What does it mean to you to serve God?
For most Christians, serving God is a joyful expression of our translation from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. We exchange bad habits for good ones, spend time in Bible studies instead of bars, and invest our talents into churches, ministries, and good causes throughout the world. We hope that our investments will yield eternal rewards. Some time later, though, we may wonder, is this all there is to Christianity? Just meeting the needs of my church?
Many years ago, I joined a church that had a beautiful, black grand piano on the stage. Week after week that piano stood idle, with guitarists, singers, and other members of the worship team praising God as if the piano didn't exist. I had been trained as a musician from a very young age and the fact that no one played this stunning instrument really bothered me!
I struggled, though. I was new to the church. I had a gift; should I be using it for God? Or would it be presumptuous - prideful, even, to ask if I could play? Was I promoting myself? How did having a "talent" and wanting to use it measure up against the biblical call to humility? Most importantly - how did I know if God was leading me to serve, or if I was moving in my own strength?
In the end, my desire to play that instrument got the better of me and I approached the pastor of the church to ask if he needed another member on his worship team. He gratefully accepted, and I played that piano until they sold it, and played a keyboard when the team moved on to more contemporary worship.
12 years later, I wondered: Was that God? I had never been entirely sure. Did God use my gift to bless people? Yes. Was the church grateful? Absolutely. My service met what was (to me, at least) a glaring need.
It wasn't until years later, however, that God began giving me a deeper understanding of what it means to serve God. True Christian service, God showed me, may start at the piano or in the parking lot, but it shouldn't end there.
(Click here to download your free checklist for evaluating Christian service opportunities.)
Serving God? Or Serving People?
I’ve been studying the book of Hebrews with a local Bible study group this year, and our study landed on Hebrews 9:14 this week. It was pretty clear to all of us that believing in Christ cleanses us from evil works that “lead to death.” What I noticed, however, was that for many Christians, “serving the living God” has less to do with honoring God and more to do with pleasing people!
Like me, new believers often join churches and begin to serve others with their “good works.” When the pastor says he needs people to serve coffee, we sign up eagerly, knowing that it is for a good cause. When the worship team needs a piano player, we jump at the chance to use our gift for the glory of God. I did it. And it’s not a bad thing. But I believe the Bible calls us to something much greater.
To serve actually means “to minister to.” When you return to the roots of our faith, reading passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy, for example, you find that always, when God speaks of service, He speaks of serving HIM.
Exodus 8:1, NASB – “Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'Thus says the LORD, "Let My people go, that they may serve Me.”
All that God commanded as He established Judaism, the tabernacle, the priesthood, and later the temple, was designed to lead Israel to serve Him. Certainly the priests ministered to the needs of the people as well, but their primary call was to "serve the living God." The penalty for serving other gods was death. Jesus confirmed in the New Testament that our priority must still be to serve God.
This call to minister to the living God has never changed! Yet I fear that we are often more focused on serving others “in the name of God” than in serving God Himself.
Christian service is not meant to be undying commitment to a church program or blind obedience to a pastor, but complete surrender to God. Out of that surrender come God-given desires to serve others – not based on needs alone, but as He leads. The needs will always be with us. The more important question is, which needs does God want you to meet?
While God used my time on the worship team, it wasn't until later that I realized that the actual call on my life was slightly different than just playing the piano. It might include that, but it was greater than that. When I took the time to ask God what He desired for me to do, His answer surprised me, because it wan't based on my talents or skills. It was based more on my weaknesses: things that required me to walk by faith, trusting Him.
When we operate in anything less than true worship and ministry to the heart of God, we are doing what Christ calls “dead works.” Listen to what Jesus says to the church in Sardis:
“He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent.” -Revelation 3:1-3, NASB
Serving God has more to do with discerning His will than exerting ours, no matter how “good” our works might be. If we operate without the counsel of God, Jesus will say to us what He said to the church in Sardis: “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” “Dead” here means “destitute of life, devoid of force or power, inactive, inanimate and inoperative.”
We may be meeting needs through our service, but we aren’t honoring God to the fullest when our hearts are not in it or when He has not led us to it. Heartless service is powerless service.
The writer of Hebrews urges believers to repent of what the Bible calls “dead works.” These include things like offering lip-service to God, service without wholeheartedness, hypocrisy, legalistic obedience, and prayerless work.
In short, dead works are the things we do that occupy our time but are not truly Spirit-led. They aren’t things God has called us to do; they are simply things we feel we “should” do, or things we selfishly want to do. We foolishly hope that God will bless and receive these things as a pure offering, since we do them "in His Name." But our hearts aren't in these things the way they could be if we had the confidence that God had placed us there.
The truth is, God has predestined us to do specific works – works that we cannot know or do until we connect prayerfully and wholeheartedly with Him.
Ephesians 2:10 says we are created for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 1:11 reminds us that God works all things after the counsel of His will.
How Do We Do Good Works?
Since we know that faith without works is dead, and we know that the Word of God is living, active, and always effective, how can we connect with the living God to do those works that God has prepared for us? Leaving the weightier issues of sin aside, how can we extract ourselves from selfish or man-pleasing service (even in the church!) and move towards a wholehearted, Spirit-led worship of God?
I believe the remedy is in prayer. Jesus tells us in Revelation 3 to:
STRENGTHEN WHAT REMAINS THAT IS ALIVE.
REMEMBER WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD & RECEIVED, AND REPENT.
To wake up, according to Strong’s rendition of the Greek words, means to “keep watch” and to pray. Colossians 4:2 says: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” (NKJV) Matthew urges us multiple times to “keep watching and praying.” Jesus repeats this command to His disciples in the garden and elsewhere, stressing the importance of a Christian life and ministry that is based, foremost, on prayer. It is the Spirit of God within us that is always alive. Hearing and obeying Him is essential to true Christian service!
A prayerless life will rob us of the counsel of God for us. It will remove the most essential component of our service to the living God: ministering to Him.
In the Kingdom, priorities are important. When we put first things first, making the worship of God our priority, God causes all other things to work for good on our behalf. Somehow, by stopping our noisy, speeding trains full of “dead works,” we mobilize the most powerful force on earth: God-inspired works.
Have we neglected the One who called us into ministry in the first place? Ministry to God releases the kind of fruitfulness and blessing we long for, but cannot not produce ourselves. Taking the time to first pray over each opportunity to serve will ensure that we serve the living God in a way that honors Him and allows all our work in the Kingdom to be Spirit-led!
Reflect on This:
Are there ways you currently serve that seem good, but that were not initiated by the will of God, prayerfully? If you are a leader in the church, what currently occupies time that you could be giving to “minister to the living God?”
Do you currently have an invitation to serve in front of you, but are not sure whether it is from God or not? Take a moment to click here and review or download the questions on this checklist. It will help you determine God's will for your situation!
Think back to a work you did for others, as opposed to a work you did at God’s leading. What differences do you see? Was there significant fruit that came from “filling a need” or pleasing man? Or was there greater fruit when you operated in obedience to what you felt God was telling you to do?
Serving God sometimes causes us to be at odds with people – even pastors and religious leaders who may feel they know what you should be doing! Many Christians leave churches because they feel God is calling them to do something different. Is this the right response? How can you serve God fully, remaining connected to the Body, yet honor leaders who may not agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to comment below.
© Deborah Perkins / www.HisInscriptions.com. Photo credit: Konstantin Dyadyun, Unsplash
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.