“He served God for 40 years on the mission field, even though he never saw a single convert in his lifetime.”
How many of us have heard an illustration like this in a sermon or a Bible study? What comes to your mind when you hear it? Of course the main point is supposed to be that we should be obedient to God, no matter what the circumstances – whether we can see “visible results” or not.
But what else comes to your mind? Maybe, “I could never do that”. Or (let’s be honest) “What in the world was this guy doing wrong?!” Or maybe we wonder about what Jesus told his disciples about “shaking the dust of their feet” when they a city would not receive them (ie Mat 10:14)?
In summary, we’re trying to figure out what’s most important, particularly when it comes to serving the Lord. Part 1 concluded that results, though very important, were not the most important things to consider. So what about obedience? Faithfully serving the Lord? Is that the most important thing?
It’s all very well to use the word “faithfulness”, but when we start talking about “doing” people get their backs up. What comes to mind is some legalistic pressure to perform – to look good – the idea that “working harder” somehow makes us more acceptable to God. And yet the Bible teaches we can never make ourselves acceptable enough to be forgiven. Peter recognized this when he urged the church not to force Gentile believers to keep Moses’ Law: “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Act 15:10) Even the Jews couldn’t successfully “do” all the right things.
At the same time, we all know we ought to be “doing” something. We’ve been told that the Bible isn’t a rule book, but even so it sure has a lot of commands to it. I open to a random page, and Paul is telling us to avoid lust, to stop stealing, to work with our hands, to avoid filthy language, not to fight, be kind to others, avoid immorality and rude jokes…surely the Bible is packed with things we should or shouldn’t do.
As Christian songwriter/singer Keith Green famously pointed out, the difference between the sheep and the goats (in Matthew 25) “is what they did and didn’t do“. So in some way our works are important.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” Jesus said (Mat 5:16). We quoted this in our “results” article. We aren’t to flaunt our good works (Mat 6:2,5,16), but as we serve the Lord people will see – and that’s a good thing. This isn’t even invisible “spiritual” works, but tangible things people notice.
Jesus praised people who did good things. Think about the poor widow, who gave 2 coins at the temple. Would the money be used wisely? I don’t know. But Jesus praised her sacrificial gift to God (Mar 12:43-44).
But can’t works be overemphasized? Of course. For example, we know we’re not saved by works. We can only be saved when we reach the 100% perfect mark – and that’s not possible.
When we start thinking works are the most important thing, we start thinking that more works make us more important. That leads to legalism (adding to God’s law to show we’re even better), overwork, burnout, pride. We may emphasize outward, visible works. We may ignore the fact that our strategy is bad, and plow blindly ahead just because we need to “do more”. The only thing that matters, we may start to think, is being “busy” (in God’s work, of course). In the end, we have no time for God Himself.
And what if we can’t do “enough”? Maybe we’ve become sick, or we have to leave a successful ministry for whatever reason. We’re growing older and can’t do what we once did. We no longer have the influence we once had. Now we’re in despair. We’re depressed because we feel useless.
“Doing” is important, but it’s not the most important thing. So how does doing fit in with results?
I think that poor results are a red flag – a reason to look closer at what we’re doing. Maybe we need to change our strategy, or, like the disciples mentioned at the beginning, simply move on.
Yes, it’s important to be faithful to what God calls us to do, even if we don’t see visible results. If we look carefully and honestly at what we’re doing, and it’s what God wants us to be doing, we should keep on. Obedience is very important.
But if we’re having trouble in the “doing” department, that may also be a warning – a red flag telling us that something even more important is out of whack. But that’s a discussion for the next article.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”