Ask Not What God Can Do For You

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
1 Sam. 15:2 π Isa. 6:1-5 π Ezek. 1:4-5 π Ezek. 1:22 π Ezek. 1:26-28 π Mt. 7:22-23 π Jn. 15:5 π Rom. 11:35 π Eph. 2:10 π Heb. 12:2 π Jas. 1:17 π 1 Jn. 5:3 π Rev. 1:12-17

Almost a generation ago, an American president made a passionate appeal to the people, saying, "Ask not what your country can do for you. But rather ask: What can you do for your country." This roused in many people a fervent stirring of patriotic duty and launched many an endeavor designed to make America superior to the other nations in one way or another.

The heavy emphasis in the "church" today, setting aside for the moment the large mass of lethargic pew sitters who rely on some man to mediate between them and God, is upon "ministry" as the source of one's identity in the body of Christ. Those who are the most active in their religion for God are most often driven to accomplish some great act or to perform some never-ending service. It is their "life's work," they maintain, to carry out this mission and they will put forth much effort and expend vast resources to accomplish this work for God.

And yet, something direly important is missing from this equation. Starting at the beginning of the Book, we find that God spoke the world and all its life into existence. Then He fashioned man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him. The awesome scope of this work should astound anyone who has ever tried to make or create anything.

Ezekiel was given rare insight into what God is really like.

"I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north - an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures...Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be His waist up He looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down He looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded Him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around Him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown..." ( Ezek. 1:4-5 , 22 , 26-28; top )

Isaiah had a similar experience.

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!' And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said: 'Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.'" ( Isa. 6:1-5; top )

Because, a few verses later, Isaiah is commissioned to go out in service to God, this is one of those places in Scripture often used to inspire and motivate men to greater deeds of service to God, to greater efforts in ministry. And yet using this passage for that purpose is to miss the very core of its intent.

But lest we think that these appearances of God are merely some Old Testament concept to be discarded, the apostle John, a man who was singularly closest to the Messiah during His life on earth, experienced a similar thing.

"Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength, and when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead." ( Rev. 1:12-17; top )

This was the experience of the man who had laid his head on Jesus' chest the night before He was crucified. This was not the experience of someone who was a stranger to the Lord Jesus Christ. John had seen every aspect of Jesus' life before the crucifixion and he had faithfully preached the gospel ever since. But when he sees the Lord, he falls "at His feet as dead."

And this is what is missing in the equation of ministry today. God has neither sent nor equipped the vast majority of people who are the most busy in His name for, if He had, they would have a much clearer understanding of the majesty and awesomeness of the God they claim to serve and their impact would be much more apparent than is their impotence and ineffectiveness for Christ's kingdom. That they are most ill-prepared to present a true picture of the living Christ is not important to them. They rush forward and promote their hastily-assumed gospel and present it to whomever is gullible enough to listen to them. Then they have the audacity to wonder why the people they lead are unfulfilled and unsatisfied with the vast amount of work they do for this "ungrateful and unappreciative flock." Or they rejoice in their quite popular, pseudo-Christian expression of "faith," confusing popularity and religious comforts for a true walk with God.

We have committed two sins in our mad rush to serve God. We have forsaken the wells of living water and we have dug for ourselves a reservoir that leaks. We have neither a true picture of who and what God really is nor have we any clue as to what He is doing in our lives at this time. Our "ministry" does not require the guidance and provision of the Holy Spirit - in fact, He is a most bothersome nuisance as those people "ministered" to who somehow become filled with the Spirit are so difficult to work with and to control. But yet we wonder why there is no life from above in the midst of all our self-efforts to do something for God.

Even a short glimpse at the Scriptures quoted above ought to remind us of the immense transcendence of the Most High God, the Almighty God. The question rightly is: what can you ever do for God? But we must learn to put the right emphasis into this question. What on earth could you possibly do for a God who can speak the world and life into existence, whose glory causes His most intimate of servants and friends to fall at His feet as though dead? What could you possibly hope to ever add to God? The very notion is rooted in the hellish doctrines that deify man and humanize God.

Samuel understood this well and he rebuked King Saul by saying, "To obey is better than sacrifice." ( 1 Sam. 15:22; top ) And Jesus Himself spoke to this issue when He said, "Apart from Me you can do nothing." ( Jn. 15:5; top ) And John wrote, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." ( 1 Jn. 5:3; top )

We must recognize first that God alone is the author and finisher of our faith and of all good deeds ( Heb. 12:2 ; Jas. 1:17 ; Eph. 2:10 ) We cannot give to God so that He should owe us anything. ( Rom. 11:35; top ) We cannot do anything, in our own strength or of our own design, that will add to the nature of God or that will add to His kingdom. It is just not possible. And yet we continue day in and day out to pour out our energies in a vain attempt to do so. In fact, the "church" is so frenetic in its activities that one would think God is desperate to get His work done just before He comes back. Lost is the need to simply sit at Jesus' feet and quietly await His commands.

In God's economy, it would be far better for us to be used by God for only one true act of spiritual service in our lifetime - an act that will produce eternal results - than to spend our lifetime accomplishing tasks and performing religious feats apart from God - acts that produce nothing of eternal value. We must never forget that "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" ( Mt. 7:22-23; top )

Our gravest error is to mistake some generic "Christian duty" for the personal, passionate obedience we owe to our King. If we cannot honestly say - without doubt, hesitation or reservation - that He has personally ordered us to be about a certain activity, then I submit to you that He has not authorized that activity. No one in the Bible who was commissioned by God - from Abraham to young Samuel to Jonah to Jeremiah to Saul of Tarsus - was left with any doubts as to their mission after God had commissioned them. There is no reason, outside of an improper relationship with God, that we should have to guess or follow our own whims when it comes to doing what Jesus would have us do in any given ministry situation.

There are far too many "Marthas" who are busy exercising their spiritual giftings outside of the scope of the direction of the Holy Spirit in a time when Christ is seeking "Marys" who will simply sit at His feet and quietly learn and wait until He commands and directs them in using their spiritual gifts for His glory and to establish His kingdom. May God deliver us from this insane need to do something for God other than what He personally directs us to do.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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