If I do God’s will, will I automatically have the feel-goods?

Some of the following material is drawn from my forthcoming book Iceberg Ahead! When God’s Servants Crash into Cold, Hard Reality; it is already available in Spanish from Kerigma.

ALONG THE LENGTH OF A BASEBALL BAT, the “sweet spot” is that point from which the ball will recoil and go the farthest distance. The batter tries to make contact with the ball at the spot.

From many pulpits we hear the Gospel of the Sweet Spot: “God has designed each of us to do a specific thing; if we can just locate that point, we will carry out God’s work in an optimum fashion and we will live in serenity.” This launches Christians to identify the perfect niche for themselves, in harmony with their gifts, talents, dispositions, and availability. They may even fill out a “ministry aptitude” quiz to see if they should be teachers, evangelists, helpers, donors. They may be useful – up to a point.

I heartily believe in the gifts of the Spirit. Yet I know of no passage in Scripture that teaches the Sweet Spot, and several that contradict it. For example, Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, yet several times he brashly complained that God had put him in the wrong place at the wrong time, to do the wrong thing. One example:

You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long… Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you – a son!” May that man be like the towns the Lord overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon. For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever. Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame? (Jer 20:7-8, 14-18)

Someone shared this quote from John Wesley the other day, and I thought it was filled with wisdom:

This taking of His yoke upon us means we are heartily content that he appoint us our place and work, and that He alone be our reward. Christ has many services to be done; some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and temporal interests, others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we can not please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is assuredly given us in Christ, who strengthens us.

Jonah and Jeremiah could relate to service that is contrary to their inclinations, ministry that does not please them.

But let’s look at the other side of Wesley’s statement. What about the saying: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life”? (this is a modern saying, falsely attributed to Confucius) What of those of us who are delighted to be doing what we do for the Lord? Should those of us who do feel we are doing something “suitable to our inclinations” and serve in a way that satisfies us, should we feel second-rate? Should we make ourselves look somber as the hypocrites do, disfiguring our faces to show others they are suffering (I think of Matt 6:16-17)? I say no.

I bring this up, because God has allowed me to be in this second category: my longest-running service has been as a missionary professor, and I can report that has always seemed like my ideal job. My main area is New Testament exegesis. I love preparing courses, and talking with students. I totally enjoy writing books and blogs. I am a Bible Consultant for translation of the Word into other languages; I am editing the SUN version of the Bible for the deaf non-reader – this is the coolest thing I have done in a long while. Surely, it is difficult to teach in a second language, to say the least, but overall a pleasure.

(Oh sure, there are things that don’t fit perfectly with my personality – I don’t need to list them here!)

If your ministry is difficult, the Lord will bless you as he did the prophets: even Jeremiah, in the middle of his lament, exclaimed “Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” (Jer 20:13)

If your ministry is satisfying, God will perhaps intervene at some point, to introduce disappoint in your life, to remind you that we serve God through his grace, not to please ourselves. It will be a bitter pill, but the right medicine.

Wesley put it correctly: like your job or not, “the power to do all these things is assuredly given us in Christ, who strengthens us.”

“If I do God’s will, will I automatically have the feel-goods?” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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