Monday, October 26, 2015

Serving and loving God for nothing

In the last few pages of his very engaging and well-researched book Walking with God though Pain and Suffering, noted Presbyterian Pastor Timothy Keller said something very astute and at the same time easily misunderstood about Jesus.  Jesus, he posits, was the only one who truly managed “to serve God for nothing”. 

Taken out of context, this phrase that Jesus served God for nothing can even sound scandalous.  It is almost evocative of images of livid and fuming parents, seething with anger at their charges for having disappointed them with bad behaviour or misdemeanors, and one can imagine this phrase being spat out through clenched teeth: “I have given you so much for nothing”.  But this is far from what Keller meant, or alluded to.

Keller takes his reader through a wonderfully crafted weave of his writing, where he did a marvelous job in showing how in sometimes small and maybe even imperceptible ways God takes us to places that are hard and filled with afflictions so that we come out of it with a more mature faith.  We human beings struggle so much with this, and I was almost heartened to see that my encounters with my Catholic flock who struggle so often with pain, suffering and adversities a kindred experience of Keller in his ministry as well. This should come as no surprise as tribulations are common to all of us as human beings.  Our very existence is made up of interwoven connections, much as an elaborate piece of woven fabric is made up of the warp and weft of the tapestry called life. 

When Keller makes this surprising statement, he was drawing richly on the understanding that our ultimate goal in our spiritual lives has to be that we are able to love God above all else.  Doing this would place our dearest and nearest loves, which includes our parents, our children, our spouses at least one or several notches below that of our love for God.  Not that it bothers God that we don’t.  He is God and being immutable, nothing changes his love for us. 

Even if we don’t love him, he continues to love us with his entire being.  But if we do not re-order our loves in our lives to love him with our whole mind, our whole heart and our whole soul, it is we who ultimately stand to suffer when those things we love inordinately get taken away from us.  If you don’t believe this as truth, just imagine your life right now and make a list of the things or people that most affect you and give you security and meaning and joy in life.  Then imagine them either taken away from you or failing you.  People whose whole world crumbles and are henceforth inconsolable and disconsolate for the rest of their lives are most likely those who have not placed their love of God as their number one priority in life. 

But it is when we love God as our top priority in life that we get the most security.  This is because everything else in life will ultimately either die on us or fail us, or have their limitations.  But not God.  Ever.  To be able to order our priorities of our loves rightly thus is a very pressing spiritual task, but most of us hardly even think of this - till our world begins to fall apart at its seams. 

Keller also points out that most of the time, we love God with an agenda.  On many occasion, I have asked people if they pray, and how do they pray.  Quite often, their honest answer is that they pray when they have troubles and when things are not going right in their lives.  In other words, there is an agenda in their relationship (if at all there is one) with God.  Our efforts at trying to place our love of God as our highest priority has to boil down to our being able to love God, but for what he can do for us and help us to achieve in life.  It would be loving God with really no intention other than simply loving him.  Not for his display of majesty, not for his divine power where he can move mountains if he wanted to, or for granting us our heartfelt desires in life.  This would be loving God for nothing.

Jesus did this, and did this with a poise unmatched on the Cross of Calvary.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus saw that if he obeyed God fully, he’d be absolutely abandoned, to the point of being destroyed by evil.  He loved God without getting as much of a glimmer of God’s aid on the Cross, and in that truly salvific act, loved and served God “for nothing”.   

If we can say that we have tried to do this in our lives, I think we can also truly say that like Jesus, we too can say to the Father as we die “into your hands, I commit my spirit”.  


  1. I posted this comment once and it never posted... I'll try to remember it as I first wrote it...

    "HE IS NOT BOTHERED". This has got to be the most difficult thing for me to grasp..
    Surely HE is upset at me every time I screw up.
    The thunderous roar of the church leadership as a child, resonates through me, when I think of my sins.
    Though likely not the beliefs of all those around me, I felt that God is happy or sad like me, and it's all based on how well behaved I am.

    Though I have desired with all my heart to be recklessly abandoned to whatever Yahweh asks of me.. The vapor of fear lies just behind all those, whom I hold dear to my heart.."can I go on without them". What if Yahweh tests my heart and removes them all, will I stand?

    They are both a barrier and a guard, and terrified am I that that test shall be put forth and I am crushed.
    A fellow chocolate lover

  2. Dearest Fr. Luke,

    In our daily struggles in placing God as our top priority, what differs from all His disciples, is then the varying degrees of struggling to WANT to place Him as first. There are good days and not so good days… but ultimately, it is at the moment of crisis/pain and suffering, is HE the person we trust without doubt, even if the circumstances seems hopeless?

    I believe these are the hot water moments, when we truly know how strong our tea-bag (our relationship with God) is. Not that God need to verify, but more for us to know ourselves & in humility, we to give thanks to God for His faithfulness, despite the weakness of our tea-bags or for strengthening our tea-bag over the years.

    I myself, was recently placed in hot water a couple of times, when the health of my loved ones were compromised one after another, and at some weaker moments, all I could do was like Martha, lamenting when Jesus arrived at the funeral of Lazarus, asking HIM why didn’t He helped earlier? But that’s my teabag with God, quietly knowing He will console me in my mourning, & weeps with me.

    And indeed, after this episode, I am more in awe & much able to WANT to place a loving Father who weeps with His children, as my top priority. ;} … may my next hot water moment show me this permanent change in me.

    PS: Fr. Luke, I was reading & re-reading your post this week, unsure of this particular paragraph you wrote, –
    “Our efforts at trying to place our love of God as our highest priority has to boil down to our being able to love God, but for what he can do for us and help us to achieve in life. It would be loving God with really no intention other than simply loving him.”

    Initially I reckon … could it be a typo… “not” instead of “but” & I recalled another quote by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

    "I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that He will guide me to do whatever I'm supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I'm praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things." ~ Mother Teresa

    So indeed, even if it’s truly a typo, its still God inspired, at least for me. ;} … a change in my prayers, for me to be more proactive, and not diffident.

    I wonder if intercessory prayer or prayer intentions will be consider as praying with agenda? Where & how do we mindfully draw the line?

    God bless you Fr.
    Take care.

  3. For pastor T Keller to say what he did about Jesus – “to serve God for nothing”- I believe he must have come upon the works of Teresa of Avila or St John of the Cross.....two of the greats of Carmelite Spirituality and reflected on them.

    Instinctively, for all who has come to know about God and know a little of God, it is but the beginning of an eternal quest or happy adventure in pursuit of the sacred and divine. It will definitely deepen into a seeking for silence and solitude, a need to be dis-encumbered and even delivered from material and even spiritual things. Perhaps that’s what St Teresa meant when she said “To love is to surrender one’s self without reserve.”

    In similar vein, St John of the Cross summarised it in two words – Nada, Todo ie Nothing, Everything. For - if God is our “Everything”, then we are in want of “Nothing” and that is why he is often quoted – “To come to possess all, desire the possession of nothing”.(Ascent)

    To imitate Christ is the desire of all his saints – (both big S and small s) This perhaps explains why all the great Saints of the church renounced self and in the footsteps of the Master, embraced suffering lovingly for the love of the Father and humankind because Christ is both Renunciation and Love.

    God bless u, Fr