Intimacy and Doing God's Will

Doing God’s will is the essence of mission. (I know – master of the obvious.) Yet, it is surprising, in hindsight, how many missional endeavours appear to be massive exercises in hubris. In our current historical and cultural moment, many mission organizations and many Christians are asking the question – what is God’s will?

Actually, that answer is simple! Scripture tells us that God’s will for us is to “love the Lord” and “love our neighbour”. (Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27) What isn’t so simple is the execution. This is primarily due to the need for a catalyst. A catalyst—in scientific terms—is a substance that increases the rate of a reaction. So, what is the catalyst that moves us from knowing God’s will to doing God’s will?

A Detour

In 1975, John Stott wrote an excellent book called Christian Mission in the Modern World. Those of you who enjoy Stott’s writing may want to check out Christopher Wright's 2015 updated reflections on this book.

This book was ground-breaking for several reasons. Notably, it tried to put into words a biblical picture of mission that superseded the liberal and conservative battle over what mission was about. Back in 1975 it was common for Evangelicals to put a flag in the ground, claiming that Evangelism was the core of mission. The Ecumenical or Mainline churches took mission to be primarily about Social Action.

Happily, Evangelicals today don’t separate Evangelism and Social Action, at least not as much as we used to. Most people are now used to viewing mission holistically. As Stott said about Jesus, “Certainly he preached, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and teaching about the coming and the nature of the kingdom, how to enter it and how it would spread. But he served in deed as well as in word, and it would be impossible in the ministry of Jesus to separate his works from his words.”

Jesus, I would argue, lived out God’s will naturally because he embodied the mission. Two things are worth noting about embodied mission.

  • Our words and actions must be in sync.
  • Our relationship with God impacts the missional fruit of our life.

Intimacy - The Catalyst

In Mark chapter 3 verse 35 Jesus says to people listening to him: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Doing God’s will appears to be important, especially if we want to be part of Jesus’ family. Somehow, people often think that they can do good things and just categorize them as “God’s will”. Feeding the poor, caring for the widow, even evangelism can all fall short of God’s will if not done in relationship with Jesus. Conversely, I’ve heard a lot of people complain that they've never had an experience of knowing God’s presence, and yet they’ve never tried to distinguish God’s will from their own.

Jesus says that he has come to do his Father’s will (John 6:38). What is the Father’s will that Jesus is doing? Jesus says the Father’s will is “that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40). Then later, in Chapter 10 of the book of John, he connects the Father’s will and his relationship with the Father with these words: “My Father, who has given them to me (those that follow Jesus), is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” You can’t get much more intimate than “one”.

In a similar way, Jesus links doing God’s will and intimacy with us in John 15:5: “I am the vine; and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing.” Once again, doing God’s will, and even the fruit our efforts produce, is connected to intimacy.

Intimacy with Jesus is the catalyst that moves mission from an activity to identity. God’s will, through intimacy, becomes part of who we are.

Repercussions

Redefining mission from an activity—“something we do”—to a pillar of our identity, is incredibly important. Just as our God is a God of mission, we need to be people of mission. God doesn’t look at mission as an activity and neither should we. Unfortunately, when we talk about mission, that’s often the impression we give. For instance, how many times have you heard someone say, “I’m going on a missions trip!” or “They have a great missions program”?

Treating mission as an activity has implications for all sorts of things, particularly the types of organizations we build – our churches and mission agencies. An organization that speaks of mission as an activity may naturally gravitate to participating in mission like it’s a program. This might lead to the task being taken over by professionals. The natural outcome is that it is harder for an organization to get funding to nurture identity than it is to get funding for a program. Most of us like a good ROI (Return on Investment). If I told you I was going to bring clean water to 30,000 people for your $1000 investment, you’d probably be quite happy. If I told you that, for that same $30,000, I was going to help 10 people be more intimate with God, and that the measure of success was that they would be more loving, more patient, and kind… I’d probably never see a dime.

We’ve gotten ourselves into a mess by trying to do God’s will without intimacy with him. Jesus’ mission didn’t work that way, and neither can ours. 

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