Doing God’s work or working for God?

Doing God’s work requires us to be prayerful and submissive to God’s calling. It is not about doing what we like or doing our best within our skills or knowledge, but trust in God always.

Mar 01, 2024


Reminiscing Church - Richard Chia

I have heard several times of people saying they are “glad to suffer for Christ” while serving in their church ministry or church group. This is when they face difficulties, challenges or criticisms — something quite common in the church circle.
My response to these people is “God doesn’t need us to suffer for Him. He wants us to serve with joy and love”. It is normal that anyone who has served in any area of church ministries or church groups, will experience at some point “desert moments” or “dry days” when they feel tired, exhausted and want to give up. Especially when they feel that their “sacrifice” is unappreciated, or taken for granted. I would be lying if I say I never had those moments. In fact, I do and still have that feeling occasionally, even after being active in church for so long.

At times like these, I reflect on a spiritual talk given by then Fr Paul Tan SJ, (now Emeritus Bishop Paul Tan). His words still ring clearly in my head — “do we see ourselves doing God’s work, or are we working for God?” Church work usually starts with enthusiasm and passion, perhaps after we encounter the touch of God. We feel exhilarated and excited serving in church. Many will join ministries or groups where they can contribute best based on their skills and ability. They may perhaps even hold a position. It is a great privilege to serve and be able to do God’s work.

As years go by, fatigue creeps in. The excitement and joy of serving in church soon becomes a chore. The numerous tasks, challenges and commitments begin to take its toll on our personal life. At times it will also affect our family life. We find ourselves mostly alone, especially when we have day jobs or family commitments or bills to pay. What started off as great, slowly becomes stressed and painful.

This is the reason why most churches recommend that all church ministries and church groups regularly organise spiritual retreats, weekends away or reflection sessions to “re-charge” and “re-energise” its members. These spiritual moments are necessary for us to reflect, contemplate and review our spiritual life and most importantly, spend time with God. Sadly, few are able to make time from their busy schedule.

One of the much-quoted phrases from Malaysia’s first cardinal, the late Cardinal Soter Fernandez, are “Be, Beget, Be gone”. By this he reminds everyone of our true mission on earth. Not to overstay our service in the church, not to hold on to positions or remain in the same ministry or group, but to do our part in serving, mentoring and developing others to succeed us.

When we look to the Bible, we see successor planning throughout the Old and New Testaments. Abraham passed on his leadership to his son Isaac, who then passed it on to Jacob his son. Moses was called to appoint Joshua as his successor. Prophet Elijah appointed Prophet Elisha as his successor. In the New Testament, we see Jesus called the twelve apostles and appointed Peter as their leader. Apostle Paul trained Timothy. The list goes on.

Returning to my opening remarks, how did people who have been serving faithfully find themselves in a down state? Perhaps it is because we are benchmarking ourselves against the secular world standards of efficiency and quality. Today, we expect all products and services to be top quality and flawless. Meaning, the end outcome of any tasks, activities and services must be perfect, or near perfect. If not, there will be many dislikes, thumbs down or comments circulating on social media or anywhere anyone cares to post.

When the church organises any event or initiative, it relies on volunteers to step forward. Those who do will certainly see themselves doing God’s work, serving God. This will mean giving their time and energy to attend meetings, performing the tasks required and incurring expenses. If it was a one-off, short term task, it could be treated as a project assignment with a clear start and end date. This may be bearable. But, if it was a long-term task with a position attached, expectations of that person are high.

This is when comments and criticisms coming from the general community may be hurtful and damaging. Being human, the volunteer church worker will feel disillusioned. Without spiritual nourishment, what started as doing God’s work soon becomes doing work for God.

Doing God’s work requires us to be prayerful and submissive to God’s calling. It is not about doing what we like or doing our best within our skills or knowledge, but trust in God always. If we apply today’s human resource standards to the first apostles called by Jesus, none would have made the cut. Jesus chose to call fishermen and a tax collector, a far cry from any qualifications expected to serve in any organisation. But they had one qualification that Jesus wanted. They left everything and followed Him. The rest, as we say, is history.

The question we need to reflect on is, ‘How can we respond to God’s call to serve Him’? He may not be calling you to hold a position, join a ministry or group, or take up a church project. Instead, God may be calling you in the quiet of your heart, to serve Him in your family, in your neighbourhood community or workplace. For those He chooses to call to serve in the Church, whenever you feel stressed and unhappy, do pause a moment in silent contemplation. Seek comfort and reflect on the words of Jesus “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”.

Reflecting on the late Cardinal Soter’s quotes, he wisely told us to BE who God calls us to become, then do our duty to BEGET (bring forth) another to succeed us. Finally, BEGONE, either move into another ministry or group, or step away from active ministry and be an advisor.

(Richard Chia shares his experiences on the journey of the Church in Malaysia in the past forty years. Its challenges and achievements as it moves towards synodality.)

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Wow, Richard, thanks for this very good article that is spot on. I truly appreciate your honest and welcome perspective and saying it as it is. Your words of advice will truly help all those involved in Ministry to face challenges and brickbats thrown their way. Helping us to be Christ centred and putting us on track to continue to do His will