When I was a young Christian, I sat through a sermon about serving. I can’t remember the exact content, nor do I put any blame on it, but I know that when I walked out of church that day, my mind had formed a message about what it meant to be a Christian: God had already done a lot for me, and it was my duty in return to please Him through service.
So whenever I was asked to serve, I said yes. But not because I was happy to serve. I said yes because I thought that there was no other option if I wanted to please God. (It sounds soooo biblical, right? Well, read on…)
Then one day, I was tasked to serve in an area which I was not very proficient in. Needless to say, I made a couple of mistakes. I buckled under the condemnation from not getting it right. Another time, I found myself saying yes to another task, but silently resenting myself and the person who asked me. I felt fake. I asked God if this was what it was all about, this… Christian life.
Oh, but God was about to teach me a couple of new things.
God is already pleased with me.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Romans 5:1 (ESV)
It was a hard truth for me to accept, because growing up in Singapore’s meritocratic society I have learned that favour, standing, and love, must all be earned. We believe we must work very hard in order to deserve something good. We cannot be lazy, uneducated, or inefficient, or we will not receive much.
Thankfully, because of Jesus’ work on the cross, we already have right standing with God. It is by His grace, that we can come into an intimate relationship with Him, and He is more than happy to welcome us.
In one of my favourite books, The Happy Intercessor, the author Beni Johnson says this:
“We can feel like we need to do for God so that He will approve of us. We think by doing this God will accept us more and maybe love us more. I’m telling you, you don’t have to do a thing for God, and He will love you no less. So many of us have believed that we need to labour and perform for God so that we can gain an identity, so that we might be accepted… The Kingdom God doesn’t work that way. God is not sitting up in Heaven waiting to love you if you will do something for Him. He is more interested in our entering into His love and rest.”
What a delightful piece of truth that I am so greatly loved, even before I have done a thing for Him.
It’s pointless to work for God if I have no relationship with Him.
In the Old Testament, there are countless scriptures which reflect God’s intense, passionate love for His people. He longed to have them close, and though the law was set in place for the Israelites to be able to come and be in right standing with Him, God said that He cared nothing for the rituals and offerings because their hearts were not in the right place.
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Amos 5:21-24 (ESV)
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Psalm 51:16-17 (ESV)
God doesn’t want us to serve and work for Him without the relationship in place. It is pointless.
The fact that He sent His only Son to die for us on the cross just so that we no longer need to go through these rituals, goes to show that He prioritises a close relationship with us. That is how much He longs to be with us! And it’s not a one-sided thing. God knows that when we are with Him, we too, will be filled with joy, and experience what it means to be truly, deeply loved and complete for all eternity.
Jesus wants His joy to be full in us.
“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
John 17:13 (ESV)
Jesus was all about a ministry of joy. In fact, Isaiah 61 is a clear indicator that He was anointed to bring joy and restoration into the world.
In the book of Matthew, He actually talks about how it is through joy, that we will be motivated to then work for His Kingdom.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Matthew 13:44 (ESV)
Note the order:
Discovering the kingdom -> receiving joy -> making the necessary sacrifice for the kingdom
Jesus wants us to receive the joy that He had come to bring to us. He knew that it is through this joy, that we would be able to count the cost and serve Him, because by then we would know how worth the while it would be to do so.
But this joy cannot be achieved if we do not even take the time to seek Him and remain in Him!
Am I saying that we don’t need to serve or work for the Kingdom? Far from it. Faith without works is dead, and any revelation from God always demands a response and an action from us.
But my persuasion today is for you to take the time to discover the joy in being with our Father, and knowing Him, and being truly known in Him.
Before I say yes to the Great Commission to Go; before I say yes to serving anywhere – I want to have a revelation of Him. To know God the Father and to be His daughter, I can feel safe and secure. And then from a full heart, I can go and pour myself out into service.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:4-5 (ESV)
I can give my very best and my most authentic self to my church and to my community when I am giving from a place of joy and fullness, that comes from abiding in Him.
My challenge to you today is this: As we position ourselves to GO for Him, will we be willing to first GO deeper withHim, so that we can be filled with the joy that will fuel our GO?