“Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance— isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ –Matthew 7:21-23
This has always been one of those warning passages that always lurks in the back of my head. It’s a stop-check/measure on your spiritual walk and how you’re living it out. Most times, the only way my faith makes sense to me is when I’m doing. I like the image of being a soldier.* On the front lines serving, sometimes getting wounded (because as I was reminded, even self-inflicted wounds are wounds), treated, ready to go back out on another tour of duty.
Those times of treatment can make folks feel antsy. It’s the anxious time of “what next?” It’s hard to be in a place where we’re called to just listen and wait. To heal and be. Half the time wondering “how long?” and often missing the fact that the waiting itself may be the answer. To mix in another analogy, they can feel like they’ve been benched. Yet such seasons of rest are absolutely necessary. They are a redefining season, a time of transition, realigning, refocusing, and reprioritizing. To assess where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what hasn’t worked, and where you go from here.
That’s not the only aspect the propels this need to DO, nor is it the only danger. On the one hand, we want to DO something for the kingdom. We see problems in the world around us and want to fix them. Be it an appeal to our inner white knight/super hero complex or simply a matter of our hearts breaking and we’re moved to action. Yet on the other hand, we don’t want to be so about DOING that we forget for whom and why we DO those things.
There is another inherent danger to the need to DO something. During times of reflection, we may realize we were DOING for the wrong reasons. Wanting to please. Wanting to fix. Wanting to be a blessing. Maybe we were doing it to impress another, be it the approval of a pastor or the respect of a friend. Win the praise of people. We want to DO something, we want to prove our love, we want to show our devotion. Clinging to a very American set of values, our identity wrapped up in what we do. I know that a quiet part of me believes that I’m not worth being loved if I can’t demonstrate my worth. But I have to ask myself, “Is that what pleases God?” Just like part of the anxiety stems from living in and with a fear of being rejected, by people AND by God. Our hearts cry out for our Father to be patient, not trusting in a time or need for rest, because we’re afraid He’s going to give up on us. We believe, but we haven’t overcome our unbelief.
The thing we know but don’t always believe (or believe but don’t always know) is that we’re already accepted by Christ. Our failings, falling short, or addictions don’t make us displeasing to Him. That’s not how love works. Those things do keep us from intimacy with Him and get in the way of our striving for deeper knowing of Him. My friend Seraphim** tipped me to a book by Henri Nouwen called Inner Voice of Love and this passage:
Know That You are Welcome
“Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived.
Here you are facing the core of the spiritual battle. Are you going to give into the forces of darkness that say you are not welcome in this life, or can you trust the voice of the One who came not to condemn you but to set you free from fear? You have to choose for life. At every moment you have to decide to trust the voice that says, “I love you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).
Everything Jesus is saying to you can be summarized in the words “Know that you are welcome.” Jesus offers you his own most intimate life with the Father. He wants you to know all he knows and to do all he does. He wants his home to be yours. Yes, he wants to prepare a place for you in His Father’s House.”
If we DO, it should be from the overflow of what Christ has done for you. If we DO, it should be us working out what it means to join in God’s mission to reconcile the world back to Him. If we DO, it should be from the wellspring of love. There’s no searching for redemption in our acts of service. There is only thinking of others as more important that yourself and serving them.
Then again, my current prayer is “Lord, this stuff is hard. Could you try testing me with wealth?”
*qualified because sometimes the “in the army of the Lord” business goes too far. I have no intentions of invading Islam or going all Jack Bauer on a wiccan.
** if I have a friend named Wrath why WOULDN’T I have a friend named Seraphim?