There’s a phrase I hate in the Christian subculture. And it’s one I haven’t heard in a long time. It’s been about ten years since someone said to me: “I think I’m supposed to do big things for God,” or in encouragement, “Micha, I think you’re going to do big things for God.”
I heard it again last week, on the lips of a dear-hearted freshman girl, striving to serve God in first two months of college and feeling like a failure. She had been told she was gifted (which she is) and that she would “do great things for God.” I know from experience, friends, that the abstraction of those words is confusing and rarely leads to anything but self-centered striving and guilt.
I don’t want to blame Texas. But I’ll go ahead and do that. After all, I can’t deny the culture of Christianity that exists here, the Christianese alive and well that I hoped had dissipated while I’d been away in the land of the Post-Christian culture.
I know what it meant when I felt I was supposed to do “big things for God.” It meant I would be a missionary in a “dark place” and I would suffer. It meant thousands of people would come to know Christ because of me. It meant that if my life looked normal, just like any one else’s life, I was a failure.
When I didn’t move to Kenya (as had been my life plan up till 10 years ago) and instead went to the northeast to pursue writing (self-centered art!), I felt the ache of that choice. Then, when I married a man who wasn’t a pastor or a missionary I knew the possibility of “big things” was gone, despite the fact that I had prayed and felt God’s peace about all of my life decisions.
Do you know what nine years has taught me? God’s big things are different from our big things. Our big things are obsessed with impressive distances, numbers and programs. Our big things involve thousands of converts at the altar and miraculous healings before crowds.
God’s big things are individual lives healed: the neighbor who makes sure the elderly shut-in is getting food, being bathed; the child adopted into a loving home. God’s big things are found in the Beatitudes: making peace, being with the broken hearted, walking alongside the meek, longing for and working toward rightness in the world. God’s big things are the peanut butter and jellies handed out the window to the hungry man on the corner. God’s big things are the professionals who do their work in the knowledge that God loves creating and creation. God’s big things are when both the most vulnerable and most wealthy and secure can respond to the same message of good news: that Jesus loves them, that he has already rescued them (whether from their physical neediness or their material corruption).
Of course it’s a big thing when a missionary gives away her life to a different culture, when she cares for orphaned babies who suffer from life-sucking diseases. Of course it’s a big thing when God uses a pastor whose words can strike the hearts of thousands and bring them to a place of new-found faith. But it’s just as big when a mother does the deep work of raising children to love the things God loves. It’s just as big when a piano teacher shares her love for music with another who will also grasp the beauty of the song. When a heart is released to God’s movement, God will use what is already available to do his work.
And God’s work is always big.