Am I Doing Enough For God? (#521)
If you're nagged by the question of whether you should be doing more for God, you know how disorienting it can be. Could it be God? My religious training? An need for significance? Or the devil? David has his seminary degree and experience as a pastor/church planter for many years. Even though the stress and long hours compromised his physical health and the well-being of his family, he is beginning to wonder if there's something more he should be doing for God. What does it mean to be a living sacrifice, and how can one affirmed as a "good and faithful" servant of God? Wayne engages David's email by sharing his own journey dealing with the insecurity that seeks significance as an antidote, and learning that he serves best when he's most secure as a beloved son of a gracious Father. The podcast ends with an email from Dan and a song that inspired a recent podcast inspired.
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The song at the end is Ragamuffin Prayer by Daniel Madison.
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Wayne, I too remember the bell curve as it saved me from getting an F on a midterm. It was the first and only time I pulled an all-nighter.
I was given a copy of a book to read called ‘ The Greatest Secret In The World’, by Og Mandino. It was located in the middle of the book, and it was simply, in so many words, that all you have to be is a little bit better than average to have a successful life. Seems to be right in line with what the world demands, and what was talked about here in the podcast.
I had the chance to be on the fast track to one of the top rungs of the ladder of the company I was working at the time, but things were happening too fast and I simply didn’t know enough to feel comfortable. Within about a year, I left the company. I never really thought about, would the chance come again, as I just wanted to have a secure job. Well, within another few years at my next job, I was fired. Again, I was asked to take on way more than I was capable, and I desired.
I don’t think the battle for significance really ends, whether it is self-imposed or forced upon by others. But it is a battle that belongs to the Lord.
A wise man was once asked, ‘Do you wrestle with God?’ The wise man replied, ‘Yes.’ A second question was asked. ‘Do you hope to win?’ ‘No’, said the wise man, ‘I hope to lose!’
I listened to your podcast and I get it. I 110% get where you are coming from and what you are saying. Much of what you say is along the lines I would say it if I had to speak on the subject but the devils advocate (as a saying, not literally I would hope) in me has been considering some of what you said.
Firstly you spoke at length about those in ministry seeking significance but that you no longer seek that but do what you do because you just want to help people. When I was in ministry that is exactly what I was doing it for – because I believed I was serving God and I just wanted to help others. And all those I have ever met- pastors and lay people alike – do what they do for the same reason. Yeah there is ego and a need to make money and all the rest of that jumble in amongst what they do but I don’t believe that is what drives them fundamentally – it might be what keeps them on a treadmill that they aren’t aware of being on but I don’t believe it’s their primary reason for doing what they do. I believe it is a deep desire to serve God and serve people, at least it was for me.
You say that the difference is that you are no longer attached to an outcome. It sounds like that is proof of it no longer being about you and I’m not going to say it isn’t but a part of me can’t help but think, because this has been my journey, that just perhaps it’s not so much about trusting God but about having learnt not to trust people, circumstances or yourself as a self protection mechanism against further deep pain and the hurt of betrayal and unmet desires and expectations. If we don’t desire anything or have any expectations then we will not feel the pain of failing again (or having others fail us) and the upside is the sense of joy when we are pleasantly surprised by an something good happening. Perhaps it doesn’t matter how we come to trust God just that we do?
I don’t for a second think you have not had your struggles coming from where you were to where you are now but I can’t help but wonder if you have forgotten the emptiness (if you experienced it) of having walked away from a very satisfying and fulfilling life of ministry – for that was how I felt at the time, yeah, it turned out that I was getting my sense of worth from it and yeah, I kept feeling like there was more that I could never quite grasp, so I didn’t quite have the ‘peace that passes all understanding’ but I was mostly happy and feeling very blessed to have the incredible opportunity to be doing what I had been doing. And I went from that to nothing – the usual story of hurt and hiding and throwing out everything to start again, slowly learning to place my trust in God because nothing else worked or was safe. A whole lot of self protection went on including trusting no one and nothing until all that was left was to trust Jesus or not. But the thing is that living loved and living in trust has not led me back yet, or into, a sense that I feel I am helping anyone or doing anything if any value and its hard. I’m trying to be patient and ‘relax into his rest’ and then I hear you talking as you did and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of ‘its easy for you say’ – and speaking about it’s all about NATO when you actually have things to do that actually give an outcome – whether good or bad – for you to live and experience and grow through. It’s not so easy while still sitting in the waiting room. I know, I know – just start with the people around you, etc and that’s all well and good but when that’s all there is and you have done all you can there it gets to a point that sometimes seems as unfilling and empty as everything else. However you phrase it and whether or not you are ‘attached to an outcome’ or not or whether you are being paid or not you are still doing direct full time ministry with what you do so I can’t help but wonder if you can really understand those that have had that in their lives but no longer do or have not been led back into it. Perhaps we just haven’t listened to God as well as you or perhaps it’s still coming. Whatever it i life is all the emptier at this point in time for having left the church and ministry where I, for all its faults and problems, was using my abilities and capabilities to help people as best I knew how.
You say it’s not about significance but helping people is what gives one’s life significance. We don’t all seek fame or notoriety, or at least, we eventually get that it’s not about that, if we do harbour those feelings but we do all seek to feel like we are doing something to contribute to the world. Something that makes us feel like we aren’t just a waste of space and oxygen. That’s the significance I seek and am still waiting for. Perhaps it’s just another outcome I need to lose a desire for but to hear someone speak about not seeking significance when their lives are wrapped in it is hard when it is missing from one’s own life. I am happy you have what you have and that you have got to a place filled with activity and experiences that fill your desire to help people. I trust God that it’s coming for me – even in my impatience – or that I will be changed so that I see things differently. That one way or another this emptiness and sense of being a waste of space in this world will be replaced with something better.
LD, I do appreciate what you’re writing here and how hard it it is to appreciate what I’m saying. But I’ve been when you’re at. When I got kicked out of the church I’d planted, I had nothing. Both of my books were out of print, and the church dynamics I was sharing about all over the world blew up in my face. It was in that season that I lost my need for significance through “ministry.” I agree that vocational or even up-front ministry is horribly intoxicating. I loved it. It gave me worth, but as I discovered it was false worth. When I came to rest as just the beloved son of a gracious Father, then I could appreciate what God had already put around me—my wife, my family, and the people he was asking me to love. That’s where true ministry is. I relish that, now. The books, the website and podcast are not near as rewarding as the personal moments I get to have and how it impacts people I love. As Victor Hugo said, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” But the best of all that stuff came when I grew content in not having to have any of it to satisfy something in me. To celebrate the life God gives me and to enjoy him and whatever he asks to share with me makes my life on this planet more than I ever dreamed. Even what you consider significant about my life, I don’t confer most significant. There may be a more wonderful freedom for you ahead… I pray so.
I do understand what you are saying and I’m not saying that ‘ministry’ is what gives life significance. I am saying feeling needed and useful does – whether it is just one other person or a whole bunch of them… as you quoted ‘to love another is to see the face of God’ … so in a season of rest or transition or sickness or whatever where that is not happening in a way that gives you something to fill your time and use your energy up then there is an emptiness yet to be filled. … One which requires patience as we wait on and are led along God’s plan for us rather than our own. I probably haven’t explained myself well and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter because I was just expressing a thought going on in me and am happy for God to work it through with me in his timing and his way. Thanks for taking the time to respond and sharing your thoughts and encouragements.
“Feeling needed and useful” can sound like an honorable course, but it can also lead down some dark paths. I don’t know you or your situation of course, os I don’t know if this is a “need to be needed” kind of thing or just feel as if there’s no person for you to love or care about around you. Often when I meet people who talk like this we often discover that there are lots of things already going on in their loves of sharing with others, but because they are looking for a specific thing their heart is set on they miss what God has already put in front of them. I’m not saying you’re doing that, because I don’t know. I just know for every author that publishes a book of some note or singer that makes it to the public consciousness there are thousands more who have tried to find the way in and cannot. The same can be true of “public ministry”. But Jesus seemed to have a different take: “the harvest is great and the laborers few.” That’s where I’d look. Not where there are lots of laborers fighting for the stage, but where the harvest is great and few won’t go. If these feelings aren’t coming from a place of need, but simply God leading you to something, ask where he wants to give you a way right now and follow that nudge no matter how strange it seems. Almost never is our first step the one we want, but some of my simple steps led to places I would never have considered…
I hope you do feel heard. It’s a horrible place to be if you feel like your life doesn’t have worth and if you’re waiting for something to happen outside of you to fulfill it. You’re in my prayers.
Again I appreciate you taking the time to counsel me and the gentle way you try to do that but the thing is I wasn’t actually asking for you ‘help’ in the first place. I was actually just trying to join the ‘ever expanding conversation’ by sharing some thoughts I had after listening to your podcast – thoughts that you didn’t address in any way (not that I was waiting for or expecting you to) but instead you jumped straight to trying to fix me. I’m sorry if I came across as needy. I am not going to say I’m not but in this case I really just wanted to join a ‘conversation’ that had been started by the podcast.
My first point was about how I keep hearing about how those still serving in the IC as being so driven by selfish motives when that was not my experience of it or saw it in those around me. It’s true that many things about these institutions and institutionalised religion can lead people astray by the wrong things becoming important but for me and the people around me our hearts were in the right place even if our words and actions weren’t. We thought we were doing the right thing. We thought that this was what God was calling us to do. Yeah, one of the biggest things coming out of that was breaking the habit of being a saviour to all – breaking the habit of coming up with the answer to everyone’s problems and then ‘sharing’ it with all you can reach – for that is what it is taught to be about – helping as many people as you can … ‘saving them’. Yes, there can be ego bound up in it, as well the financial side of it and those things can unconsciously take over and play a part in what it becomes but I still think that it’s not why most people do it for. The people I know do it out of love for God and love for others – it just gets sidetracked into other things.
My second point was that everyone has a need to feel there is some significance to them being alive. Those that don’t have it are the ones that are left with nothing to hold onto, so why hold on. It’s not a significance about fame or notoriety but that you matter. It’s all well and good to say that you matter to God but it takes time for a relationship with Jesus to grow into something that sustains you. In the meantime … well I don’t what in the meantime because anything I say seems to be coming out sounding (or being) wrong … I think all I was really trying to say was that there is ‘significance’ and there is ‘significance’ and I was just putting out there that not everyone is after fame or notoriety (although that is what is often amounts to) but that they are rather just trying to find a reason to remain alive – a reason for being … or they are doing what they believe God has put on their heart for them to do (which is their reason for being).
Anyway it wasn’t the conversation I thought I was starting but thanks for the conversation anyway.
My apologies, LD. I was trying to extend the conversation as well. I’m sorry it came off as trying to “fix” you or counsel you.. I tried to make clear I didn’t know you or the context to give any personal advice that would make sense, but I was thinking of those listening in who feel they are no reason for existence if someone doesn’t need them. And I agree that many people in more traditional congregations have a passion to help people, not satisfy their ego. When I talk about that I’m usually commenting on my own journey through that and not meaning to apply it to others. I agree though that the best of intentions easily get sidetracked in that environment…. Sorry, Bro. I guess this exchange didn’t work out so well…
What a helpful discussion this week. I’m on the the other side of the high achiever. I’m the ‘eternal low achiever’ spiritually. At least that’s how I’ve seen myself. Not doing enough, feeling guilty, feeling resentful of the perceived high demands, feeling guilty that I want to have fun, and so on. I think I’ve been seeing that it is just the same human dynamic applied to a spiritual context. It’s funny how I could see that God’s way of doing things is different from the human way but not in this area. So much time wasted feeling guilty! But these days the air is much fresher. I appreciate these podcasts for helping to clear the air.
Ah, the significance question. 🙂
It is one that keeps coming up for me and also for many around me.
Some of the thoughts on my journey….
In reading Brennan Manning’s books, he often describes his stay at the L’Arche community where he lived with the severely handicapped. The question of purpose and significance of those with significant handicaps was something that came up. His experiences there taught him that even severely mentally and physically handicapped persons have significance. It is just not according to the usual standard of significance. And for many of them, perhaps not even a conscious awareness significance.
Jesus calls us to be like children. Do children sit there pondering their significance. No, they go and play. They “are” themselves.
We often seek significance as a way of feeling that we did not waste our lives, completely unaware that the people around us that we touch find us significant. We constantly are looking outside of the circle, when in the circle we are already significant. Significance is loving the person next to us. The commandment is love your neighbour. Significance is also learning to be ourselves, the new creation in Christ. And that might be a simple life, but profound nonetheless.
Certainly there are those who have larger roles and tasks that God calls them into. But then in typical human fashion we put them on pedestals and aspire to be like them, e.g, we all have to be missionaries in order to be significant. But then what about the severely handicapped, or the single mother trying to make ends meet with her 3 children?
The Bible highlights individuals who played larger roles in the Kingdom. I remind myself that the Bible is a snapshot of key events with many years between, but most of their lives are filled with the daily humdrum boring stuff we all experience. For some reason we think that these amazing people from the Bible never lived regular lives. And then what about all the other believers? Is everyone an apostle, a teacher, a pastor, a missionary? There sure seems to be an internal pressure to be that.
A simple look at Abraham, and you realize that all of his significance is based on the fact that God called him, and Abraham believed God. And then he went travelling through the desert for many years towards the land that God called him. He lived his daily life and existence. His purpose was following what God said to do.
Perhaps our trying to find significance should be replaced with realizing our significance. We are significant because God loves us. We are significant because God has created us to be a reflection of Him to the world. And perhaps the simple tasks of today are significant because God is present with us. (I suggest reading Father Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God)
I strongly believe that our significance can only be realized in relationship with Christ. The world teaches something altogether different: you can be anything you want. I have even heard people say: I just need to find the one thing that I was born to do and then my life will have meaning.
YES. People are seeking significance because they think it will bring them the meaning of life.
Our abilities and accomplishments mean nothing. Intimacy with Papa is everything. If we find significance and purpose in ANYTHING else, it is idolatry and we are fooling ourselves.
From this place of intimacy, our significance is defined and whether we are called to the mission field or to clean toilets, we are content. Jesus is enough.
I am still in the process of fully realizing that… 🙂
We are called to keep our eyes on Jesus. In him is light and the light is the life of man (John 1).
All the days ordained for me are written in His book before they came to be. (Psalm 139)
No problem Wayne. I understood where you were coming from.
John L. Thank you for your thoughts on the subject. That was indeed a helpful reflection.
My thoughts that have flowed from it are …
Worldly thinking teaches that significance is all important and that we create our own. But, as with many things, the Christian way turns that around and says our significance, as with everything else we need, comes from Jesus/God.
The Christian way is not that we find significance in ourselves but that we find acceptance and love from God and as we learn to live and grow in that we develop a sense of significance within that eases out the precious driving desire for significance as the world defines it.
I find that It’s hard to break from the worldly thinking but it is harder still to live up to it.
… or something like that.
Previous desire NOT precious desire!
I appreciate your thoughts LD. As hard as this new life is…I mean living in His significance and His value of us…how much harder is it to prove ourselves to the world!, The exhaustion of that struggle is worth letting go of.
Jonathan Reynolds in A Voice from the Fringe chapter -Serving the Lord or Robbing God. “If our primary concern is our identity, what part of the body we are rather than the fact that we are part of it; if we are too busy trying to create a role rather than finding the role that we are given, or if we are competing with others for recognition, it will produce something more akin to the pain-ridden, dysfunctional body of an aged arthritic than the dynamic bride of Christ. Our emphasis on the role rather than relationship exclude this from the body and excludes us from his church.”
Significance has been an interesting thing in my life and this podcast reminds me of the first podcast that you and Sarah did this year. I wanted to respond to that first podcast but I have struggled with how to communicate what it is that I wanted to say. If you could pass this on to Sarah, and I know you will :), that would be awesome!
Thank you for taking the time to share your journey. As I listened to you, I found myself really relating to how you have struggled with desiring things in life. Having your own thoughts and opinions and what those actually looked like. Hearing how you are learning that Father wants you to have desires, thoughts and opinions and that these are good things.
I’m a survivor of sexual and other types of abuse. I had my first full on panic attack when I was 17 years old but did not realize what it was. I remember that my dad took me to the hospital because I actually thought I was going to die. They would also mostly come at night and I was terrified of going to sleep. I was married at 19 and had my son at 21 and it got worse and worse. I would have horrible nightmares that would send me running through my house until I would finally fully wake up, shaking in a cold sweat. I would not start to come to terms with my past until I was almost 30.
I found myself a single mom of two young children at the age of 29 and we made it for 1.5 years until I had a nervous breakdown. It is a miracle that I did not get hospitalized and it really was the Lord’s grace that carried me through. Me and my kids couch surfed for a couple months. The last home we were staying in belonged to some people who were not safe and it was very scary living there.
The Lord opened the door for me and my kids to enter a housing organization called Vine Maple Place here in Washington State. It was the start of me coming to terms with my past. We were there for about 4.5 years which included us being in the program but also me staying there for a time as a Resident Manager. This was totally Father’s provision. During my stay at VMP I went to college and got my A.A in science. It’s funny though because I have my own housing cleaning business now instead of a corporate job that I trained for. I found that the corporate world just was not for me. I’m very empathetic and absorb everything.
I’m 42 now. My son is 21 and my daughter 19. We have been able to live on our own for the last almost 5 years! Father has been there always to pull me through and to show me that we are always in His Hands. I still have some minor night issues but the way I see it is that it’s almost like a detox process and it is happening less and less.
And mostly I’m learning that it’s good to desire things out of life and to enjoy things and I really have a voice and thoughts and opinions to express even if it’s difficult to do so. It took me like almost an hour to type this out. Haha!
So Sarah again thanks for sharing and I appreciate you so very much! God Bless You!
I apologize for spelling Sara’s name wrong, oops!
No worries, Johanna. Sara takes no offense to such things. Wow! What a story you told! You are an amazing person to survive all of this, make a way for your kids and come to a more spacious place of healing and grace. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope it’s an encouragement to others who are at earlier stages of their journey and lose hope for what might be as God does his work in us…
Thank you!!! 😀