, we wait. When He tells us to go, we go. We don’t obey God so that we can change the world or impact the choices of others. We obey God because He is first and pleasing Him is all that matters. As we obey Him, certainly souls will be impacted and lives will be changed. But these secondary effects are not at all what we’re living for. We’re living for God, not people.
Because the apostle Paul was living with such backwards priorities, he was most anxious to keep traveling to new territories where the Gospel had not been preached. There he worked hard to pressure humans into verbally declaring allegiance to Christ, because counting human converts was how he measured his success as an apostle.
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. (Romans 1:13)
It was seeing visible signs of his impact on other humans that kept Paul going, not the development of his own relationship with God.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. (Rom. 1:8)
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. (2 Thess. 1:3)
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the Presence of our God because of you? (1 Thess. 3:9)
Paul sounds like a child who keeps thanking his father for the fabulous toys he’s been given while he fails to mention any appreciation for his actual father. It’s all about the people with Paul: he is so dependent on them that he actually claims to have greater joy in the Presence of God because of the soul choices others are making. He just can’t come to the end of praying for other people. How tiresome his prayers must have been from God’s perspective.
When you pray to God, you should be focusing on your own relationship with Him, not going on and on about His relationships with other humans. So what if some other soul just said the sinner’s prayer—how does that change anything between you and God? Another soul’s choices aren’t what you’re supposed to be focused on in life.
If you’re living for the right priorities, then your own dynamic with God won’t be controlled by what other people are doing. When souls reject God, you won’t get all bummed out. When they accept Him, you won’t suddenly feel more alive. The joy you experience with God will be based on your own interactions with Him, not on the rumors you hear about what other Christians are doing. God is first. He is so first, that other people are irrelevant by comparison. Pleasing God is all that matters. When He tells us to talk about spiritual matters with others, we do it to please Him, not to try and get another soul to think a certain way.
God is the only One who can draw souls close to Him. Once we understand this, we stop trying to help Him in His relationships with other humans. Instead, we let Him manage His own affairs without insisting that He involve us. When He invites us to participate in something He’s doing, we are eager to obey because we want to please Him, not because we’re so invested in the particular assignment. Pleasing God is all that matters. Winning converts doesn’t matter. Impacting others doesn’t matter. Participating in some particular ministry doesn’t matter. The command to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength is a command to utterly obsess over pleasing Him, worshiping Him, serving Him, and honoring Him. When we obsess over God to the degree that He wants us to, we don’t have anything left to spend on an obsession with people. And yet while we’re busy focusing on God, He’ll be using us mightily in the lives of others to speak His truth, share His love, and channel His blessings. The best part is that we’ll be oblivious to most of what He does through us because we’ll be so focused on loving Him ever better. We won’t be acting at all like Paul. We won’t be thanking God for the choices other humans are making because we’ll be too busy thanking Him for the privilege of knowing Him. We won’t be keeping records of how many converts to the faith we’ve helped create because we’ll be too busy focusing on the things God is teaching us to pay mind to such silly statistics. God is first and pleasing Him is all that matters. When we really understand what this means, we stop asking how we can draw other souls closer to Him because we’re too busy drawing closer to Him ourselves.