Summary: Encouragement to explore and develop the gifts of the Spirit—not as a responsibility to weigh you down, but as a way for you to love and honor the God who loves you.
I have a few questions for you. You don’t have to answer out loud. No show of hands required. You don’t need to nod your head. You don’t need to shake your head. But these are not rhetorical questions. They are real questions, serious questions, important questions.
What do you think God wants from you? What do you think God wants for you?
Two questions: What do you think God wants from you? What do you think God wants for you? How you live your life has a lot to do with how you answer these questions.
If you think the fullest answer to the first question is that God wants you to be good and to do good things, then eventually you are going to end up in one of three places: (1) You are going to spend your life trying really, really hard to be good and to do good things until you are exhausted. (2) You are going to spend your life with your head down trying not to be noticed by God because you gave up the impossible task of being good and doing good all the time. (3) You are going to convince yourself that all God really wants is for you to be a basically good person who does more good than bad most of the time.
I have a friend who grew up in a very legalistic Christian tradition. He learned to try really, really hard to be good and to do good things. Being a sinner, just like the rest of us, he was unable to live up to the highest standard of goodness for very long at a time. Every time he fell short, he suffered shame, humiliation, and self-doubt. Even when he succeeded for awhile, he lived in anxiety, wondering if he was being good enough and doing enough good. I don’t think he even thought much about the second question. He was so focused on what he had been taught God wanted from him that he didn’t have energy left over to wonder what God wanted for him.
Have you ever known anybody who lived her life like she was just marking off the days on the calendar until it’s all over? This person has such a clear sense of her own sinfulness that she also has a sense of futility. Why even try to be good or do good when you know you can’t succeed? Just keep your head down. Try to stay out of the way. Don’t call attention to yourself. Don’t try anything new. Go through the motions. Go to work. Go to church. Attend family functions. Just get through today. Then get through tomorrow. Then get through the next day. And so on. Why even ask what God wants for you? How could he want anything for such a wretched soul?
These two examples are extremes. Many people lean one way or the other, but few actually live at that extreme.
On the other hand, millions upon millions of church-going Christians have convinced themselves that all God really wants is for us to be basically good people who do more good than bad most of the time. Many of us never articulate this position in words, we just live it out in our approach to life. We know we aren’t perfect, but we don’t intentionally cause harm to other people…at least not very often. We haven’t murdered anybody. We don’t lie…not really, not about big things. We don’t cheat…unless, of course, we feel like we got cheated first. We don’t steal…a few pens from work now and then don’t count, do they? It’s ok. God can’t possibly expect perfection from us in such an imperfect world. As long as I’m basically a good person, I’ll be ok.