The Danger of Passivity While Seeking God's Will

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

Passages like Proverbs 3:1-12 (including vs. 5-8 shown above) are nice, because they are so applicable. They display Christian wisdom, and help order our lives. Many normal daily problems we face could be quickly solved by following the advice of the Proverbs and learning to trust and acknowledge God in all our ways.

But I ask; how do we determine our ways? Often I struggle with a perceived lack of long-term guidance on God’s part. He has not told me for certain that I will be a pastor, or what ministry I should do at church, or how to decide between a job that is interesting or one that has health insurance. When we face these things, we tend to go with the default. We just do… well, whatever. We study the subject that interests us, do the job that follows naturally from our studies, attend the church that seems closest to our theology, and in the meantime have a family and pursue our hobbies.

In the back of our minds, though, we are nagged by the feeling that we are coming up just a tad short. I think this is why books can make us feel so guilty; we read of Jim Elliot and feel that our passion for the lost is inadequate. We read of George Mueller and are disgusted by our weak prayer lives. We look at “read through the Bible in a year” plans and quietly shake our heads in frustration because we have tried them a thousand times and cannot prevail.

But look again. Read the stories of great heroes of the faith; even better, read stories of the faithful in the Bible. Ask yourself a different kind of question; how did they determine their course of action?

Yes, we may have a certain level of envy for Paul and the clarity of his conversion. But look again… do you see how often he just chose something? The city to go to, when to leave on a missionary journey, whom to talk to- he just picks. With some (usually supernatural) exceptions, this happens all over the place in the bible and in the lives of the saints. A man or woman greatly desires to serve God, and the just DO something.

Here I want to refer especially to Matthew 25 and Luke 19. Jesus tells the parables of the servants and their talents/minas. Without reading too much into the text, notice these things; first, the master does not inquire how the servants obtained the monies they earned. Now, I do not mean to advocate some sort of hard-core pragmatism, where ends always justify means. However, it does seem that the master did not ask for his servants to try to guess his exact preferred plan for making money; he only expected that they do their best to honor his desire for expanded funds.

Next, notice that the master does not care so much about measurable output. He certainly appreciates that one servant made more than the others, but he does not have a scale where 10=good, 5=fair, 1=not good, and 0=worst. It seems from his reaction that the master hates inactivity more than he hates failure, and loves faithfulness more than output.

Here is what I am trying to say. I fear that as Christians, passivity is one of our worst problems. We take our amazing ability for rationalization (like the servant rationalizing hiding his talent in the ground) and tell ourselves that we have done enough. God will understand! Our highest priority is to not destroy our lives through public sin or moral failure or embarrassment. Get an education, get a job, start a family, and DON’T SCREW UP!

However, I do not think that is right. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, when God calls a man, he bids him come and die. Dying to self is a concept so radical that I fear we brush it off. George Eldon Ladd expresses this powerfully in his terrific book, The Gospel of the Kingdom.

“Denial of self does not mean that I am to deny myself things. It means to deny myself, not to deny things to myself… Self-denial is self-centered; denial of self is Christ-centered. Denial of self means death, nothing less… This is what cross-bearing means: a readiness to die with and for Christ. It means complete dedication to Christ, even though this dedication costs one his life. It means an act of self-surrender which holds nothing back, not even life itself. It means my life, my will, my ambitions, my hopes- all are given to Christ. It means that I count myself as dead that Christ may live and reign in me.”

As Christians, we are called to ACTION. We are called to die to self, to commit ourselves wholly to serving God. We must pursue the advancement of the gospel and the expansion of his kingdom in the world.

Yes, these things should always be tempered by prayer, and wisdom, and advice from elders, and Scripture above all else. And yes, God is ultimately the one who “does the work.” In my next post I’ll discuss the interaction between our action and God’s.

However, there is a fundamental danger we must avoid. It is very easy to live in a Christian way and yet, protected by rationalization and pious words, not be wholly committed to the kingdom of God.

God has given us freedom to choose how best to serve him with the blessings he has given. If it is his desire to change our path, he will (think of Paul being denied access to some places and given unexpected access to others). But that is his responsibility, not ours. Our job is to continually build, to expand, to work for the kingdom. Christian, BE IN MOTION for the glory of God. His imperative on our lives is not to merely avoid sin, but to DO something for the advancement of the kingdom.

So then, choose. Choose a ministry, share the gospel, teach, serve your family. But whatever the case, however you decide to use the talents the master has given, be certain that you can look back and see a life that denied self, took up its cross, and followed Christ.


Cece said...

Hi Ben, that's really helpful to hear esp as I embark on a new life after MSU and CCF...to continue to be in motion. I hope you and Sam enjoy your 1st summer in Kentucky!

Ronald said...

I did a Google search for denial of self, and ended up seeing your post. Excellent!

Anonymous said...

thanks a lot for this article....helped me big time in filling in a few supplement points in my bible study lesson....this article has been a blessing....god bless you!

Pieter said...

I was grealy encouraged by your article.....the issue of Christian passivity is not preached on often enough....thanks a lot....though how on earth did a viagra advertisement get onto your blog?

sharain said...

God bless you.

You gave me the answer i was looking for. The (TALENT)

Thank you

Candace Kim said...

This was so helpful, thank you. Really enjoy your blog!