Episode 185 - Does God Want Us To Do "Big Things?"

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Hello, and welcome to the first Unapologetic Podcast of 2019. It's been a big break since we have been together. My daughter has had some health issues, which put me away from home for several weeks and just without the time or really, energy, to record an episode, so thanks for bearing with me. I know some you had mentioned that was kind of different, since in about three-plus years, I've missed maybe about four episodes. So I'm hoping to get back to a regular cadence here in 2019. We're going to kick it off with something kind of New Years resolution 2019-themed.

We're going to talk about if God wants us to do “big things.” If you listen to some preachers today you will hear them talk about the big things that you can do for God. You will hear people and see people on Instagram and on Twitter saying, "I'm going to do big things this year for God." I want us to deconstruct this and think critically about it because while sometimes it's well-intended, there are several things that may not be so well-intended and honestly may be some traps that we might fall into if we are concerned with doing big things for God.

What Do You Mean By Big?

The first thing is to unpack what we mean by “big.” That's one of our questions we ask all the time: “What do you mean by that?” What do you mean by big? When you distill it down and you listen to the types of things that people are talking about when they talk about big things, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they're talking about things that are flashy, they're visible. Now, they might also have high impact. They might affect a lot of people, but I don't think you can separate out the flashy and the visible and the "all eyes on me, all eyes on the big thing I'm doing" sort of dynamic, even if there is a large impact. We'll talk about impact more later.

But one verse that comes to mind is from Proverbs 13:7, which says, "A pretentious showy life is an empty life, and a plain and simple life is a full life." Now, I'm not trying to say there's a direct correlation here, but I do think there's a principle, that the Christian life oftentimes is an unadorned life. It's not necessarily a flashy life. If you look at a lot of the notable biblical figures in biblical history, some of the people that get spotlit even in the gospels did not do showy things. They didn't do big things.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to do big things in and of themselves. Now, God might do big things. He might even choose to do them through us, but we're not told to seek big things. If big is defined, and I could be wrong on how I understand people using this term, but if big is defined in terms of flashy, invisible, and that sort of thing, no, we're not to seek that. In fact, the Gospels paint the opposite picture almost, where the acts of righteousness we do, we should not want people to have their attention drawn to, we should not be wanting to hold them up.

But often, we hear people say, "Well, let's do big things, and then let's tweet about the big things we did." That's a lot of focus on "me" and "I" and the big things I did. It doesn't necessarily define big in terms of the Kingdom, but also, where does that leave contentedness? Where does it leave the person who is comfortable and good and find satisfaction in being content with what they have, the life they have, the ministry they have, the continual acts of faithfulness that they are exhibiting day in and day out? Why isn't that good? Why isn't that actually something we should strive for?

Now, I want to make a caveat. Is it a bad thing to say, "I want to reach a thousand people this year for Jesus Christ." No, it's not, but I think it's really hard to do that and not also focus on the "I" part. What would it look like instead to say, "I want to see a thousand people reached for Jesus Christ." What will probably make me more likely to join arms with other people, to rely more on the Spirit, but if I am saying, "I want to reach a thousand people for Jesus Christ," I've actually brought something under my control, or I think I have, that's actually under the Spirit's control, and that's salvation, but I'm also putting the emphasis on me and myself and this number, and you can probably be sure that I'm going to tell people about it when I did it. All of those things in and of themselves might not be bad, but we are also people with sinful desires and sinful hearts. You put something that's big in front of a sinner, and it becomes about them. That's dangerous.

That's another thing for us to think through ithis actually something that appeals to a sinful side of me as opposed to a righteous side of me? We can take good things and turn them into bad things. Our sinful hearts are really good at that. If we're focusing on big things, I think we have to be very careful about where our hearts are at.

But I also think about Paul's passage in Philippians 4:11-13, which is often used to say, "We can do anything because God gives us strength," and really, what it’s talking about is contentedness in lack. What he says is, "I'm not saying this because I'm in need, for I've learned to be content whatever the circumstance is. I know what it is to be a need, and I know what it is to have plenty, and I've learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance. Whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."

What he sees is not necessarily about doing big things, it's not about doing small things. It is about contentedness in Christ. We'll look at some other passages later that talk about faithfulness to Christ, but he's very content with where he's at because even in his prison situation where he's writing this letter from, he's able to share the Gospel. That is actually accomplishing big things in the Kingdom of God.

But if you hold that up next to the “big things” people are often talking about today, a house-arrest situation being strapped to a guard that you then get to share the Gospel with is not a big thing, and yet, that is a huge thing in the Kingdom. Once again, what do you mean by big? Does it fit a biblically-shaped conception of big?

Why Do We Think We Will Know The Impact Of Our Decisions?

But here's another question. Why do we think we will know the impact of our decisions? Why do we think we will know the eternal impact of what God is doing through us? That's something that we're not guaranteed, and often, some of the people that had what seem to be small acts, not big things, but small things, what came of that later on is huge. We don't know what a decision we make now will be grown into by God over 500 years, over 50 years, over five years. If we get so caught up on trying to do big things, we may actually miss the small acts of faithfulness that God will grow into huge things.

I'm not saying this is what the bread and fish sort of account was, but consider the fact that what seemed small to the people that were there when they had their two fish and several loaves, God used to transform into something large. Well, God can do the same thing with our small acts of faithfulness.

God Is More Concerned With Our Character

But another point that's often missed when we talk about big things is that God is more concerned with how we do what we do than what we do. Now, you have to stipulate to the fact that what we do needs to be biblical and moral, but God's much more concerned with how we do it. He's not concerned so much with who we marry but the type of spouse we will be. He's not really concerned with where we work but the type of worker we'll be, or where we live but the type of neighbor we will be.

We get that backwards today in our 21st century Western culture, but character is paramount. That's what Paul's talking about. "I've been in need. I've been in plenty. I've been hungry. I've been well-fed," but he's been content because he understands that his character is in his circumstances is much more important than his circumstances. He could go one way and share the Gospel, or he could go another way and share the Gospel. In fact, at different points in his ministry, the Holy Spirit even opened opportunities for him, and he went a different way because God's still going to be with you when you go that other way.

We have to remember that God is more concerned with our character and the things we are already doing, blooming where we are planted, than he is with us desiring to go out and do really big and flashy things. That's important for us to understand.

God's timeline is also much longer than our timeline. What seems small now may grow over a hundred or 500 years, but more than that, we're called to faithfulness, not big things. When you read, let's just say, Paul's letter to the Church of Colossae or many of his other letters, it's remarkable. It never used to stand out to me, but I see it now, and I can't miss it, how many times he talks about the faithful brothers and sisters. He lists names, and he calls them faithful.

That's his kind of honorific that he gives to people. That's the title that Paul is giving. He doesn't give it to everyone. He's very comfortable calling out the names of false teachers and brothers who left them and deserted the faith, but he calls out Christians who are faithful, not those who were fruitful, not those who did big things, but those who were faithful, holding to the truth that had been delivered to the saints. They had lived. They had watched their lives in their doctrine. They'd endeavored to be faithful in their small acts of obedience day in and day out, and that's who he highlights. I think that can be instructive for us.

It's interesting. One of the leadership techniques that's often talked about is "praise what you want people to do." If you see someone picking up trash, praise the people who pick up trash, and they'll pick up more trash, and other people will start picking up trash. What Paul is doing is he is praising the people. He's calling them out in a good way for being faithful because that's what matters in the Kingdom of God.

I also think of the woman who gave her two small pennies, and you had the rich person who came and made a big show of putting all their money in to the collection pot outside of the temple, and Jesus highlights the person who put in her two small mites, her two small pennies. She got a positive call-out. Why? Because of her faithfulness. It wasn't a big thing that she did. I mean, it was big for her, but none of us would look at that and think it's big. It doesn't fit with the big-things theology, but it was a remarkable act of faithfulness for her.

Focusing On Results Can Lead to Overlooking Sin

It's easy to not watch our life also and make excuses for sin if we think we're doing big things. I mean, consider a lot of the pastors who have fallen and said, "Well, people were getting saved, people were getting baptized. It's okay that I yelled at all of my staff all the time," or, "It's okay that I was a drunk because, hey, people made decisions." I'm not saying though that all people who were intent on doing big things for God are immoral people. That's not my point. My point though is there's a big ditch to fall into there where if we think we're doing big things it can be easy to excuse unrepentant sin in our lives.

God Gets The Credit For Our Works

But here's another point, and this dovetails very well with what I was just saying. It's actually God that brings forth the effort and the desire and actually the works themselves in our life. People think they are doing big things, that people are getting saved. They're not. The Holy Spirit is doing big things. He happened to use you as a vessel. If we understand this correctly, it's remarkably humbling, and I think we'll talk less about us doing big things and we'll talk much more about God doing big things and happening to let us participate, because that's what it is. It's actually an act of grace that God lets us participate in the big things that he is doing.

Let's look at Philippians 2:12, which says, "So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed not only in my presence, but even in my absence, continue working out our salvation with awe and reverence." But the sentence doesn't end there. "For the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort for the sake of his good pleasure is God. Do everything without grumbling or complaining so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish, though you live in a crooked and perverse society in which you shine as lights in the world by holding onto the word of life so that on the day of Christ, I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain or labor in vain."

There's so much there that's of note, but isn't that interesting that Paul says, “Work out your salvation. Work it out with fear and trembling." However, the one that's bringing forth even the desire and effort in you is God, and why is he doing it? For his good pleasure.

What would it look like if we reframed how we think about these things to say, "Even the good things I do and even the desire to do the good things I do is because of God. I can't take credit for them. Yes, I am working, and God gets the credit," because like he says here, God is doing it for his good pleasure. Salvation is from the Lord. It is for God's glory, not ours, and we are saved to work for the glory of God. We don't even get to take credit for our good works. The only reason we actually can do good works is because of the work of Jesus on the cross, not our work; our works would have put us in hell. More than that, the reason we do good works now is because of God's spirit working within us, once again, not something we can take credit for.

All of this should lead us to be humble. I think that's really important for us to understand. If we're focused on big things, it's really easy to not be humble, and yet, that is a biblical characteristic that is upheld, not big things.

Focusing On Results Can Lead To Compromise

But more than that, big things, if that's what we're focused on, can lead us to be too pragmatic and compromise the truth. In a way, what I just mentioned about people not watching their life and their doctrine is a form of this where people are saying, "I'm doing big things. People are getting saved. People are coming in the door, so it's okay if we compromise over here." Now, that might be a personal compromise or it might be a church compromise where churches are compromising on biblical sexual ethics or the authority of Scripture or the inspiration of Scripture (two truths that go together) all because, well, people are coming. They're coming. Well, what are they hearing? Well, they're now hearing a compromised gospel. That's not a good thing. We have to be careful that we're not pragmatic if we're searching to do big things, which, once, again, is probably not a good idea.

“Big Things” Would Sound Foreign To All But Recent Church History

But the other thing is big-things theology is a foreign concept for most of Christian history. Read people in the first century who are persecuted and killed. They're not concerned about doing big things. They're concerned about glorifying God in the small things. Read people in the Middle Ages. They've probably over-corrected from doing big things, and it's too many acts of personal piety now, but my point is, you will not find this big-things theology except in kind of American dream, westernized Christianity that's more inward-focused than it is outward-focused. It's more self-actualization focused than it is focused on God's glory proclaimed to the nations and seen for eternity. We've got to be very careful there that we realize, and maybe we don't know enough church history to realize, but we need to to realize that this is a foreign concept, and that should give us great pause.

Suffering Doesn’t Fit Well With “Big Things”

The last point I'm going to make is that people talking about big things often don't have a good category for suffering and pain, and yet, suffering well is a biblical virtue. It probably doesn't fit under big things, but it's an act of faithfulness because it requires us to realize we don't control our circumstances, God does. But as Peter says, "Let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good." He actually says that we suffer according to the will of God, that actually it's God's will in some circumstances for us to suffer, not as punishment, but as purification, that suffering is one of the tools, I would say the main tools that God uses to conform us to the image of his Son, something that only works for a sovereign God, where Romans 8:28 can be true, that he is actively working all things in our life, even the suffering that he has ordained according to his will for his glory and our good.

But he also says that we entrust our souls to a faithful Creator, and it is because God is faithful that we are faithful. It's not saying that God does big things that we're going to do good things. No. No. God does do big things, and we are faithful because in our faithfulness, God does big things through us, and he gets the credit for them.

Here, Peter is telling the people he's writing to to do good. Entrust your souls to a faithful Creator while you're suffering according to the will of God as you are doing good. Even in our suffering, our faithfulness leads us to still do good works, to still take advantage of the opportunities we have wherever we are. That is what a "big thing," is in the Kingdom of God: personal, small acts of faithfulness day in and day out that God may use in some remarkable ways.

I'll just leave you with some quick takeaways. We are to be faithful because God is faithful. We are faithful, and we work hard, and it is God who brings the fruit. Fruit is not our responsibility. We're 100% responsible for our part, and God's 100% responsible for his, and they're different parts. I can't bring fruit, but I can be faithful, but once again, only the by the grace of God. We shouldn't define big by worldly standards. Character is big in the Kingdom of God. Faithfulness is big in the Kingdom of God. Humility and contentedness and meekness are all big in the Kingdom of God, but flashiness and that sort of thing is not big in the Kingdom of God.

If we are doing big things from a worldly standpoint, if we are seeing hundreds or thousands of people affected because of our ministries, well, one, praise God for that, but also be very, very careful because the devil likes to bring us snare in those circumstances. It's very easy to start thinking, "I did that. I get credit for that. I can excuse the sin in my life there. I can compromise over here because, hey, big things."

It's so difficult and dangerous because of our sinful hearts when God entrusts us with more. We should want to, first, be seen faithful with little. A lot of the times, the people I see focusing on big things, they're not reading their Bible each day. They're not taking advantage of the small opportunities to share the Gospel that are presented. They're not concerned with rooting out sin in their own lives, but hey, they want to go do big things. Well, if you want God to entrust you with a lot, once again, hopefully for his glory, not your own, be faithful with the small things God has entrusted you with.

Perhaps one good question we can ask ourselves as a check on our heart is, “would I be just as happy, just as joyous, just as excited if God did this, ‘big thing’ through someone else, and if all I did was live my life quietly and in routine acts of faithfulness, blooming where I'm planted, would I be just as happy and just as content?” If the answer is no, then I think we have a heart problem.

In 2019, let's not endeavor to be big or necessarily even to do big things. Let's endeavor to be faithful and to spotlight our big God.

Well, I am looking forward to another year, Lord willing, of podcast episodes and new content. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, I would love to hear them. I hope it's been helpful, and I'll plan to talk with you next week on Unapologetic.