Our cultural quirkiness of individualism has spiraled such that motivational speakers, teachers, coaches, parents and everyone around us has taught us since childhood, “You can be whatever you want to be”, and “You will do great things”.
“You can change the world.“
Just set your mind to it, practice enough, work hard enough, and you can do anything. It is interesting to see the ways that this has affected the non-profit world, specifically. Fifty years ago, people were (by in large) in search of a steady job and the righteous among us would give money to the Church, or missionaries, or relief programs. Non-profits, activists and world changers were few and far between. Those that were established were able to grow, over the years, to massive scales – i.e. The American Red Cross, World Vision, etc. But now, our individualism paired with our ambition has led to the development of countless non-profits and humanitarian workers. People believe that they can change the world, and they are trying.
This mentality and teaching has crept into the Church, and is slowly poisoning her in her missionary and outreach efforts. We have been indoctrinated with the belief that we can change the world, we can be anything that we want to be. I am special. God wants to do great things through me. Me. Me. Me. See where I am going here?
God is sovereign. He is in control of the entire universe. The whole world. Everything in it. He knows the timing of the End, He knows everyone who will be saved, He knows everything that will happen. And not only does He know it, He planned it. He wrote the story. He wrote the back of the book (the Bible), and He can see all of history in it’s completion. He is not concerned about what you and I think we are going to do for Him. He does not need us to accomplish His plan.
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things…”
– Acts 17.24-25
In His sovereignty and in His power, God has called some of us to salvation. If you believe in God and have a relationship with Jesus, it is because He breathed life into your dead spirit and gave you an affection for Him (Eph 2.1, John 3). God did not, at that point, say “Ok, now let’s see what you can do, I hope you can change the world”. God’s first and primary concern is our sanctification: our being made more like Christ. He wants us to know Him, to love Him, to obey Him, to trust Him. It is the Mary and Martha story. When Jesus came to their house, Martha was busy making food, and serving Jesus with her works. Mary, on the other hand, was sitting at Jesus’ feet while the housework was neglected. Martha entreated Jesus to force Mary to help her, and Jesus said that Mary had chosen the good thing, the right thing, to be still in Jesus’ presence rather than to be busy serving Him (Luke 10.38-42).
Jesus did give us many instructions. Going to the world to make disciples of the world was not only one of those instructions, but perhaps the greatest of those instructions (Matt 28.18-20). We cannot make disciples who know and love God, however, if we only are busy serving Him and do not know and love Him ourselves. The greatest calling is to know God, and to love God. And when we know Him and love Him, it will naturally pour out of our lives and impact the world around us.
If we enter into our Spiritual live and endeavors with the mindset that we want to change the world, we will be disappointed. Even if you manage to solve the world’s clean water problem such that there is no person left without access to clean drinking water, even if you were to be the person to bring peace to the Middle East, even if you could single handedly end the Syrian crisis and every refugee was adequately cared for, you would be left wanting. Why? Because God has created us for more than solving human problems. He has created us for knowing Him. And we can get so caught up doing good things, and even serving Him that we never truly know Him.
Be extremely careful not to mistake serving God as knowing God.
Do not assume that serving God is intimacy with God.
But at the same time, remember that God has indeed called us to action. Jesus exemplified the perfect balance. He regularly went away by Himself to pray. He sought God, He knew God, He asked God for direction and help. And in the strength He received from His time with God, He went out and taught the disciples how to know and love God, and He served the world. His impetus, however, was not to change the world, but to obey God.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
– John 6.38
What does this mean? What does this look like? Let us consider international missionary service. Little Johnny can be raised in a church that has a very strong missionary emphasis. He learns in school and from American culture that he can be whatever he wants to be, he can change the world. His parents and teachers have told him, “You are going to do great things Johnny!” As Johnny grows up, he becomes a Christian and goes on some short term mission trips with his youth group. He decides to give His life to the missionary service. He goes to seminary. He gets married and he moves overseas. He then starts trying to change the world. How? By preaching the gospel to everyone he meets. But after three years on the field, no one has believed. Johnny begins to get discouraged. By the time his first missionary appointment is over, he thinks that he is a failure. He then starts to doubt God, he doubts his faith, he doubts the calling to make disciples and he goes home, gives up and his dreams are shattered.
But what if little Johnny had spent his time and energy getting to know God and believing that only God can change the world. Johnny, when He comes to faith, learns to trust God in good times and bad, learns to love and cherish God and walk through difficulties. He believes and is convicted by God’s commandment to make disciples of all the nations, so he goes to the missionary field with his family. After three years of faithfully sharing the Gospel, no one has believed. But Johnny is not discouraged because Johnny knows and loves God. He finds his strength and encouragement in his relationship with God, not with the product or revenue that he can produce for God. Instead of giving up after his first term, Johnny returns to the field, obeying the commandment and trusting God to do whatever it is that God intends to do.
Many of us have been on a mission trip and said – either out loud or in our hearts – that if even one person believes it is worth it. Yes, resoundingly yes, if one person believes because of a mission trip, that trip was worth it. But God is sovereign over salvation and those who come to Him, and He does not need us to bring about that salvation. My efforts will save no one. He wants me to know Him, love Him, trust Him and obey Him. So what is it that would make a mission trip “worth it” to God? When the team members know Him, love Him, trust Him, and obey Him.
From the outside it will look the same. It will be a group of people going out and sharing the Gospel with those who have never heard before. What is different is the inside. Are you going in order to do something great for God and change the world? Or are you going to obey God because you love Him, and waiting for – trusting Him – to change the world?
God has given us the beautiful and glorious blessing to be a part of His plan to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. But you may or may not see the fruit. You may or may not receive the glory. You may or may not realize your role in another’s salvation. Do you need the validation of seeing the fruit? Or can you trust God in His direction over your life?
You might change the world. You might take clean water to every one. You might end the Syrian crisis. You might end racism in the United States. But this will not satisfy, because it is not the ultimate reality for which you have been created. Jim Carrey soberingly stated:
“I wish everyone could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of so they would know that’s not the answer.”
So let us make it our greatest ambition to know God, and obey Him for the simple joy of pleasing our father. If He chooses to change the world through us, let us point all of the glory back to Him. If He chooses to place us somewhere to faithfully serve and share and never see the fruit, let us be satisfied, content and full of joy that we know Him, we love Him, and we are serving Him.
“Obey God and leave the consequences to Him.”
– Charles Stanley
Stanley encourages us to obey God in the midst of opposition. But consider the opposite side as well: obey God and let Him change the world, in His time and in His way. Obey God and leave the results to Him. Our highest calling is to know and love God. So get busy about knowing Him today. Spend time with Him. Do not just do things for Him. Find your value and identity in being a child of God, not in what you can do for Him.