Providence and Service

“Almighty God, just because He is almighty needs no support. Twentieth-century Christianity has put God on charity. So lofty is our opinion of ourselves that we find it quite easy, if not enjoyable, to believe we are necessary to God.” A.W. Tozer

When I was growing up in the church, it was a common thing to hear evangelists and missionaries attempt to motivate us to go to the ends of the earth to complete the Great Commission. I still remember one story that was designed to get us to leave all for the “sake of Christ and the lost.” It was told that Jesus was met by an angel as he returned to heaven. The angel asked, “Jesus, with you in heaven, how will the heathen in the world be saved?” Jesus answered, “I have established my Church and commissioned them to go to the ends of the earth.” “But, Jesus,” the angel queried, “What if your people don’t go?” What is the back-up plan?” Jesus hesitated, and then said, “I have no other plan.”

The implication was clear. If we didn’t go, the plan fails. The lost would go to hell and Jesus would be greatly disappointed. All the suffering he did on the cross would amount to nothing. It was a deliberate and calculated effort to move us either by heaping guilt for not caring about the lost, or by inspiring gratitude so we would “win one for the Gipper.” What was not said, but implied, was that everything hinged upon our obedience. God needed us to complete His plan.

It was that kind of thinking that moved A.W. Tozer to pen these lines:  

“Probably the hardest thought of all for our egotism to entertain is that God does not need our help. We commonly present him as a busy, eager, somewhat frustrated Father hurrying about seeking help to carry out His benevolent plan to bring peace and salvation to the world….Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of an almighty God. An effective speaker can easily excite pity in his hearers, not only for the heathen but for the God who has tried so hard and so long to save them and has failed for want of support. I fear that thousands of young persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get him out of.”

 The hard truth we need to know is that God does not need us at all. Here is how Paul expressed this:  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” [Acts 17:24-26]

In our study of the doctrine of providence, we discovered that God is self-sufficient in that he needs nothing; and that He is sovereign, in that he rules over everything. Paul makes this clear for us when he writes: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” [Eph 1:11-13] It is God who works out everything to bring about his intended purposes for our good and His glory.

So, last week we asked the question, If God controls everything for the glory of his name and the salvation of his people; and if God has all knowledge and all power to bring about his purposes, why does He call us to prayer? We gave two answers. First, God wants us to know that we are dependent upon him for everything. Second, He wants us to know how pleased He is to give abundantly all that we can ask or imagine. As we go to him in prayer and ask, we demonstrate our trust in him. In his answer to us, we receive grace and He receives glory. So, in Psalm 50:15, the Lord declares, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” [Ps 50:15] In this study, we ask a similar question: “If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; why does he invite us to serve and join Him in carrying out his plans?”

I think the answer lies embedded in this passage: “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. [1 Peter 4:11] Serving God is not an act of sacrifice on our part but an act of generosity on God’s part. As in prayer, ministry is an invitation to join Him in bringing glory to his name and joy to our hearts. The words we speak are his words. The power we serve in is His power. So, we can skim off no glory for ourselves. 

Isn’t that just like God? He chooses us. He commissions us. He accompanies us. He empowers us. He equips us.  He directs us. And in the end, he rewards us for being faithful in the victorious work that was from Him, by Him and to Him. Like prayer, ministry becomes an avenue by which God shares His beauty and bounty with us. He wins and allows us the joy and delight of winning with him. We cannot take one ounce of glory for ourselves. “No human being might boast in the presence of God.” [1 Cor. 1:29] But in his gracious plan, he allows us to win with him and delight that we share in bringing him glory by our service. Tozer is right on when he states, “For the blessed news is that the God who needs no one, has in his sovereign condescension stopped to work by and in and through His obedient children.”

I think it all comes back to our finding our joy in God. Remember the words of Psalm 34? “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” [Ps 37:3-6] Smack dab in the middle of a passage that calls upon us to trust in the Lord is a command to find our delight in Him. It is God’s desire that we would know his beauty and find our delight in him. All joyous service flows out of our delight in the Lord. By trusting in him, by dwelling in the land, by committing our way to him, by waiting on him to act, our lives shine forth with his righteousness and his justice. Our good deeds shine before men and they give praise to our Father in heaven. [Matthew 5:16]

It is true that answering God’s call to serve does mean risk. But it is risk worth taking. It is in following Christ to the ends of the earth that we find the joy which we were created. When we really know him, we want to show him. Nothing fully satisfies the lover of Jesus except the spreading of the fame of his name to the ends of the earth. J. Campbell Wright sums up what we are trying to express when he writes:

Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ’s purpose toward the world he came to redeem. Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ’s undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards.

So, although God’s call may take us away from friends and family, to die alone on foreign soil, we do not fret nor is there regret. We serve the Lord with gladness, for in knowing Jesus Christ and making him known is our heart’s delight and our one great purpose for living.

“The widest thing in the universe is not space; it is the potential capacity of the human heart. Being made in the image of God, it is capable of almost unlimited extension in all directions. And one of the world’s worst tragedies is that we allow our hearts to shrink until there is no room in them for little besides ourselves.” A.W. Tozer