Isaiah 66:1-2 (ESV)Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne,and the earth is my footstool;what is the house that you would build for me,and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made,and so all these things came to be,declares the Lord.But this is the one to whom I will look:he who is humble and contrite in spiritand trembles at my word.
For all our talk about how we know that God values things and people differently than the world does, we still fall into the way the world does it. Is John Piper a better preacher than yours? Is Tim Keller a superior administrator? Well, yes, they probably are. They have had great success because God has greatly gifted them. They are not like other men.
Most of us muddle along in our ordinariness and get very ordinary results. For some there will be great frustration at not having accomplished the great things that they thought they would when they were younger and knew almost everything. Some will know a modicum of success and just “know” in their heart of hearts that they would have done better if only the circumstances or the people or the times or the place or, or, or … had been different. There will be no shortage of people and circumstances to blame for the mediocre results, that we knew would never be part of our lives.
But one thing we all know. God is very impressed wit a small group of very influential people who have very “significant” ministry (the quotes are necessary because in my denomination this is what we aim for – to head up a significant ministry). We fall into thinking that they are closer to God than the rest of us or are more talented or gifted or, dare I say, holy than the average, run of the mill, ministry.
Now it just may be that some people miss their calling and should simply go do something else. It may be that they are not called to the work they are in and need to get out of it. It may be that the reason for their failure and lack of fruit has something to do with them. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. But the indication of calling is not necessarily success, as we normally think of the concept.
Somebody, or rather, a lot of somebodies, built the temple that was still standing during the prophet Isaiah’s lifetime. It was a magnificent structure that would be wept over after its destruction, even after the new temple was built. In Isaiah 66:2 God does not give any credit to those who were skilled in all the trades necessary to build the temple. He doesn’t acknowledge them at all. In fact, He has the temerity to take the credit for it Himself. “All these things my hand has made”. He gifted the architects and carpenters and stone masons and all the others who worked so hard to make this fabulous structure. It is a work of God’s hands. It does not impress Him. The God who sits over a very large universe – which He made, can be very hard to impress. “Hmph” He seems to say, “big deal”.
But this is not to say that God cannot be impressed. And what does impress Him is just as much a work of His hands as anything else He made. The humble heart of a servant. We know this. We believe this. But I am not convinced we get this. Deep down we really know that we have to do something big, newsworthy, at least in Christian circles, in order to hear the well done from the Father. But we don’t. What impresses God is not the gifts that He gives to some that result in big splashy things that dazzle the heart and mind as well as the eye. What “impresses” Him, and it is probably a poor word to use, is humility. Isaiah does not use the word “impress” does he? He says He looks on the humble, which must mean He does not look on the non humble. Now there’s a terrifying thought. Build some grand thing that wows the Christian world and have God say that He doesn’t even look at the one who thinks he built it. Nice.
It boils down to a matter of what we look at doesn’t it? We look at size and influence and popularity and income and number of hits and how often people get quoted and how long someone has been on the list of best blogs. We look in all the wrong places. Of course the ideal for us would be to have the big ministry, church or whatever and still maintain the humble contrite spirit that God regards. But it is impossible to aim to be influential, making a name for yourself, and be humble at the same time.
While planting a church in Newfoundland I was told by a leader in our denomination that he hoped to return to Newfoundland one day and find that our church was the most influential church on the island. And I bought it. I wanted to have the most influential church in Newfoundland. I wanted to stand up at our denominational convention and talk to the hungry masses about the growth and converisons and building programme and sit down to stunned applause. I wanted to be among those who would get to tell others, because of my great successes, how they too, could be a great success. God did something better for me and anyone else who was listening that night. He closed the church altogether. We simply aim at faithfulness and pray that even that will not make us look down on anybody else.
I want to know that God looks on me and smiles. What it takes to get that goes against the grain. So, I want to want what it takes. Because His smile is the most significant thing of all.