Should We Attempt Great Things for God?

April 30, 2014 at 4:06 pm
William Carey

William Carey

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore. (Psalm 131)

“Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.” –William Carey, founder of the modern missions movement

On the surface Psalm 131 and Carey’s well-known statement are contradictory and mutually exclusive. After all we cannot avoid being concerned with “great matters” and “attempt great things” at the same time. Or can we?

The psalmist guides the Lord’s people in the way of contentment. He has learned the way of humility of heart and modesty about the tasks he sets his hand to. He compares his contentment to that of  a weaned child.  The weaned child is still totally dependent on its mother, but has moved into a new level of development, from baby to toddler. He is no longer clamoring for his own needs to be met at his demand, but is content to rest in his mother’s arms knowing that his his needs will be met. He exhorts Israel to put her hope in the Lord with childlike faith, not in childish self-centeredness.

How we need this great antidote to worldly ambition and the success syndrome. We are content in the Lord, and content with what he gives us to do regardless of whether it is great or small.  This wisdom is greatly needed. As J.I. Packer notes:

The success syndrome is an infection that has spread right through the whole Western world, so that its prevalence among Christian people, though distressing, is hardly surprising. The world’s idea that everyone, from childhood up, should be able to succeed at all times in measurable ways, and that it is a great disgrace not to, hangs over the Christian community like a pall of acrid smoke; and if the spiritual counterpart of agonized coughing, lung pain, and shortness of breath should result, no one should be surprised. Those who want to become Christ’s agents in building His Church now feel they have to have track records that show them as successes in everything to which they have ever put their hand. So the impostors have a field day: anything that in the short term looks like triumph is equated with personal success, and anything that in the short term that looks like disaster is seen as failure. Successful-looking performance at all costs becomes the goal, and unreality creeps into people’s view of themselves as a result.

So which is it for the follower of Christ, avoiding great things or attempting great thing? It is evident that the Lord honored Carey’s attempts at great thing because He used him to do such great things as launch the modern missions movement and to translate the Bible into numerous languages. So is there some sense in which we can both not concern ourselves with great things and attempt them?

It really all depends on who is going to do the great things. We can do nothing. If the creator-redeemer Lord, in his earthly life said “By myself I can do nothing” (John 5:30), how much more true is that of us. But clearly our sovereign, omnipotent can do all things.

Carey did only the great things that his Lord gave him to do. The Lord graciously chose the humble English cobbler to be his junior partner in certain great tasks. Paradoxically, his humility didn’t prevent him from doing great things for God, it qualified him to be an instrument of the one who delights in using the foolish things of this world. Being like a weaned child with his mother didn’t keep him from being used by God for great things; it enabled him to do so. Carey asked his Lord for great things with expectant faith, and when the Lord granted certain of these great requests, he also allowed Carey to be a part of them. This is why he was so careful to give God the glory. On his deathbed Carey called out to a missionary friend,

“Dr. Duff! You have been speaking about Dr. Carey; when I am gone, say nothing about Dr. Carey — speak about Dr. Carey’s God.”

The application of all  this for us as we consider the possibility of PAK7 is that our feasibility study consists in one essential question: Is the Lord calling us to do it?

Soli Deo Gloria

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