For the Christian, the college years are often marked by grand desires to change the world in the name of Jesus and to dream of the impact you could have during your time on earth. It is a time filled with ministry opportunities and therefore marked by busyness for many young people who don't want to waste any ministry opportunity in their path.
But doing things for Jesus cannot and should not be your primary goal. If it is, you have sidelined the only work that truly matters: knowing God through Jesus, His Son.
Workers of Lawlessness
Jesus's description of the good people in Matthew 7 is haunting:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:21–23).
It's a terrifying section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus exposes the lie that good behavior and right theology alone can save you. Here is a list of characteristics of the above group of people:
- They call Jesus "Lord."
- They prophesy in His name.
- They cast out demons in His name.
- They do mighty works in His name.
- They weren't known by Jesus.
- They are workers of lawlessness.
- They are denied access to Jesus.
It's hard to believe that all those attributes could belong to same group of people. How can someone who rightly believes Jesus is Lord be a worker of lawlessness? How can someone doing mighty works for Jesus be denied access to Him? Because of one simple and profound reason: They did not know Jesus.
The conclusion? Knowing Jesus is far more important than doing for Jesus.
We Prefer Doing to Knowing
The problem is that doing for God is often so much more fun than knowing God. It allows us to see ourselves in action, to feel important and valuable. Though our desires to change the world in the name of Jesus are likely well-intentioned, they often reek of self-importance.
But here’s the truth:
- Doing for God accentuates our abilities; knowing God highlights His.
- Doing for God makes us feel productive; knowing God drains our time.
- Doing for God is seen by others; knowing God rarely is.
- Doing for God is quantifiable; knowing God is not.
- Doing for God garners praise from many; knowing God grants us the affirmation of just One.
It's no wonder we struggle to find time to sit alone with the Almighty but quickly say “yes” to ministry opportunities. One amplifies the flesh; the other kills it. And who enjoys dying?
Good Works Are Not the Problem
Clearly, God is not against doing good works since He tells us that He has prepared good works for us to walk in (Eph. 2:10). But in Jesus' teaching, we learn that doing good works without a personal knowledge of Christ makes us workers of lawlessness. If our good works for Christ aren't birthed from a personal knowledge of Him, the work is in vain. Mary's rest at the feet of Jesus trumps Martha's distracted service to the saints every time.
No, God is not against good works. But He also knows doing good things is what often lures us away from the stillness required to know Him.
The Hard Work of Inactivity
The only way to avoid lawless works and self-centered ministry is to make knowing God our primary priority. We must daily choose the inactivity of stillness and the "wasting of time" in the Word and in prayer, even at the expense of other ministry opportunities and kingdom-minded goals.
But don't be fooled—seeking God is not effortless. Knowing God is not putting up your feet and taking a break. It is hard work of another variety. It is the persistence of waiting on Him in prayer, the regular resistance to distraction in reading the Word, the willful dying to productivity and to-do lists, the lingering over chapter and verse instead of rushing onto the worries of life, and the mental marathon of hour-by-hour faith. To seek God and know God is to do the only hard work that Jesus asks of us: to believe in Him and enjoy Him as our Bread of Life, our daily satisfaction (John 6:29, 35–36).
My concern is that most of us rush off quickly to the work of ministry before doing the work that matters most: knowing Him. And as Jesus has made clear, ministry without Him is a recipe for pointless and lawless works. Doing before knowing is a truly unproductive work; it's spinning our wheels while being convinced we're making great progress. Don't fall into the trap. Never allow doing for God to usurp the primary work of knowing God. It is the work that truly matters.
How to Change the World
Only one thing can truly change the world: the soul enamored with Jesus. Only one thing can enable a lifelong impact for the kingdom of God: a daily pursuit of intimacy with Him. And one of the greatest threats to this infinitely important task is the temptation to do for God before we sit with Him.
So I plead with you, busy college student, if you must choose, choose time in the Word and prayer, not that ministry opportunity. Cultivate the daily habit of sitting still before Him, even at the expense of your social life. Make it your lifelong goal to dive deep into the character of God, to seek out all the facets of Him you can find in the Word, and to diligently and faithfully wait on Him in prayer. Nothing is worth your time more. Nothing will change the world more.