For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork,created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Praise God that we are not reconciled to Him by our own efforts – by the “good” things that we do. I cannot imagine a life comparing myself to others, trying to be good “enough”, and the unbelievable rat race that would ensue. Actually, that’s probably exactly what’s happening in the world, which is why so many people are losing their minds in their pursuits of success. But that’s not what I’m writing about today.
I memorized the above verses, Ephesians 2:8-9, as a kid in a scripture memorization class. We were talking about the plan for “salvation” – or, how to be reconciled with God. Somehow, I feel like I always overlooked verse ten. When I was younger, I used to think about God’s “will” for my life as a puzzle that one day I was going to figure out. I remember being so shocked when someone told me that a “blueprint was never going to fall from the sky into (my) lap.” How inconsiderate of God, I thought, to not tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life. I’m doing my best here, right?
We all want our life to count for something. I would like to suggest that we overcomplicate things. If we’re looking for purpose, we should look around. In verse 10, we are reminded that while we are not saved by our “good works”, God delights in giving us opportunities to serve him and serve others. How silly it is that we think our purpose in life is centered around our career, or marriage, or whatever. It’s in everything. We miss God when we look past today and tomorrow to make self-serving plans for a future that we can’t control.
When I look around, I see need everywhere. That is not an exaggeration. I see poor people who lack basic needs. I see addicts who lack freedom (a good moment to note that most of us are addicted to something, whether it’s something “socially acceptable” or not). I see successful people who are spiritually or relationally poor. I see loneliness. I see pain. I see neglected and unloved children. I see my own selfishness and how quick I can be to impatience. I see a God who loves justice, who has prepared good works for his people to do – and a gracious place from which to do them – and I see people (me, you) totally missing it.
I see these things and I see an invitation to come alive. God’s gift of salvation is not just an invitation to skip out on hell. It’s an invitation to live. Our pain is an invitation to experience God, and the pain of others is an invitation to find our God-given purpose in loving, serving, & giving of ourselves. In John 10:10, Jesus says he has come so that we may have “life to the full.” I used to think that was a Carpe Diem kinda thing – sort of a battle cry for adventure and love and all things that are good. Now I think about how the reality of life includes lots of darkness, and being fully alive means embracing the good with the bad – being brave enough to notice the need around us, and using whatever meager resources we may have to help. We will never do this perfectly, but it is important to try.
Looking back on my extraordinary, ordinary life, I wonder how many times I’ve missed out on the “good works” God prepared for me because the opportunities didn’t satisfy my ambitious spirit. I wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed because I thought I was “overqualified” or “above” an act of service. Or too busy. Or to prideful.
I am trying to stop searching for purpose in the extraordinary and explore what it looks like to be simply faithful with what God’s placed in front of me. My peers and I sometimes seem so busy trying to be extraordinary. Maybe what the world needs are ordinary, faithful people who are committed to serving others at the expense of their own ambitions. It will always be a work in progress, I will never arrive, and as soon as I deal with one problem another one will arise. Still, I find so much hope and peace knowing that no matter where I go or what I do vocationally, God will be there, and he will be providing good works for me to carry out. He will be inviting me to come alive no matter my circumstances, no matter my job, no matter whether others see me as successful or not.
And for that I say with confidence, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”