Religion is incessantly preoccupied with human enterprise. Missionary endeavours, social justice movements, building programs, music ministries, evangelistic crusades, spiritual conventions, academic pursuits, charitable endeavours of all kinds; all of which characterize the religion most Christians are familiar with. Indeed, once having been deemed to be ‘in a right standing’ with God through faith in Christ, adherents of such a religion are implored to become actively engaged in industrious forms of service within ‘the organization’ in order to fulfil their calling.
Now, I am not suggesting that the aforementioned ministries have no value, God can and does ordain many such endeavours for the advancement of his kingdom. But, it seems to me, that many of these religious endeavours seek to fulfil either the designs of the religious organization or the religious actors’ personal desires within it–rather than God’s kingdom and his will. In fact, it may not be an exaggeration to suggest that many Christian organizations serve, albeit unwittingly, as little more than platforms for human self-promotion. And, of course, as these enterprises are so fervently carried out in God’s name, they indubitably attract a divine imprimatur–God’s approval. But do they?
Just because something is done in God’s name, does not necessarily mean it conforms to God’s will. Indeed, Jesus patently emphasizes this in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘ “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ‘ Matt 7:21-23 NIV
Jesus is not discounting the value of these ‘kind’ of ministries, but he is firmly stating that any such ministry that is not framed within the wider context of a humble disposition toward the fulfillment of God’s ‘actual’ will (which he has just clearly laid out in the previous two chapters of Matthew’s gospel) is ultimately futile–in fact, evil.
So, what does God really want?
Some years ago. when I was seeking God’s will for a future direction in my ‘ministry’, I was earnestly seeking, through prayer, that God would make it clear–show me the ‘thing’ that I had to ‘do’. But, rather than opening a door to a particular work, the Lord led me to reflect on a well known, but often misunderstood scripture in the Old Testament.
This is the verse that the Lord revealed, ‘ “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ Micah 6:6-8 ESV
As you can see, in revealing the will of God to his people, the prophet is stating that the first question in considering what God really wants, is not to consider ‘what’ acts of service might one perform in order to please the Lord. On the contrary, the prophet makes it clear that God is far more concerned about the servant’s moral disposition and how that plays out in everyday life.
What is good, and what is pleasing, and what is required is this: To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly ‘with’ your God. What the prophet was emphasizing, and what I believe the Lord was clearly saying to me at that time, was simply : ‘I am far more interested in ‘how’ you live before me than ‘what’ you do for me!’ Its the manner of your life, not the matter of your work that is of primary concern and ultimate value to me.
Let’s briefly look at each component of this profound statement:
Firstly, the servant of God is to do justice. That does not mean jump on the bandwagon of the latest social justice movement; it means simply ‘do the right thing’. I have witnessed many Christians, even leaders, who have participated in moral compromise, turned a ‘blind eye’ to inappropriate behaviour, or ignored the truth in order to preserve a religious tradition or prevent a particular ministry from faltering. But this is deeply offensive to God–only God’s work can be done God’s way!
The servant of God is called to do the right thing in every context: to stand up for the truth, to speak the truth, and to live truthfully. This person must never allow the expediency of the religious organization to suppress the concerns of the innocent, ignore the smallest injustice, or downgrade the integrity of God’s revealed truth. Before we are to do anything publicly in God’s name, we must embrace the qualities appropriate to it. That means being a person of moral integrity, proven in standing for truth, even if it is not popular or convenient.
Secondly, being a person of moral integrity can tend toward a aloof piety. However, the Lord reminds us that his servant must not only do right, but be kind and merciful in the doing of it! This is more than simply being charitable toward another’s material needs, it also incorporates an attitude of grace and kindness toward: The less mature, the ignorant, even even those hostile to the will of God. Paul states in Romans, ‘We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”‘ Romans 15:1-3 ESV Moreover, in Micah’s rendition of this principle, he implies that mercy is not only to be practiced, but done so with love!
Finally, a person who does the right thing, who acts kindly toward others might then be tempted to embrace a subtle religious pride. Against such an attitude, the Lord offers his final piece of advice–to walk humbly with your God.
None of us gets to choose the circumstances of our birth. Whether we were born into nobility and privilege or into ignominy and poverty–it was not our choice. But when Jesus was born, he did have a choice. Being God, he could have chose to be incarnated in the womb of a women within a royal family, but he did not. Jesus chose, rather, to be born into humble circumstances, into obscurity and into disadvantage. He chose humility, first!
Notice that Micah is not simply saying ‘be humble’. The prophet is also outlining the method for embracing this humble disposition–walking ‘with your’ God. Walking is simply a metaphor for living, and the servant of God is to live in personal intimacy with their God. This is not a matter of cowering before the might of an aloof deity, but walking in close fellowship with the God who is by nature humble. Such a person, no longer looks to the accolades of others for their personal satisfaction, but finds perfect contentment in humble fellowship with God. Contentedly rejoicing that they are walking in lock-step with his perfect will, knowing that they cannot be more productive in God’s kingdom, than in that very moment of obedient intimacy.
So if you are seeking God’s will, and wondering what ‘thing’ you must do to play your part in his divine kingdom, think about this: God is more interested in you being a person that stands up for the truth, no matter what it costs; he is more interested in you being a person who is kind and merciful, no matter how you are treated; and he is more interested in you walking humbly with him, no matter whether you are acknowledged by others or not.
So, before you rush into some new endeavour ‘in God’s name’ take the time to ask, ‘What does God really want?’