“What do you live for?”
“In a recent survey…ninety-four percent responded that they were waiting for something to take place. There were a variety of things that people were waiting for—waiting to get married, waiting to get a good job, waiting for a new job, waiting to have kids, waiting for the kids to grow up, etc. But the predominant answer was that people live their lives waiting for something else.” ~William Barcley
Our “something else” is whatever we are thinking of right now. Waiting for it to happen feels like captivity. We try our hardest to break out. We bang on the walls, hoping for a hidden opening, a secret doorway. Finally, we sit down and look to heaven and ask: Why? How long? Why does the life I’m waiting for never seem to come?
By now, we know we’re probably not going to get the answers we’re looking for. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be an answer. JI Packer explains:
“If you ask, ‘Why is this or that happening?’ no light may come, for ‘the secret things belong to the Lord our God’ (Deuteronomy 29:29); but if you ask, ‘How am I to serve and glorify God here and now, where I am?’ there will always be an answer.”
“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:21
As one man said, the Christian may walk in darkness, but he need never wander. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes is the voice of the Lord behind us saying: “this is the way, walk in it: be joyful, do good” (3:12). Don’t live your life like the ninety-four percent, waiting for something else. Do good now.
“While there is much we can’t know” admits Zach Eswine, “the Preacher says that the way forward in our seasons is not found in rehearsing what we do not know, but in remaining faithful to what we do.”
It’s unexpected, but the way to quiet the questions, to find contentment and purpose in waiting, is to “do good”:
“[C]ontentment comes by performing the work of our circumstances…The question the contented Christian asks is, what is the duty of my present circumstances? And carrying out that duty is vital both to Christian faithfulness and to Christian contentment. Maybe we are not where we want to be. There is nothing sinful about desiring and praying for difficult circumstances to change. But we need to seek how we can serve Christ where we are.” ~William Barcley
Serving Christ “where we are” isn’t a consolation prize; it is the secret of contentment in waiting. It is the key that unlocks the cell of unhappiness, our flashlight in the fog of confusing circumstances. When we do good, right here, right now, while we are waiting, we will wake up one day to discover that we aren’t so much waiting anymore as living.
Be a Do-Gooder
Doing good has fallen on hard times. In fact, a “do-gooder” in the English language is a pejorative term: “someone whose desire and effort to help people is regarded as wrong, annoying, useless, etc.” Ouch.
Even in reformed, Christian circles, we sometimes talk about grace as the cure for an unhealthy pressure to do good. Sadly, for many women today, this unbiblical perspective hollows out the Christian life and diminishes the full and beautiful influence of grace.
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes wants to change all that. Doing good? There is “nothing better.” As we learned last week, this is part two of our job description for life:
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (3:12-13)
Notice the happy words. Doing good is “God’s gift to man.” We are to “take pleasure in all [our] toil.” There is “nothing better” than to “do good as long as [we] live.” Catch the drift? Doing good is a good thing. It is a gift of grace.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:11, 14).
The grace that comes to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ does not deliver us from doing good, it frees and empowers us to do good. God’s “gift to man” is the strength, desire, and determination to do good as long as we live—not in order to earn our salvation but in response to the grace of God.
“The gospel creates an affection for God that drives us to do good works that serve others and please God” explains Matt Perman. “Embracing the truth that God accepts us apart from good works is the precise thing that causes us to excel in good works.”
“Realizing that we are wholly and completely accepted by God apart from our works through faith in Christ results in massive and radical action for good because it results in great love and joy for God. As Jesus said, ‘He who is forgiven little loves little’ (Luke 7:47), whereas those who are forgiven much, love much (Luke 7:41-43).” ~Matt Perman
There is no tug of war between grace and good works: grace motivates good works. “The more a person counts as loss his own righteousness and lays hold by faith of the righteousness of Christ, the more he will be motivated to live and work for Christ” writes Jerry Bridges.
No matter what “the time” or season in our lives, doing good is the Christ-empowered response to grace.
The Good We Are to Do
The good we are to do is the good God has given us to do. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
The Creator of galaxies and ocean depths has designed and fashioned each of us individually, called us by name, redeemed us from our sins, and then personally prepared good works for each of us to do.
Scripture tells us we are to be devoted to good works (1 Tim. 5:10), zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14), have a reputation for good works (1 Tim. 5:10), adorn ourselves with good works (Tit. 2:9-10), and stir up one another for good works (Heb. 10:24). The Bible gets pretty enthusiastic about good works, wouldn’t you say?
Life in Christ is like a long, happy, workday—with God handing out the assignments. He’s distributed our tasks throughout the New Testament letters. Here’s just a few:
· Bring up children.
· Show hospitality.
· Contribute to the needs of the saints.
· Be constant in prayer.
· Teach what is good.
· Love your husband.
· Love your children.
· Work at home.
· Be kind.
· Show honor.
· Love one another.
· Serve the saints.
· Care for the afflicted.
(Rom. 12:10-13, 1 Tim. 5:10, Tit. 2:3-5)
Carpooling kids, hosting a new family for spaghetti after church, driving a friend to the doctor, washing the sheets, pulling the weeds, praying for church members, greeting our husband with a kiss and a smile—these and many more are the do-gooding God has given us to do.
“But how can I possibly do all these things?” we ask, panicky at the sight of a to-do list in Scripture more than two or three items long. Before anyone begins to feel faint, allow me to pass the smelling salts: grace-motivated good works aren’t overwhelming.
God has not called all of us to do all of the good works. He has prepared certain good works for each of us to do. Good works are not a decathlon (four runs, three jumps and three throws); they are a walking event. They are the super-simple, nothing better, gifted by God, path to contentment.
The Glamour of Doing Good
Like workday tasks, our do-good list is full of menial, manual labor. But we carry it out in the joyful company of other Christians, for the sake of Jesus Christ. What makes good works glamorous is the God we do them for.
We were created “in Christ Jesus for good works”! We are “his workmanship” so we might work for him. Half-filled cereal-bowls, inboxes full of emails, and lists of works cited take on a glow of glory when we receive them as a gift from God.
If doing good feels below our pay grade, we’ve failed to grasp that it is—in actuality—far above what we deserve. By grace rebellious sinners have been forgiven and called to work for the Savior of the world. We get our assignments directly from Jesus himself. We are in his service. How can we not, “take pleasure in [our] toil” when we consider who we are working for?
“Does God ask us to do what is beneath us?” wonders Elisabeth Ellliot. “This question will never trouble us again if we consider the Lord of heaven taking a towel and washing feet.”
“Every one of us has a line of duty marked out for us by God. For most human beings, for most of history, there has been little choice available. We tend to forget this in a time when the options seem limitless and when ‘what one does’ usually means specifically his money-earning capacities. Duty, however, includes whatever we ought to do for others—make a bed, give someone a ride to church, mow a lawn, clean a garage, paint a house. It is often possible to ‘get out of’ work like that. Nobody is paying us. It simply needs to be done, and if we don’t do it, nobody will. But the nature of the work changes when we see that it is God who marks out this line of duty for us. It is service to Him. When we see Him, we may say, ‘Lord, when did I ever mow Your lawn? When did I iron Your clothes?’ He will answer, ‘When you did it for one of the least of my children, you did it for me.’” ~Elisabeth Elliot
The point of good works is to point back to the Savior: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Funny thing is, life doesn’t feel so much like waiting when you are doing good for Christ.
What To Do Right Now
When we ask: “What should I do with my life?” there will always be an answer. And it’s usually right in front of us. Do the next good work. Then do the next one. And so on, and you will find the answer to your question.
“When the unknown taunts your mind within the season you find yourself,” suggests Zach Eswine, “give yourself to the next thing in the place you are. Our way forward more often than not is found where we are.”
“Some of us are wondering what God’s will is for our lives. Among all the things we do not know, we start with what we do know…. When it comes to our tending our lot with our spouse and family, our work, our food, and our place, God has already told us that he approves of this use of time.” ~Zach Eswine
“Do good” is a Christian’s true north. No matter where we are, how confusing the landscape, how unsure of what we are to do next or where we are to go, we can point our compass needle toward “do good” and move confidently in that direction. God approves.
“Students often ask me how to find out what God’s will is. I tell them the will of God today for them is to study! That’s not what they want to hear, but that is surely an important part of God’s will for students. They must not cut classes, plagiarize on their papers, cheat on exams, treat the professor disrespectfully, or shirk their duty to their roommate.” ~Elisabeth Elliot
Students should study. Moms should mother. Employees should be employed.
If you are a mom with young children at home, your duties are in front of you. Sure, they are arduous but they are not confusing. Love. Serve. Sacrifice. Discipline. Clean. Instruct. Smile. Hug. Or if your job is to go to a job, then go. Drive courteously, work diligently, speak graciously. Love your neighbor. Give thanks in all circumstances. Do good. Be joyful. It’s that simple.
Here is the cure for restlessness, for the discontent of our age and of our hearts. Good works aren’t far flung, they are right in front of you. “Every assignment is measured,” writes Elisabeth Elliot. “As I accept the given portion other options are cancelled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter.” And, might I add, happier.
In fact “be joyful and do good” works backwards, in a way. Doing good makes us joyful. Not happy in our own goodness, but joyful in serving our good God. And when we are joyful we aren’t really waiting anymore, we’re living.