“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)
“It was, in fact, the shout of a conqueror. Finished the long list of prophecies, which closed, like gates, behind Him. Finished the types and shadows of the Jewish ritual. Finished the work which the Father had given Him to do. Finished the matchless beauty of a perfect life. Finished the work of man’s redemption. Through the eternal Spirit, He had offered Himself without spot to God; and by that one sacrifice for sin, once for all and forever, He had perfected them that are being sanctified. He had done all that was required to reconcile the world unto God, and to make an end of sin.
Finished! Let the words roll in volumes of melody through all the spheres! There is nothing now left for man to do but enter on the results of Christ’s finished work. As the Creator finished on the evening of the sixth day all the work which He had made, so did the Redeemer cease on the sixth day from the work of Atonement; and, lo! it was very good.”
Which should we, as followers of Jesus Christ, aim for more: impact or intimacy? Should we strive to be used of God? Or should we strive to know God and to be known by Him? It is not an entirely either/or proposition, I admit. But too often it is an unexamined question. Perhaps we’ve never thought about it. Or maybe we’ve assumed an answer. But may I drag it out into the open for a few minutes?
If we make impact our aim, what happens? Who knows, maybe we’ll attain it! But then how would we know that we have? How should one measure impact for God? Numbers? Size? Budget? Name recognition? Influence? Position?
It is a dangerous path to trod, is it not? It is filled with plenteous landmines planted by the world, the flesh and the devil.
But even if we miss the landmines, what does aiming for impact get you? In proportion to the purposes laid upon him and within his own lifetime would Abraham have been considered successful? Probably not. How about Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel or most of the rest of the prophets? Not likely.
What is it the writer to the Hebrews said regarding the greatest people of faith? “… none of them received [in their lifetimes] what had been promised.” (Heb. 11:39b)
Here’s at least part of the struggle – Impact is a highly pragmatic thing, which is fraught with opportunities for compromise. Intimacy, on the other hand, is a personal, relational matter in which all that matters is the relationship to the other person (in this case, God).
Pursue impact and you’ll never rise above a performance-based intimacy, even if outwardly successful. If you produce you will matter – or at least you’ll think you do. But this is anti-grace; it is pro-works. It is self-righteous. It is thus anti-gospel. Pursue impact and chances are you’ll miss out on intimacy. But pursue intimacy and you may just make an impact. Any such impact may not be immediately detectable. In fact you may not even be able to take an accurate impact-reading before you’ve left this life. But if you do make an impact by pursuing intimacy, it will be God’s doing. If you do, it will be by grace. If you do, it will be to God’s honor and glory, not your own.
But there is a certain danger in both paths, isn’t there? The danger of pursuing impact is in the pragmatics. I will do whatever it takes to produce – perhaps even things that will diminish my intimacy with God (not to mention my intimacy with the others He has put in my life). The danger in pursuing intimacy is in the subjectivity of it. When am I authentically intimate with the Almighty? When is He genuinely intimate with me? Many along this path fall victim to false voices, ideas and promptings.
Characteristically, Jesus made the matter of intimacy simple and clear. He declared that He is intimate with the one who is obedient to His Word! “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21)
All of this reminds me of Paul’s great concern for the Christians of Corinth: “But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3, nasb) I think often of that last phrase – “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” That sounds like a life of intimacy.
I want desperately to be used of God. I want—even more desperately—to walk closely with Him, even if there is no apparent outward impact from my doing so. For I believe that any impact made while not walking intimately with Him is negative impact—no matter how spiritual it may appear on the surface. And I am equally convinced that a life of true intimacy with Christ will never be without radical and lasting impact—regardless of what the temporal, time-laden readings may say.
“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven … he gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:27, 34b)
Take a moment and go back over these words of God a time or two more. Slow down. Breathe deeply. Purposely pause to ponder.
The first line was uttered by John the Baptist as his disciples began to panic over people’s sudden preference of Jesus over their master. They were afraid they were loosing something that had become precious to them. They couched it as concern for John, but surely part of it was their loss of status as insiders with the most popular preacher around. John’s humility before Jesus stands in stark contrast.
As these words began to seep into the crevices of my soul these important points floated to the surface of my thoughts:
Everything is by grace. Nothing is mine by right.
God is absolutely sovereign over my life and over what enters it (and what does not enter it).
If something enters my life it is by God’s permission and it therefore means something.
What comes into my life is controlled by someone outside of me, God Himself. I am not ultimately in control of the inflow.
I must therefore live by faith and dependent upon God’s grace.
There is no limit to Jesus’ willingness to give His Spirit to me. All limitation is from my side.
There is therefore no limit outside of myself to what God can do in and through me.
My responsibility is not to be a busy “producer,” but a responsible “receiver.”
I am accountable to God for the reception and use of those things He gives into my life.
Paul uttered words similar to those of John the Baptist: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). James did the same: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)
John, Paul, and James had each come to the place where they were gladly praying something very much like these lines penned by some anonymous sojourner.
Lord, I am willing
To receive what You give,
To lack what You withhold,
To relinquish what You take,
To suffer what You inflict,
To be what You require. (quoted by Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace, p.185)
Are you able to genuinely pray this as well?
Come on, be honest. We don’t arrive at such a place quickly or painlessly. But God both gives and withholds in order that He might bring us to this place of glad, willing, honest surrender and contentment.
The trail God has you on right now—with all that has come into your life and all that has been withheld from your life—winds its way to this very destination. Know this. He is on the trail before you … leading you. He is on the trail before you … preparing the way for you. He is on the trail before you … making sure that you are headed toward the place He has prepared for you to dwell.