Many people are committed to working for God in the church. As they go about the tasks at hand, they hope that they are doing what they call “God’s will.” In my experience, persons on Vestries and other committees of the church facing difficult decisions don’t often stop their meetings to ask aloud what “God’s will” might be for their church in the decision at hand. And so, they figure that if they just proceed as they normally would, God will bless all their endeavors done in God’s name with success.
If you find yourself having to make decisions like this, I would like you to ask yourself this question: are you doing “works for God” or are you doing “God’s work”? There is a difference. Works done for God may be performed merely out of self-interest. Doing God’s work means that you have taken the time to discern with your sisters and brothers in Christ exactly what “God’s work” might be at a particular time and in a particular situation.
Thomas Green, a Roman Catholic priest who served in the Philippines, illustrates the difference between God’s work and works done for God. He develops his ideas in two inter-connected books, When the Well Runs Dry and Darkness in the Marketplace.1 Citing the story of Mary and Martha in the gospel of Luke, Green observes that Martha was busy doing works for Jesus while Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet “listening to his teaching (Luke 10:38-42). While both of their labors were important, Martha, as Jesus reminded her, needed to stop her busy-ness and listen to the words of her Lord: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.”
Fr. Green remembers how, when friends travelled back to the United States for visits, they would often ask him if he would like them to bring anything back for him. He told them he would love some blue cheese, an item not easily found in the Philippines. Many of his friends who themselves did not like blue cheese would return with something “better” in place of the cheese he had requested. Fr. Green observes that he knew he had a true friend, that is, one who truly cared about him, when the friend who personally hated blue cheese nonetheless brought some back as a gift. Fr. Green concludes that God is like that. God often asks us for blue cheese but we feel the need to do something “better.” When we try to do something “better”, are we busy doing works for God or are we doing God’s work? Are we so “anxious and troubled about many things” that we do whatever we want, or are we doing what “is needful?, that is, what God may be asking us to do.
As you think about what God wants from us, take time to reflect on the difference between “God’s work” and “works for God.” Remember: “the Lord likes blue cheese!”
1Thomas H Green, S.J., When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1979); Darkness in the Marketplace: The Christian at Prayer in the World (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1981).