Sunday, January 20, 2013

High Jumping

My Pastor is preaching a short series on how the gospel compels our sacrificial and spontaneous service. You can watch it here. I have been rolling this around in my mind all week and thinking quite a bit about how this plays out in my own life. While I agree wholeheartedly that only grace compels true sacrificial and spontaneous service, this truth has left me with one nagging and embarrassing question.

Can I clear the bar?

You see, I work in ministry. I love my job because I get to work at the church I worship at and adore. I labor alongside amazing people and I often marvel at what I get to do every day. But, I get paid for it. Yes, I sincerely love what I do but I also receive a check every two weeks and that money helps to put food on our table and money in the bank. Here is where it gets sticky. I am constantly asking myself; is this enough?

Is it enough to "serve" in my job, or, is there something else I should be doing to "serve" outside of my paid ministry position? (Even if you don't work in ministry, the temptation to ask "How much is enough" lurks.)

I was tempted to ask my pastor that exact question...and then God spoke. Not audibly of course, but that still small voice in my heart wispered.

Could it be that the reason I want an answer to that question is so I can "clear the bar?" Is it possible that what I'm really focused on is "how much is enough?" I would love to think that I am genuinely interested in an answer that helps me to better serve others. However, I admit that all I'm really searching for is "how high is the bar."

Just tell me where the bar is set and I will train hard and make it over. Then I'll be done. Then I can check it off. Then I can move on. Nice and clean, clearing the bar, just the way I like it. (It's such euphoria to know I worked hard and achieved my goal, accomplishing all I set out to do. And the best part? The accolades and the human approval and recognition.)

I intellectually understand that no amount of my works can achieve for me a salvation that only Christ has accomplished on my behalf. Theologically, I get that my vertical relationship with God is a done deal and no amount of good deeds can increase his love for me and no amount of bad deeds can decrease his love for me.

But I still have that nagging question - how much do I need to do?

In addition to that, I am questioning my deeds for you. I know that there are good deeds I can do to increase your love for me. And, I know that there are bad deeds I can do that will decrease your love for me. All of that motivates my heart and causes me to hand wring and obsess over all that I'm doing....or not doing. At the core I don't really believe that in Christ, God's approval and acceptance is what I have and is all I really need.

It's always a matter of unbelief.

In an instant my heart was laid bare and my motivation for wanting an answer to that question became crystal clear. Just asking the question exposes a heart bent on self-justification and self salvation.Thankfully, I am in good company. In essence it is the same question the crowd asked Jesus. Then they said to him, What must we do, to be doing the works of God? (John 6:28 ESV)  The Contemporary English Version puts it this way; What exactly does God want us to do? the people asked. (John 6:28)

God, what exactly would you have me do outside of my paid ministry? Where is the bar?

God's response?

It's not a bar, it's a cross. Instead of trying to clear the bar, know that Jesus was nailed to a cross.

Jesus' death won all the approval and all the acceptance for me. On that cross at Calvary he took care of all my obsessing and all my hand-wringing when he exclaimed in his final breath "It is finished".

The moment I ask myself "how much?", I pray God reminds me "it's all done". Only this gospel truth can motivate my desire and animate my worship and ignite my service.
But of the Christian it can be said that he does not owe God's justice anything, for Christ has paid the debt his people owed; for this reason the believer owes the more to love... I am no debtor to his justice, for he will never accuse me of a debt already paid. Christ said, It is finished! and by that he meant, that whatever his people owed was wiped away for ever from the book of remembrance. Christ, to the uttermost, has satisfied divine justice; the account is settled; the handwriting is nailed to the cross; the receipt is given.
~ Charles H. Spurgeon
I feel like I will struggle with this every single day until I go home to be with Jesus or he comes back in glory. My sin sick soul will always seek to accomplish "enough" to make things right. Jesus, remind me I can never do enough to make things right, but you did. You accomplished for me what I can never accomplish on my own.  I can stop obsessing over what I'm not doing and rest instead in what you have done.


Starry-eyed an’ laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look
Spellbound an’ swallowed ’til the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

~ Bob Dylan (performed by the Byrds)


  1. Preach it Lori! :) As someone who has served in paid ministry work for the past 20 years or so, I'm with you on this one. We are so wired to "do more try harder" that it can be really hard to rest in what Christ has already accomplished for us. What really spoke to me from these messages on service was when Tullian said that fear motivated service reflects a love of self. Ouch! But so true.

    Another thing the Lord has spoken to me over the past few years is service is not just those things we sign up at church to do. It is serving your husband (or in my case my mom), your neighbors, an encouraging word for the cashier at the grocery store. It's those many things we do out of the abundance He has done for us, and then forget (as Tullian mentioned today, that exemplify true service.

    Again, thanks for your transparency and gospel focus here. It's much appreciated!

    1. Thanks Sheryl! Agreed - ouch! Fear motivated service reflects a love of self - yep! It is so attractive to know there are things I can do to get others to love me! Thankfully, the gospel crushes self love :)