I’ve spent most of my life working for God. I grew up in an environment where we expressed our love for God through the things we did: we served, we sang, we went on missions trips, we did outreaches. Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing, I have wonderful memories and lots of love for the people and the church that raised me, nor am I saying we should never do anything. However, over the last decade I’ve had to rethink everything. And not necessarily because I wanted to. I was humming along quite nicely, doing things for God, and thought everything was great, thought I was great, until suddenly it wasn’t and I wasn’t (profound, I know). I’ve since learned there’s a huge difference between doing things “for” God and doing things “with” God. If you’re tempted to think it’s all semantics, track with me here for a little bit. Here’s how it all unfolded in my life:

See, the problem with doing things for God popped up pretty quickly in our first year as missionaries to India, like an ugly pimple right before prom.

Once we arrived in India I found I couldn’t do anything for God.

That sounds funny to say since we were missionaries–we moved our family to India to do big stuff for God. I believe we may have even used the words “start a revolution” (for Jesus, of course) in our interviews! But once we arrived in the country, all the doors for my usual avenues of ministry were sealed up tight and most of my daily energy was expended attempting to muster the energy to get out of bed and, once that epic feat was accomplished, to keep my two toddlers from falling off the side of the mountain that we lived on. I definitely didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything great for God. Unless you counted survival. And I did not. Not to mention that my husband was doing all sorts of incredible things and thriving in ways that made me wonder if he was part Indian. I looked at him and thought, What’s wrong with me?

That was the beginning of a looooong season where I quite literally couldn’t “do” anything for God, and I felt like a failure as a wife, mom, and follower of Jesus. I wondered, How does God know that I love him when I can’t prove it to him by all of the things I do for him? I mean, what kind of woman moves halfway around the world to do stuff for God and once she gets there all she does is take care of her kids? (please, please, PLEASE don’t think I’m knocking motherhood– it’s a super important calling, but I wanted to “do more” and trying to keep my children healthy was more than a full-time job which left little physical or emotional energy for anything else). When I compared my mental picture of what being missionaries to India was supposed to look like with my actual reality I was completely demoralized.

But that season, marked by a very limited scope of things I could “do,” began a paradigm shift in how I view my relationship with God (a shift that still continues). And then I read Romans 12:1-3 (The Message–emphasis added) and, once I fully grasped it, my mind was effectively blown:

“…Take your everyday, ordinary life–your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life–and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him…The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.”

Hold on. Say what? I can offer the ordinary, mundane activity of changing diapers to God? And he’s doing something for me through that? Mind. Blown.

But if I’m being honest, I didn’t like that at the time. I wanted to do things the way I had always done them. I wanted to “prove” my love for God. I wanted to do, do, do–BIG things. I wanted to be able to quantify my love for God by pointing to something that could be seen and measured. To this day, that’s my default. I have to fight against doing things for God instead of partnering with him in what he is doing.

Paul talked some more about this idea in Romans. He’s talking about Israel, but he may as well have been writing about me in chapter 9:32 (The Message–emphasis added) when he says:

“…Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their ‘God projects’ that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road.”

Trying to live out those verses and partner with God in what he’s doing is my new goal. I don’t want to get so wrapped up in my own “God projects” that I miss God at work around me. I’m finding that the difference between working for God and working with God can’t be overstated. It is not semantics. No, not at all. The former is exhausting and soul-sapping, while the latter is pure freedom and joy. But living this out in my day-to-day life can be tough to do sometimes, because it takes slowing down and asking God what he’s up to and how I can be a part. In a society that likes to measure productivity this idea is certainly revolutionary. But I’m finding more and more that it’s so worth it. Let’s each be a part of what God is up to in our corners of the world, whether that means changing another diaper, writing a book, or cultivating a garden. It all matters when we’re working with God.

~Gut-Check and Action Steps~

  1. Do you feel like you’ve been doing things for God instead of with him?
  2. Do you have any “God projects” that are distracting you from God right in front of you?
  3. Begin to slow down and ask God to help you partner with him in what he’s doing for you and around you.