Life vs. Gift
In the book of Daniel 12:4, it was prophesied that in the last days, " ........ knowledge shall be increased." Daniel then, was speaking of how mankind would experience a successful progression of acquiring knowledge and in course of it come to a higher level of sophistication in his way of living and understanding. And being the generation living in the last days, it is hardly surprising that we see this prophecy coming to pass in our time! Man's intelligence and natural ability have indeed come a long way now. Things that were once merely scientifically conceived have now become a reality in which we live, and things that were once upon a time considered as fiction or fantasy have suddenly become things that some cannot do without! Think, for instance, of computer technology, and you will not deny this fact.
That is the world we were looking at, but the body of Christ is no exception to Daniel's prophecy. Today, the church has also advanced significantly in knowledge, information and skills. We have the model, the formula and the method in order to structure and program the church all the way from vibrant prayer meetings and exciting cell-group gatherings to effective world evangelism, missions etc. No doubt indeed that the average of most leaders nowadays would have been amply educated in the dynamics of leadership to lead and conduct meetings and gatherings of the believers, trained to develop the most arresting charisma to impart knowledge and sound doctrine in a most exciting and attractive manner. But sadly, life is missing.
The sum and substance of Christian works is life, and life is also the premise in which we must go about the work of God. To work independently of God is a boost against Him, and reaps only futility and vain efforts. Jesus speaks of Himself saying "the Son can nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do, for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner" (Jn. 5:19), thus drawing a parallel with what was earlier spoken that "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (Jn. 15:5). Undeniably, gifts and skills are some of the most precious treasures the Lord can give to us, but these are not much effective unless they are used in concert with the life of God. If formula and method can build the body of Christ, why then would we ever need the counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit? If we are guilty of this dependence on formula and method instead of following hard after the Lord's counsel, then let us quickly put a period to such practice, for to blindly copy or duplicate what we see another doing is grossly unwise. We need to live in revelation, to hear and to obey. There is no short cut in serving the Lord.
Work apart from Life
It is only life that can impart life. Our talents and our gifts can serve men only to a limited degree of efficacy; only life can go beyond that which our gifts can offer to bring the true ministry of the Spirit to man. Without the abiding life of God within us, our works and services rendered, even if rendered in the name of the Lord, will not be pleasing to Him. In Matt. 7:21-23, we find our Lord rejecting and refusing to acknowledge those who prophesied, cast out demons and who did mighty exploits in His name. Why do you think these were disapproved? Surely, these people must have brought some honour to the Lord's name through their mighty works of faith? So why were they not acknowledged?
The answer is straightforward - these have used the name of the Lord to perform the works of faith, but this in their own self, and not in the life of God. Their works have thus become to God as activities of the flesh that can reap no eternal reward. And not something that God takes lightly too! For He recognise not these people as His labourers, but are in His eyes "evildoers" as He calls them. And these have forfeited the glory of ruling and reigning with Christ in His kingdom, but only those who do the will of the Father shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Here, let us consider that man was never meant to go around looking for work to do, rather, we are to be sent by God to do the work He has prepared in advance for us to do. Obedience is a prerequisite that must precede our works. The underlying principle of true divine work is that it must be initiated by the Divine and not by inspiration of the flesh. So to speak, Christian work should always be "In the beginning, God ......" Remember, God begins ...... we only carry it on.
The foundation of our work is life, this, real service must be rendered in life. We do not work for the sake of work, for man cannot live in work, but rather, we live in the life of God. Like how God led the Israelites in the wilderness (they moved and stopped with the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud), He also desires that we allow Him to lead us in like manner - that we move when we prompts us to, and stop when He holds up His hand. This is the appointed way that we should go about the works of God. Trying to be active in works apart from God is vanity that will avail no thing of eternal value.
Now, even before we can embark on the Lord's work, we have to first allow ourselves to be broken by the Lord, to be set apart from our own wills and to adjust ourselves to the right condition where the life of God can flow and fill our lives (Jn. 12:24). When a vessel is in the right condition where the life of God is richly resident in him/her, there is no fear that this person will not have any work that he/she can do for the Lord. For where the sugar is, there the ants gather. The sugar need not cry out to the ants to go to it, since the very substance of sugar itself attracts ants to it. Likewise, if we abide in the life of God, there is no need for us to look for work to do - the very presence of the Almighty Himself will draw the work of God to us - "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit." (Jn. 15:5)
There can be no life in the Spirit unless there is first a death to self. 2 Cor. 4:12 can be paraphrased to read "It is at the point of my death that God's life is being released to others." How much of the life of God we can minister to people is really proportional to how much of death we have experienced in our self. Today, we will realise that no matter how earnest our efforts have been, we are not touching many lives in a deep way, and this is only because we are still much too `alive' in the flesh. To embrace the mantle of true ministry, we must put a nail to what is in us (our highest ambition, our deepest desires etc.), and reckon ourselves as dead to the world and alive to God. A branch that is not attached to the vine cannot bear fruit on its own, and whatever that comes from this branch, even if it takes the appearance of a fruit, is a counterfeit and a fake fruit; it will not endure the fire of judgment that will come to test its authenticity (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
"To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Sam. 15:22). As discussed earlier, there is a tendency for us to give more attention to and place more emphasis on works, so much so that we tend to neglect that part of obedience. Consider the lives of Nadab and Abihu in Lev. 10:1-2. They were sons of Aaron, appointed by God to serve Him as Aaron's helpers. God never meant for them to serve independently. However, they were caught in the act of disobedience when they went ahead with their unilateral decision to offer fire on the altar without Aaron's instructions, assuming that it was all right for them to do what they see their father (Aaron) doing, not knowing that Aaron alone was God's chosen vessel for such work! And this mere act of doing more than what they were appointed to do actually cost them their very lives when the fire came down and consumed them both.
True service comes about only when the idea is conceived by God and the work assigned by Him. Anything apart from that becomes like a strange fire that is unacceptable in His sight - it is an act done through man's own zeal, without enquiring of God. Nadab and Abihu watched their father offer sacrifices daily, and to them it seemed a rather mundane and simple act, totally failing to see God's sovereignty in choosing Aaron as the one for the job. People who would say things like "If he can do it, so can I .... " are people who do not know God and His ways. God is interested not only in receiving our sacrifices, but He also is careful to note the nature of our sacrifice. Service without God changes the nature of our fire. Consider this again, that God is looking not for sacrifices but for submission and obedience. We ought to adjust ourselves to being comfortable in following our God wholeheartedly, trusting Him at every step of the way even if it seems out of what we would normally expect. We should take heed and be diligent to abide in Christ so that His life may flow in the extension of our gifts and works, that we should never come to worship the work of our hands, but only the Lord and Him alone.