For generations, Sunday school teachers have heralded the stories of biblical heroes. Noah saved the world through building the ark. Abraham became the father of faith having Isaac in his old age. Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt. Esther saved her people from obliteration. Many of us grew up hearing these stories and decided, "I want to do something great for God, too!"
Our individualistic and achievement-driven culture added fuel to this desire. Not wanting to blend into the fabric of Christianity, we hoped our particular thread would be the one that makes the difference for the kingdom of God. American children heard, "You can be whatever you want to be, do whatever you want to do, if you just believe in yourself!" Christians simply wrapped this idea in verse: "You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!" (Never mind that Philippians 4:13 is speaking to our ability to be content in both fullness and hunger, in abundance and suffering.)
Still, many find themselves having come up short of greatness. I see my generation on the other side of their childhood dreams, entering their thirties somewhat disillusioned. For some working 9-to-5 jobs, the greatest success is keeping the bills paid and the boss happy. For many moms, the biggest accomplishment of the week is a clean kitchen and fifteen minutes of Bible reading. Others did some "great" things for God right after college—two-year mission trips, interning in a ministry, striving to hit it big as a [fill-in-the-blank-with-ministry-job]. But seeing that work dwindle, they're wondering what's next. So much for changing the world for Jesus.
What are we missing? Did God just forget to use us in His plan to change the world? Did He pass us by to use someone else? Maybe we did something wrong or weren't paying attention to hear His call. Unfulfilled ministry longings nag at our souls like a loud ticking clock distracting us while we try to go about life. If I could just find an outlet for what I'm gifted at, we think, maybe then I'd be fulfilled.
I want to pose a very important question, a question my soul needs answered every day. Does God want us to do something great for Him?
Moses: An Example of Obedience
Consider Moses. Of people on the list of "Did-Great-Things-For-God," Moses has got to be in the top five. Didn't He single-handedly bring the whole nation of Israel out of Egypt?
No, Moses didn't bring the Israelites out of Egypt; God did. Listen to His words below:
"I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD" (Ex. 6:6–8).
You might be thinking, Okay, I know, I know. Of course it was ultimately God who delivered the nation, but Moses did a lot of the work. But the answer is still no. Moses did not bring the people out of Egypt. The song of praise after the Israelites cross the Red Sea doesn't mention Moses one time.
This isn't just semantics; it's not just a technicality. This is essential to our theology. Moses did not do something great for God. He simply obeyed Him. God didn't need Moses to do something great for Him. He was perfectly capable of accomplishing Israel's deliverance on His own. He didn't need help changing the world. He wasn't looking for a man who would do something great. He was looking for a man who would obey Him. What made Moses great and usable by God was his obedience, not his great abilities or aspirations.
As I think about other Bible heroes, the same holds true. They were not men and women who aspired to do great things, but who aspired to walk with God and to honor Him in all they did.
Can You Be Average for God?
God never asks us to do something great for Him. What He asks is obedience. Ironically, it can often be the desire to do great things for God that keeps us from obeying Him. A desire to be a great Bible teacher can distract from God's call to simply love His Word. A desire to lead many in worship can distract from simply living a life of praise. A desire to be a great mentor can distract from the call to disciple our children.
We'd like to have some say in how we are used by God, but frankly that is none of our business. Whether our obedience to God uses all of our talents or none of them, produces "big" results or "little" ones, is not up to us. In fact, there is no such big/little distinction in the kingdom of God. There is just obedience or disobedience. God alone holds the right to determine what His plans are for us.
Do you dislike the idea of being asked to do something "average" for God? Be reminded of Paul's words in Romans 9:20: "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?'"
My willingness to be average is a common subject of my private prayer life. I've concluded that if I'm not willing to be average for God, to do the ordinary and unimpressive for Him, it reveals I only love Him so much as He makes much of me. My misplaced desires for greatness are rooted in a misplaced joy in myself.
Obedience Starts with Delight
When the desire to do for God supersedes the desire to obey God, it reveals that God is no longer the source of joy. A heart delighted in God desires to obey Him. A heart delighted in self desires to see what self can accomplish. A person delighted in God doesn't care so much how God uses her, but rather that she is useful to God, the object of her delight. A person delighted in self cares deeply about how God uses her, because seeing the self she loves underused causes grief.
Only the heart captivated by God can overflow with an genuine desire to obey Him. True obedience begins with a determined plan to know God through His Word. As we find Him to be our delight, we will notice an unconditional "Yes, Lord" overflowing from our hearts.
Greatness is not measured by the number of lives touched, the amount of money raised, or the recognition of notable people. No, greatness is measured by radical and joyful obedience to the One who paid with His own blood to redeem us.
Today, God isn't asking you to change the world—He's simply asking you to obey. The question is, will you?
What basic form of obedience is God calling you to today?