Give God What He Wants

“Did you have a good Christmas?” Kids know how to interpret that question. It means, “How was your haul? Did you get everything you wanted from Santa?”

I wonder if God had a good Christmas. I wonder if he got what he wanted.

If not, maybe he waited for New Year’s Eve to hear what resolutions we would make for 2009 and see if those held any promise for him.

So, a few days after New Year’s, do you think God got what he wanted—from you, from me?

Hello. My name is John and I am a careeroholic.

(Those of you who suffer similarly are now supposed to say, “Hi, John!” from the circle of shared affliction and failure.)

I have had reason recently to update and send out a c.v. I love doing that. Look at those lines of type, each signifying something I did. Accomplishments. Triumphs. Awards. VICTORI—


But if I am honest, I do tend to measure out my life, not in coffee spoons, but in résumé entries.

And I have every intention of honoring God in 2009 the same way, by doing more stuff as a Public Christian Scholar Guy, adding yet more lines of type to my c.v. soli deo gloria, and praying Salieri’s prayer that God will make me great so that I can give great glory to him.

More articles, more speeches, more courses, more books, more blog entries—a veritable river of words, all meant to give God what he wants most: a successful professional career for me. I mean, that’s what he’s called me to do, so surely that’s what he wants.

Hmm. When I put it like that, it doesn’t ring quite true, does it?

“With what shall I come to Yhwh and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does Yhwh take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil?”

God did tell Israel he wanted them to sacrifice animals and oil and such. So what is the prophet Micah saying? That God doesn’t care about them after all? Does he want more? What more can one give?

“Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Does he want me to give up my family, too, the other site of my accomplishment as I take pride in my wonderful three sons? What does God want? How can he want more than a dedicated career and a properly raised family?

“He has told you, O man, what is good.”

Oh. So I’m supposed to know already?

“And what does Yhwh”—that is, what does this particular deity, rather than the “god” of one’s own fond imagination and aspiration—”require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

That is: to try to make right whatever I come across that is wrong; to add goodness to every situation beyond what is strictly required; and to live each moment circumspectly, recognizing who is God and who isn’t.

That’s not new. That’s not surprising. It’s pretty basic. I already knew that.

And that’s what God wants. Do that, and the thousands of words and the rivers of good deeds will come on their own, flowing out like living water from a soul properly connected to and wide open to the divine flow.

It’s time to stop blogging now and go back to revise a couple of those New Year’s resolutions . . .

0 Responses to “Give God What He Wants”

  1. Nathan

    My bet is Rahab is actually Bartha in disguise.

    Good stuff here John. Your rigorous self reflection regarding our shadow side, misguided motivations, and such is exemplary.

    You know all be quoting the paragraph beginning, “That is:”

  2. Nathan

    And yes that “all” is not a typo, I do meant ALL SHALL BE QUOTING the aforementioned paragraph…I am going to bed.

  3. Josh

    One answer to the question what God wants of me most, has always been the most unexpected and surprising (maybe because it’s so counterintuitive): my sin – in other words: my garbage and what seems least desirable and attractive. This puts quite a different spin on any view of “accomplishments” altogether!

  4. John Stackhouse

    Brother Josh, I’m not clear what you mean. God does “want” my sin in order to forgive, eradicate, and heal it, sure. But that’s hardly what he wants of me “most,” is it? I’m reminded of the conclusion of “In the Bleak Midwinter”: “What shall I give him? Give my heart.”

  5. Josh

    Let me try and clarify what I meant, John. If we make a distinction between the person and what the person can do or bring, then I believe indeed that in respect to the latter God is most interested in us becoming honest and real and let Him deal with our dark side more than anything else. If we don’t make that distinction in the first place (and I guess one could make a good argument that it is unnecessary) then I’d agree of course: what God desires most is me and my heart responding with the same love He has shown me.

  6. John Stackhouse

    Thanks, Josh. I’m still not sure I agree, however. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has some powerful things to say critically in his Ethics about a piety that focuses entirely on our bad side before God, as if God doesn’t care about, let alone value greatly, the good things he has placed in us. Bonhoeffer, a good Lutheran, doesn’t quite blame Martin Luther for such extreme language, but one might do so (!), and Bonhoeffer is helpfully reacting against a tendency in his tradition and, indeed, in my own North American evangelical one: “for such a worm as I,” etc.–when we are NOT worms, but created in God’s image.

    (Calvin, by the way, can be pretty devastating about our “ruined” state, to be sure, with the image of God almost totally effaced by sin, but he’s only following Father Luther in that, I think, as he does in so many respects.)

    In sum, I think God wants us ALL, bad and good and mixed together, to redeem us and transform us into the best possible versions of ourselves. We don’t need to deny whatever goodness with which God may have gifted any of us in order to celebrate his marvelous grace in saving us “while we were yet sinners”–which is, finally, the great point of his mercy: undeserved favour when we deserved condemnation.

  7. Josh

    In terms of God’s ultimate goals and desires for our lives, I can only say yes and Amen to that! And it’s certainly proper to watch out for imbalanced “wretched is me” type theologies that don’t accomodate the transformational power of the Holy Spirit. My answer was simply meant to address the issue: What can I (APART from the good God has placed in me!) actually contribute that makes a whole lot of a difference? And here the old hymn writers may be on to something when they came up with statements like “Nearer, still nearer – NOTHING I bring, naught as an off’ring to Jesus my King – only my sinful, now contrite heart … “.

  8. John Stackhouse

    Thanks again, Brother Josh. This is a difficult area to get right, isn’t it, especially since pride and self-abnegation lurk in the bushes on every side? I appreciate very much your good spirit in this dialogue!

  9. Sharla

    To quote my 3-year-old daughter, what God wants for Christmas is “You!” This Christmas the gift we bought her was the “What God Wants For Christmas” nativity set, which includes 7 gift boxes…6 for various figurines with which to build a nativity scene and then a 7th box containing what God wants for Christmas. It’s a mirror! God wants you.


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