A sermon delivered by, Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on October 23, 2011.
Lord, we hear others give praise and offer prayers as they give themselves, seemingly without reserve, for your service and we find ourselves feeling ashamed—ashamed of our half-heartedness that has held us back from full service. We are ashamed of our lack of preparation and the inadequacy of our spirits and the feeling that our unworthiness holds us back as well. O God, we pray forgiveness for things that we do when we break one of your commandments or the sins of our heart when we are envious or jealous. But today, we pray for forgiveness for our lack of obedience in serving you. We pray with all of our hearts that you would overcome our lack of obedience, our lack of preparation, and the weakness of our souls. We pray that you would lift our heads and hands up that we might be open to your call. Put us to some task, to some purpose, in your work that you want us to do. We pray that in responding we would never serve for selfish purposes but only for the sake of bringing glory to your name. If we are faithful in these things, then grant to us the joy reserved for the compassionate, and the satisfaction of spirit that is known only to the obedient. May we know these, not for ourselves, but as confirmation that we have been faithful servants. We ask it all in Christ’s name. Amen.
God does not desire “something” from us – He desires us, ourselves; not our works, but our personality and our heart….God does not desire to have us for Himself so that we may lose ourselves in mystical contemplation, but He desires to possess us for His service.
–Emil Brunner in The Divine Imperative
There are statistics that surprise and then there are statistics that are used to confirm things we know that make us feel good. Here are some confirming statistics:
- 94% of Americans believe in God
- 90% of Americans say they pray
- 88% of Americans say they believe God loves them
- 33% of Americans say they have had an experience with God that has changed their lives
These statistics work together to give us a good feeling that most of us at church on Sunday morning, in our neighborhoods, and at work or school will say that we believe in God, and that in some way, God is at work and engaged in life somewhere. That is the first piece of what I want to make as a point to get us to what we want to talk about today.
The second piece is this: We have one conviction about ourselves that each of us has. We are certain of this. God has created us and we are unique. There is nobody else like me. Everybody in this sanctuary, everybody in the county, state, nation, and world could stand up and say, “There is nobody else just like me.”
We all know about fingerprints. Nobody else has my fingerprints. No one else has my DNA. No matter how common some of the experiences we encounter in life may be, we all believe that when it happens to us, it is different. It is unique. If I experience pain, somehow my pain is different from anybody else’s pain. If I fall in love, it is as if the first person in the world has ever discovered love. People who have entered grandparenthood ahead of me have assured me that, when you enter grandparenthood, you believe there is nobody else in the world like your grandchild. I look forward to preaching about that soon.
Everything from existential philosophy, which starts at the center of who we are and how we experience life to the self-esteem movement in parenthood about telling our children that they are special, says we are unique.
If you take these two pieces (1) confirmation that we all believe in God, and (2) the sense that we are all different and unique, they come together and we have this spiritual hunger and need for each of us, in our own way, to somehow marry our lives to the purpose of God. In some way, we would like to believe that there is something I am supposed to do. There is some mission, purpose or calling in this life that should give my life purpose that I should be able to do on behalf of God and something that nobody else is uniquely in a position to do. I want to somehow feel like my life is entwined with God’s life and it gives me a sense of calling for me that nobody else has.
I experience this with young people as they try to figure out what their vocation will be for the rest of their lives. I experience it with people who are middle age as they come to a shift in life, possibly an early retirement where they want to do something significant with the rest of their lives that will provide meaning that is simply not about making a living. I have encountered it in a few older people who have expressed it with regret. There was something they felt like they should have done but they never did it, and now it is too late.
Once again, we are walking through the journey about what it is to get serious about our relationship with God. I don’t mean serious as in less humor, but serious as in what we might say when we fall in love with somebody and they ask us, Is this serious? If we were to say yes, that would mean that our relationship is deepening, is becoming more mature, and more exclusive. That’s what we mean in that context when we talk about getting serious.
We have talked about what it means to love God more seriously, to love the righteousness of God, and the goodness of God. In this past month, we have talked about how to love the work of God in the world—to love the mission, to be concerned about those things that are done by organizations that we cooperate with that we could not do ourselves.
We have also talked about things that we do in the community that our members are involved in. Today, we think about how do I join my life to the purpose of God with what I do in my responsibilities, my limitations, and my giftedness? What do I do?
If you have ever noticed, the Gospel of Mark is shorter, is quicker, and just starts with a bang. There is no birth story and no infancy story. Jesus just comes out and accepts his call. He is tempted in the wilderness, and in the 14th verse of chapter 1, boom, he is here. Mark says, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
The next thing we know, he is by the seashore and he is walking by and sees Peter and others, “You’ll do. You’ll do. You’ll do.” By the end of the second chapter, he has collected his disciples to him and he is using them in the work of the kingdom. As we look at this calling and at what happens, we learn something about how we might participate in the calling, too.
These are fishermen in rural Galilee 2,000 years ago. The odds of them all being literate are pretty slim. The odds of them being trained in something other than how to fish and work the lake, to catch, clean, and sell the fish are pretty slim. All they have is obedience, and that’s all it takes. If we ever stop and think who these first disciples were that he called, there is not a lot of prominence, not a lot of influence, and not a lot of background. All they have is obedience, and that should be encouraging to any one of us to recognize that is all I would need to start. All I would need to start would be to say to Christ, “OK.”
The second thing is this: The disciples did not immediately jump into doing all the work of the kingdom. There was a period of learning. To a lot of people, this sounds like you need to go to seminary to be prepared to volunteer for some community ministry, but that is not it at all. You don’t have to be certified in something, but while we are listening and looking for the call, we know that God’s will for every person who follows Christ is this: To become more like Jesus. While we are offering ourselves and while we are obedient in following, we find out that we don’t have to become an expert in doctrine, but we do need to learn what it is to love our enemies. We don’t have to be an expert in whatever it means to be Baptist or whatever faith tradition you may be from, but we do need to learn that this forgiving seven times seventy thing that Jesus uses really as just an exaggeration to say that we need to constantly forgive, takes a little bit of work.
The part about “the greatest among you shall be like a servant,” the disciples were still battling over that the night Jesus was crucified. Volunteering to serve God in some way requires us to listen to the words that Jesus says, “If you would follow me, deny yourself, pick up your cross daily, and follow me.” These are matters of the heart, matters of the spirit, and matters of character. I may not know today that God wants me to work in the Community Kitchen, that God wants me to quit my job and become a missionary someplace or that God wants me to use a talent that I have in working with children so that I might be a witness among them, but I do know this: God wants me to be like Jesus. If I would follow in obedience and every day allow the spirit to shape my life like Christ, who knows which day the word finally comes to my ears and to my heart and I realize this is it. There is no discipleship without this kind of allowing Christ to shape us.
Here is the third thing: Do what you do best and offer it to God.
Somebody was talking to me not too long ago about what they called their Broad Street prayer life. That is as you drive down Broad Street, when you stop at the traffic light, you pray. There are pretty good odds that you are going to get stopped somewhere along the way. It is a reminder and a trigger that if you get stopped, you are going to say a prayer. It is a good thing to have a trigger to remind you to pray during the midst of the day, but if we think that is all our prayer life should be, that is a weak thing, too.
If we are really serious about trying to satisfy the hunger of my soul by uniting my unique gifted life with the purposes of God, then I might have a calling. We will need to take some time, get away to a quiet place, and say to God, “God, I would really like to offer this gift to you. I would really like to offer this that gives me joy in life to you.”
Let me ask you, What is it that you do that satisfies your life? You might need to look at your vocation to figure that out. We have a lot of people in the church who teach in some capacity. Most people don’t teach without a sense of calling. If that is yours, have you ever thought about saying, God, how can I unite this that I do every day with your purpose in the world? Maybe you fix things or bake tasty treats. Have you ever thought about saying, God, I offer these things to you. You have made me so that I get so much satisfaction out of this. How can I use this for you?
Maybe you are good with numbers, with people, with children, with organizing things. Look at what gives you the deepest joy. Take that and in a quiet prayer, regularly offer it to God and say, How can I use this in your service? What we find when we do these things is that somewhere, someday, things open up and I begin to see that maybe this is what I can do to wed my life and the way that God has made me with the purpose of God in the world that will satisfy this hunger? I might finally feel that there is something I am doing that makes a difference and that is useful for the kingdom.
In the hunger of your life and in those moments where you feel the most restless, what would it be like if you had a calling? What would that do to give you wholeness in your soul and satisfaction in your spirit? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful change?
The meditation text today is so easy. “God does not desire ‘something’ from us – He desires us, ourselves; not our works, but our personality and our heart….God does not desire to have us for Himself so that we may lose ourselves in mystical contemplation, but He desires to possess us for His service.” Somewhere in these rumblings and yearnings is the voice of God that will not let us be satisfied with less.
When Jesus encounters people in the Gospels, there are two things that never happen. (1) People are never encountered and given a vision of God simply for their personal ecstasy. It always results in following and service. (2) No one that Jesus encounters is ever called to serve themselves. Isn’t that interesting? They are all called to enter into the work that God wants done in the world. Who knows? Maybe it is the work that only you—and no one else—can do.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.