Do you serve God to give or to get?

The real spirit of the question is, “Should you serve God to give or to get?” If you were all you should be, godly and right thinking and mature and Christ-like, would you serve God for what you could get out of it, or what you could contribute?

I think we would quickly agree that we should serve God to give. We should be more about contributing and less about receiving. We should, if we were more godly, serve God to serve God–to give. We might think so, but we would be wrong.

Hebrews 11.6 lists two steps to drawing near to God: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

The two steps are:

  1. We must believe that God exists. Turns out, this is a pretty easy step. About ninety-five percent of people on planet earth do believe that God exists. Even the devil believes that God exists.
  2. We must believe that God rewards. As the NASV has it, “He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” We either come to God for reward, or we cannot come to God. We must come to God seeking to get a reward. There is no other way.

It makes sense if you think about it. If we are thinking rightly, we realize He is rich and we are poor; He has plenty, we have need; He is strong we are week. The idea that we would come to God to help God out might sound good at first blush, but if we think about it at all we realize we can’t help God out. He doesn’t need anything. He certainly doesn’t need anything we have to offer. We don’t have anything He needs. We can’t do anything for Him that He needs us to do. He is complete. We are needy.

Eventually we come to the place where we say, as the old Hymn writer said it, “I need Thee every hour. . I need Thee, oh, I need Thee, every hour I need Thee.”

How wrong it would be to turn this classic hymn on its head and say, “You need me, oh you need me, every hour you need me.” The writer got it right.

Jesus emphasized this point of reward in Mark 10: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30 (NIV)

C.S. Lewis talked about this:

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. “

The research indicates this was the #1 predictor of spiritual vibrancy: whether you strongly agreed with the statement, “It is always in my best interest to live the Christian life.” People who strongly agreed with that statement were two and a half times (145%) more likely to be spiritually vibrant when compared with those who only agreed with that statement.

When compared with those who disagreed with the statement, those who strongly agree were four and a half times (350%) more likely to be spiritually vibrant. This one factor mattered more than anything else I could find.

You might be tempted to think this is a rather abstract theological point that has not much to do with every day life. You’d be wrong. Here is why.

We are irrevocably hard wired to pursue what we believe to be in our best interest. It is built into our programming. We can’t avoid it. We have to learn to live with it. If we believe that God is a rewarder and we will be rewarded for following Him, His yoke becomes easy and we follow Him almost automatically. If we think we should follow Him but we would rather go our own way because we think we know best, we are going to be in a constant battle of the will with God. It is not enough to submit our will to Him. We must believe–not merely believe that He exists. We must believe He always rewards. We must believe it is impossible to follow God and not be rewarded. Ought-to, and should and you-better will never do. We must believe that he rewards.

I have written thousands and thousands of sentences, but I have only written one that I think is profound. Here it is:

We must come to love the Christian life,
or we will never come to live the Christian life.

Break it down: we must come to love prayer, or we don’t pray very well. Prayer moves from being a duty and an obligation and becomes a delight–a sweet hour of prayer–or we are not praying very well.

We come to love serving or we are not serving very much.

We come to love the Word and it become sweeter than honey as the Bible says, or I will bet you struggle to spend time in the Word. You have to force yourself and you can’t force yourself consistently.

You must come to love the Christian life, or you will never come to live the Christian life.

Self-discipline is over-rated in a lot of Christian teaching. Not to say there is not a place for self-discipline. Balance is an issue. Sometimes you need self-discipline. Sometimes we need to do what we should do whether or not we feel like it. But, if you try to live your whole life this way, you are in trouble. If you trying to live your whole life forcing yourself to do what you don’t want to do because you don’t think it is in your best interest, you can’t live that way. You will get tired. Eventually you will do what you believe to be in your best interest.

You must come to love the Christian life, or you will never come to live the Christian life.


We can apply this idea to many arenas. Let’s start with one many of us struggle with: eating healthfully and exercising regularly.

Most of us struggle to eat healthfully and exercise regularly, but, most of us know a few people who don’t. I am thinking of a 25 year friend just now. We have gotten to eat hundreds and hundreds of times together. We have gone on family vacations together. We used to work out together, before I fell off the wagon.

George loves exercise. He loves eating healthful foods. Nine times out of ten when we go out he will get grilled chicken and broccoli, or something like that. Occasionally he will splurge, but usually it is grilled chicken and veggies. I have known George for twenty plus years and for twenty plus years he has exercised five or more times a week, every week. He loves it. He tells me about how he loves this warm feelings in his muscles after he works out. I don’t actually know what that feeling is, but he tells me it feels good.

People who have won the battle with healthful eating and exercise feel this way. They love it. They love exercise. They love that warm feeling in their muscles. They love that clean feeling George talks about he feels when he eats healthful food.

So, let’s paraphrase our saying: You must come to love healthful eating, or you eat like I do! You must come to love exercise, or you look like I do!

We are like airplanes with an autopilot that tells the plane where to go. Modern planes can even take off and land on auto-pilot. Pilots have told me they let the plane land itself every so often, just to make sure the system works.

Once the plane is in the air, you could grab the wheel and force that plane to go North when its autopilot is telling it to go South. You can force it to do the opposite of what the autopilot is telling it. But, after a while, you will get tired or distracted, or for any number of reasons you will let go of the wheel and the plane will go where the plane is programmed to go.

Your programming is your belief as to what is in your best interest. You can’t change the programming. Eventually you will do what you believe to be in your best interest. You can force yourself to do otherwise for a time, like you can force the airplane to go contrary to its programming, but, eventually, the programming always wins. Eventually, you will do what you believe to be in your best interest.

You either come to love the Christian life, or you never come to really live the Christian life.

How to affair-proof your marriage

I have known a number of people over the years who have had affairs. I have talked to people who were thinking about having affairs, in the middle of affairs, and years after the affair. I had a situation once where the host–a minister–who had invited me to speak confessed to me that he was in the middle of an affair–deeply in love with someone who was not his wife.

The subject of this article fits into one of my talks. There was a time when I communicated it this way. “Right now, one of my wife’s best friends is deeply in love with a man who is not her husband. He is a deacon. She is a deacon’s wife. . .”

If you are in an affair, by the way, let me speak into your life what I said to my host who confessed his affair: run, don’t walk away from that woman. Don’t worry about hurting her. Don’t worry about her state of mind. Don’t worry about her kids. Don’t worry about any stated or implied promises you might have made to her. You made another promise to another woman–your wife–and you need to work on keeping that promise. If you can get your marriage back together you will spend the rest of your life happy that you did. If you don’t, you will spend the rest of your life regretting it.

When people are in an affair, they see it this way. I have two choices. Behind door number one is the road of righteousness. I know I should follow that way. I know I ought to. God would be pleased. My mom would be pleased. People at church would be pleased. But, I would be miserable. I know I should take door number one, but I just don’t know if I can stand the misery.

Behind door number two things are completely different. I could be with him! I know God would be disappointed. I know it is a sin. I know it would upset the kids. I know it is wrong, but I would be soooo happy! I could be with Him!

As long as you see it that way, I don’t give your marriage much of a chance of survival. Eventually we do what we believe to be in our best interest. If he is willing, your marriage is over.

People who go down that road eventually learn something. He is just another guy. He is not prince charming. He is not all that. He is not Mr. Sensitive, Romantic, Knight-in-shinning-armor. He is just a guy. He wasn’t worth wrecking your family over. He wasn’t worth shaming the name of Christ over. He wasn’t worth crushing your kids over. He is just a guy.

And, you and that guy are going to try to figure out what most couples never learn: to live together in unity, peace, love and joy. Most couples never get there. And you are going to try to get there just like you tried to get there with the last guy, but this time, you have some baggage. You have an ex. You have child-support issues. You have step family issues. You have a whole slew of issues that are going to make this marriage considerably more difficult to find unity, peace, joy and love in. It might happen, but the odds are really against you.

The odds of finding a great relationship would have been twice as good in the first marriage if you would have just devoted half the energy into that relationship that you devoted into justifying this affair.

But, ought to and should and duty won’t keep you there. You have to believe God. You have to believe that He is a rewarder. You have to believe that it is always in your best interest to live the Christian life.

We say the opposite because it sounds so good. It just sounds spiritual. I have read this line in several books, and heard it in a sermon or two. I could raise my voice and say this at the right cadence and pound the pulpit at just the right time and get a house full of Baptists to say, “AMEN!” It just sounds that good: “God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness! Your happiness doesn’t matter! Its not about you! Pursue God! Please Him! Who cares about your happiness? It is all about God!” It sounds spiritual. My question: is it true?

The problem with this statement is not the statement itself. It is the assumption behind the statement. Do you see it? The assumption is that happiness and holiness do not come together. They are separate. You can’t have both. You have to choose between the two. You can choose happiness in which chase you will be happy but God will be grumpy. Or, you can choose holiness, in which case you will be miserable, but God will smile. Now, make the right choice: make God happy. Choose holiness!

This assumption is fundamentally false. Holiness and happiness are not separate; they come together. You can’t be holy and grumpy. The Bible commands happiness: Rejoice in the Lord always. Do you know what you call someone who tries to be holy and grumpy? A deacon!

And happiness at its best is found in God. The happiest times in my life have been times of worship, or times in the sweet spot of serving God. Jesus promised us life and life to the full.

One illustration of this is in a study that was done on human sexuality. They interviewed every kind of sexual lifestyle imaginable to try to discover who has the best sex life. They interviewed monogamous couples and priests who, on a good day, are celibate. They interviewed subscribers to Playboy Magazine and those who subscribe to the Lifestyle (nudists). They interviewed deviant weirdoes who engage in every kind of sexual activity imaginable–much of it most of us have never imagined. Guess who they discovered are the happiest people on the planet in terms of their sexual satisfaction?

Do you think it was the free-wheeling sexual activist? Do you think it was the deviant weirdoes? Correct answer: monogamous couples. Question: do you think God was surprised by that, or do you think He has known all the way along? If He has known all the way along and He is a nice God, what kind of rule would He make for planet Earth? He would make the rule that would contribute to man’s happiness. He would make the rule that would require people to live a monogamous lifestyle. And, as it turns out, that is the rule He gave us.

I was sitting in my own Sunday School class a few months back. We have this one lady in class that can get pretty fired up. The conversation was heating up and she blurted out, “Well, there is doing what is right, and there is doing what feels good. I think we just need to do what is right.”

Here is what I think she meant to say: “There is doing what is right, and there is doing what feels good IN THE MOMENT. In the long run, doing what is right feels good. We will always be glad we did what is right. It is always in our best interest to live the Christian life over the long run. In the short run it might cost us. In the long run we will be glad we did.

How far can you push this?

Is it always in your best interest to live the Christian life? Always? Any exceptions?

Perhaps your remember the story of Cassie Bernall. She was a High School student in Littleton, Colorado. She was a good kid who had recently rededicated her life to Christ and was active in her youth group.

She was in the library, minding her own business, working on a paper. Two of her classmates came in shooting everything in sight. She dropped to her knees in a praying position. One of the shooters pointed a gun at her face. (The forensic evidence suggests it was touching her face when it went off.)

Perhaps taking a cue from her praying position, he asked her a question: Do you believe in God?

God’s calling on Cassie’s life is fairly easy to understand at this point. The Bible says if we are ashamed of Him before men, He will be ashamed of us before our Father in heaven. It is simple to understand, but not easy.

I have a biography on Cassie’s life. The title is, She Said Yes talking about that moment in the library. And he blew her brains out with the weapon pushing against her face.

Thinking people might be tempted to wonder, “Mightn’t she been better off to cave? Mightn’t she have been better off to remain silent or to say, “I just don’t want any trouble.”

The Bible teaches that reality is like a line that stretches forever and ever. Not just a mile or two, or around the earth, or our Galaxy, but forever and ever. On that line sits a dot we will call time. All of time from Adam and Eve and the dinosaurs to Noah and Moses and Abraham and Nehemiah and Jesus and you and me all fit on that dot that sits on that line. Eventually, we get off the dot onto the line that stretches forever and ever.

And the Bible teaches, metaphorically, that when we get off the dot onto the line that stretches forever and ever, that Cassie’s line will be above our line. That is, the Bible suggests (Revelation 4) that those who are martyred for their faith will receive a greater reward in heaven–that is the line that stretches forever and ever–than will the rest of us.

Now, it will still be heaven for the rest of us. It will still be good. And I probably think of this in too materialistic way, but I see it like this. When we go to get a meal in heaven, Cassie will be at the front of the line. When we go to a concert, Cassie will get a front row seat and a back stage pass. When we go on a trip, Cassie will get those good seats at the front of the plane. Ten gazzillian years from now, Cassie will still be on the front row, in the front of the plane and in the front of the line.

I think if Cassie could read this she would say, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, it is always in your best interest to live the Christian life, over the long run.” You will always be glad you did, eventually. It may be a while; it may only be from the viewpoint of eternity, but eventually and forever you will always be glad you followed God. And forever lasts a long, long time.

What if God makes me do missions?

A lot of people don’t want to sell out to God because they are afraid that God will call them to missions and they will have to go to the darkest part of Africa. And, God might. But do you know what God does to the heart of those whom He calls to missions?

My parents served as missionaries in the Philippines for twenty five years. I visited them between College and Seminary for about six weeks. I remember one day just after breakfast, the conversation slowed down and my Mom’s mind starting drifting. She looked out the window and then looked back at me. “I think the Philipino people are the prettiest people on planet earth.” That is what God does to the heart one one God calls to do missions.

Not to say there was not a price to pay. When my sister was married, they didn’t attend the wedding. They were ten thousand miles away. They watched my brother give her away by way of video tape.

My parents had retired by the time my second and third children were born, and they were able to come visit and help out just after the birth. But with our first born, they were on the other side of the planet. They have no memory of Dawson before he is two years old. There is a price to be paid for serving God.

My mom lost a brother when they were overseas. It was a tragic farming accident and she wanted very badly to be at the funeral. But transportation costs were prohibitive, and even if it were not for cost, it would just take to long to get home. That was before the days of jumbo jets and travel was very slow. There is a price to be paid for serving God.

But they wouldn’t trade it for anything. They have no regrets. They are eighty five years old now, and they have no regrets.

That is how it is when you follow God. No regrets. God rewards. It is good to follow Him. Those who follow Him are glad they did so.

But, you have to believe that. You have to believe it is in your best interest to follow God because you are hard wired to pursue what you perceive to be in your best interest. You cannot draw near to God except you believe He is a rewarded. You will be rewarded for pursuing Him.

Here is a great quote from John Piper:

1. The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is our highest duty. Millions of Christians have absorbed a popular ethic that comes more from Immanuel Kant than from the Bible. Their assumption is that it is morally defective to seek happiness—to pursue joy, to crave satisfaction, and to devote ourselves to seeking it. This is absolutely deadly for authentic worship. The degree to which this Kantian ethic flourishes is the degree to which worship dies, for the essence of worship is satisfaction in God. To be indifferent to or even fearful of the pursuit of what is essential to worship is to oppose worship—and the authenticity of worship services (in any culture or any form).

Not a few pastors foster this very thing by saying things such as, “The problem is that our people don’t come on Sunday morning to give; they only come to get. If they came to give, we would have life.” That is probably not a good diagnosis. People ought to come to get. They ought to come starved for God. They ought to come saying, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Ps. 42:1). God is mightily honored when a people know that they will die of hunger and thirst unless they have God. It is the job of pastors to spread a banquet for them. Recovering the rightness and indispensability of pursuing our satisfaction in God will go a long way toward restoring the authenticity and power of worship—whether in solitude, in a group of six elders in Uzbekistan, in a rented garage in Liberia, in a megachurch in America, or on the scaffold in the last moment just before “gain.”

Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions.


You must come to love the Christian life, or you will never come to live the Christian life.