Of Service and Intimacy

I’ve been thinking lately about two passages, and what they have to say to each other, particularly in relation to our service to God.

The first passage is 2 Tim. 3:1-9, in which Paul talks about people “holding to a form of godliness, but denying its power.” In other words, going through the motions of faith without the substance.

The second passage is Matt. 7:21-23, in which Jesus talks about people saying to him on the last day , “Lord, Lord, did we not DO this, that, and the other thing in your name?” (my paraphrase). Jesus responds, “I never KNEW you; depart from me . . . .” So, people are holding up their acts of service for God as an admission ticket, and Jesus says, “I’m sorry . . . but who are you?” When all is said and done, what’s going to matter to Jesus is intimacy, not accomplishment; relationship, not resume.

All this got me to thinking again how very easy it is to interpret our service as faithfulness, and to assume productivity is at the core of what Jesus wants from his people, rather than personal relationship.

In fact, the great work of the evil one is not to keep us from rendering service to God, but rather, to deceive us into believing that our service is sufficient on its own, or more to the point, that our self-directed activity on God’s behalf constitutes the primary work of God in the world. Accomplishment, then, becomes a substitute for intimacy.

However, disconnected from the power of God that is infused into a life intimately and relationally connected to him, our service to him becomes a hollow shell of our own making, an anemic promise of something far greater. It is a form of godliness without the power to transform anything.

Jesus’ own life bears this out. Even he did not direct his own steps or follow his own agenda. By his own admission, his efforts were in response to what he saw his Father doing. He says, “I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees his Father doing . . . . ” (Jn. 5:19). Similarly, he reminds us that “apart from me, you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). If our efforts are to mean anything, they must be Jesus-directed and Jesus-powered. Our “job,” therefore, is simply to pay attention.

2 thoughts on “Of Service and Intimacy

  1. That’s such a statement about our culture, isn’t it? I know that I emphasize productivity over relationships (with coworkers, classmates, etc) in my own life. Sense tells me that if I focus more on a relationship with God, then the knowledge of how to pursue a relationship with people will follow, but I’m not convinced that it isn’t a spiral that feeds off itself– I get a better relationship with God, which results in a better relationship with people, which boosts my relationship with God, and so on. But it’s hard to disconnect from the idea of production.

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  2. I think you’re right about it being a spiral; one affects the other. As far as disconnecting from the idea goes, I’m persuaded that things changed dramatically in America during the industrial revolution. Our frantic, obsessive view of productivity was born during that era. Unlearning it is a huge challenge, and has been the dominant pursuit of my life for at least the last four years. I am learning more and more to live inside the love of God, to content myself with intimate relationship with him, and to allow to grow from that whatever will. I’m a work in process, but it’s been a worthy process.

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