“The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus”

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“The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus”

January 24, 2023 - Jim Denison, PhD

A busy man talks on his phone while looking at his watch while sitting in front of an open laptop at a coffeeshop. © By NDABCREATIVITY/stock.adobe.com

A busy man talks on his phone while looking at his watch while sitting in front of an open laptop at a coffeeshop. © By NDABCREATIVITY/stock.adobe.com

A busy man talks on his phone while looking at his watch while sitting in front of an open laptop at a coffeeshop. © By NDABCREATIVITY/stock.adobe.com

I have been reading Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest for thirty years. One reason I continue to utilize this devotional classic each year is that God continues to speak to me through it each year.

For example, last week I found this paragraph and was convicted by its truth:

Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for him. It is easier to serve than to be drunk to the dregs. The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for him. We are not sent to battle for God, but to be used by God in his battlings.

Are we being more devoted to service than to Jesus Christ?

Here’s the ironic part: as soon as I read Chambers’ claim that “the greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for him,” I immediately began thinking of ways to use this insight in “service for him.” I began writing this article as a result. Only after I had begun doing so did it dawn on me that I was doing exactly what Chambers warned us against.

Why did I do this? Why do we do this?

If Satan cannot make us bad

As the saying goes, if Satan cannot make us bad, he’ll make us busy.

He does not want us to serve our Lord, of course. But if we insist, he will lead us to make such service an end rather than a means.

Our churches join the conspiracy. When was the last time someone encouraged you to become less busy at the church so you could spend more time in personal communion with Christ?

When I was a pastor, everyone wanted me to slow down and to stop going to so many meetings—except theirs. They wanted me to be less busy, but they also wanted me to do what they wanted me to do.

Before I began my first pastorate, the interim pastor who preceded me warned me: don’t let them make you their employee. As I began working with our church leaders, I wondered why he was so emphatic on this point since they were very gracious and supportive of my gifts and calling. Eventually, I realized that the greater threat was of my own making: don’t see myself as their employee.

However, when we put this issue in cultural context, we are forced to ask: Why wouldn’t we do this?

The “invisible hand” of capitalism

The Scottish philosopher Adam Smith was the author in 1776 of The Wealth of Nations and is widely considered to be the forefather of capitalistic thinking. The central thesis of his book is that our individual need to fulfill our self-interest results in societal benefit:

Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command. It is his own advantage, indeed, and not that of the society, which he has in view. But the study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily leads him to prefer that employment which is most advantageous to the society.

Smith called this force the “invisible hand” of the market.

For example, a plumber’s self-interest in supporting his family by installing and repairing plumbing in houses benefits those who live in those houses. My self-interest to fulfill my calling by engaging cultural issues with biblical thinking (hopefully) benefits those who read what I write.

As a pastor, my self-interest in fulfilling my calling by ministering to those I served (hopefully) benefited them. Their self-interest in a church that met their needs led them to make financial contributions that, in turn, supported my family.

In such a transactional context, how are we not the employees of our employers? Why would we not measure ourselves as they see us: as preachers of sermons, managers of programs, and so on?

We can add the Industrial Revolution to the motivational mix with its emphasis on measurable outcomes produced by factories and institutions. The result for pastors is the infamous “3 B’s”: buildings, budgets, and baptisms.

When I was a pastor, I often attended our area pastors’ luncheons on Mondays. Inevitably we would ask each other, “How was your day yesterday?”

We always responded to each question in institutional terms: attendance, response to the invitation, and so on. If our numbers had been down the previous day, I dreaded hearing the question. If we had large crowds, I looked forward to the conversation.

“The truth of who you really are”

The solution to our dilemma lies in another observation by Oswald Chambers: “The one thing for which we are all being disciplined is to know that God is real. As soon as God becomes real, other people become shadows.”

When I am in intimate communion with the living Lord Jesus, I will see myself not as his employee but as his child, loved absolutely and unconditionally by my Father. Then I will want to serve him, not out of my self-interest but out of gratitude for his grace. I will seek his glory, not my own. I will strive to please God, not men.

In this way, my service becomes an act of worship. When I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I experience his love for me in return. As a result, I can love my neighbor as myself because I love myself as God loves me.

I closed my previous article with an observation by Henri Nouwen regarding God’s desire to love me. Let’s close today with a similar reflection by Nouwen:

You are not what others, or even you, think about yourself. You are not what you do. You are not what you have. You are a full member of the human family, having been known before you were conceived and molded in your mother’s womb.

In times when you feel bad about yourself, try to choose to remain true to the truth of who you really are. Look in the mirror each day and claim your true identity. Act ahead of your feelings and trust that one day your feelings will match your convictions. Choose now and continue to choose this incredible truth.

Do you truly know “who you really are” today?

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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