According to Isaiah, and seven hundred years later to Paul, God has prepared ahead of time specific work for each person: satisfying, enjoyable, and meaningful work.
People are certainly capable of doing praiseworthy works without being born again. There are plenty of volunteers, philanthropists, and heroes who are doing good things in the world. But when combined with faith, these works take on eternal meaning. Caring for people is not to be seen as an avenue to God but rather as the overflow of already loving and being filled with God. This was always what God wanted, giving the merciful Law through Moses.
A changed life is expressed in good works, which reflects the transformation and sanctifying effects of faith, not simply the profession of faith.
Good works are, therefore, not just good things to do. Good works are what God gives you and me to do. We learn of these good works through God’s word, the scriptures, such as in this very passage of Isaiah. We also discover what God has in mind for us through God’s Holy Spirit speaking directly to us—through an inner conviction, or impression, through circumstances and opportunities, through sensitivity to what is happening around us. Good works flow out from God’s life within every believer.
Years ago, I did a study on the difference between the kind of service Isaiah was describing in the oh-so-pious people of his day, and the kind of service God wanted. Jesus may even have been referencing this very chapter when He made His famous comparison between the sheep and the goats.
- The self-centered person serves in their own strength, because they are sure they have what it takes.
- Self-seeking service demands recognition.
- Self-gratifying service is focused on results.
- Self-willed service chooses when and where and who and how to serve, because they still want to be in charge.
Being a True Servant
- A true servant is prompted and strengthened by God, content to do whatever the Lord commands, and confident that God will provide everything needed to do it well.
- True service is content to remain hidden.
- A true servant finds joy in serving, and trusts God with the results.
- A true servant will serve whoever God chooses, is ready to serve whenever God calls, is prepared to serve in any situation, and with whatever they have. This is because the true servant has surrendered to God the right to be in charge.
Even as I type these words, I am asking myself how often I look to serve others.
- Do I seek out ways to serve God by serving others?
- Am I mindful of the people around me, looking for how to help in little ways, and the big ways?
Every pray lifted up for another, every small kindness, even a smile for a stranger, every reaching out to each other when there is a need for a meal, or a ride, or encouragement, or some other need, is worthy worship according to Isaiah.
“Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To”
One day, as I was browsing in a bookstore, this title caught my eye, and I was intrigued. Really? Prayers God will always say yes to? So I bought it, and was stunned by what the author had to say. One of his challenges had to do with gifts of service.
The author asked, “Would you be willing to pray ‘God, please use me to help someone in need‘”?
He went to reassure that God may show us someone we know, a friend or neighbor or family member. Or they may be someone you and I do not particularly like, or who does not think too much of us. We may not know this person at all, but God will make us aware of their need, and God’s intention that you and I should help.
This has been God’s intention all along for the people of God—believers are described as being members of one Body, with the Lord Jesus Christ as the head. God intends to take care of us through each other, and to bring love and mercy to the rest of the world through us. That is what it means to be God’s hands and feet. We are ready and actively looking for people to go to, and actively looking for things to do for them.
I learned from this little book that when you and I pray this prayer, we are really following the pattern that God personally uses all the time. We are modeling ourselves after God. God calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, meaning we are to take care of each other as well as we take care of ourselves. Jesus said the world would recognize us by the way we love each other. “God, please use me to help someone in need.”
At the heart of love, any kind of love, is self-giving, doing for others, finding joy in expressing God’s giving as God gives to us. This prayer ties into the essence of Who God is, for God is love. We are really asking God to come into our lives and act through us. When you and I are serious about that, sincerely asking God to make us an instrument of God’s love and mercy to someone else, then the act of praying will become the act of loving our neighbor.
I learned that when you and I help someone, we literally reduce the amount of suffering in the world, we become part of the process of God working things together for good.
I remember, as I read, that the thought came to mind, I actually could use a little help, myself. In that very moment, the very next sentence said something like, “you might be thinking ‘I need someone to pray that for me! I’m the one who needs help!'” I had the eerie feeling the writer – and God – had just read my mind.
But then the author revealed a wonderful truth.
those who lose their life for my sake will save it.Luke 9:24 (NRSVUE)
No matter how many problems you and I have, there will always be opportunities for us to help someone else in some way. As big as our own problems are, the author reassured me, they will seem a little bit smaller when we help someone else with their problem. When I lessen the suffering of another, I discover my own suffering can be comforted.
Which lets you and me in on another little secret.
We Reap What We Sow
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not regretfully or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
“He scatters abroad; he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us, for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.2 Corinthians 9:6-12 (NRSVUE, emphases added)
… you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh, but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.”Galatians 6:8 (NRSVUE)
Real worship is not mere ritual, but acts of mercy and kindness
When you and I sow to the Spirit, in mercy and kindness and a willingness to serve, looking for ways to help others, that will also be our harvest in life.