By Matthew Hanks | Director of Projects - Africa
In my experience, one of the first questions a man asks another man when meeting for the first time is usually, “So, what do you do?” It’s understood and accepted that the question really being asked is, “So, how do you make a living?” Dissecting our question a bit further, what we men are truly searching for is a form of classification. What box can I put this guy into? How can I identify him? Label him? “So, what’s your worth” is closer to point we’re getting at. It’s a way of sizing one another up, and not altogether different from two dogs putting their noses under each other’s tails and simultaneously walking in a circle. Although, unlike dogs who measure each other’s worth based on the brand of dog food they’ve been eating, I’ve found that men typically measure success on how much money they make, which can quickly be deduced upon discovery of one’s occupation. This highlights why most men find their identity not in who they are but in what they do.
I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to see myself outside of this worldly identification system and to find my identity solely on the basis of what Jesus did for us on the cross - “Redeeming those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:5). Abiding in the reality that we are sons and daughters of the Most High God is truly foundational to living a life free from the insecurities of our worth being too little. Anyone who has tasted Grace and received the gospel of Christ knows that it’s by nothing they’ve done; “It’s not by works of righteousness… but by His mercy that He saved us” (Titus 3:5-7). Our “son-ship” is dependent on our receiving and believing, not upon anything we do. Yet, while picking a fight with the Pharisees and Scribes, the self-proclaimed ‘holiest’ of His chosen people, Jesus points to something that we are to do — something to “not neglect” (Matt. 23:23).
Justice, mercy, and faith — In the scripture above, Jesus is telling the Pharisees and the scribes that they have neglected to “do” these things. He goes on to say how they focus on the aspects of the law that are self-serving, that help keep their position in life, and “neglect the weightier matters of the law.” In the time shortly before Jesus’s arrival if you had met a man for the first time and he said he was either a Scribe of Pharisee you would certainly know how you would be expected to see them; more importantly, how they saw themselves, which went something like this: “We are the interpreters of God’s law, we abide by it better than anyone, and we let people know when they’re coming up short, and oh yeah, we’re pretty much always right.”
Having just returned from a two-week trip to the developing world, many of my Pharisaical tendencies were recently confronted. If you’ve ever been on a short-term mission trip then I know you’re familiar with the challenges that come upon returning home.
The things in you that are the most significantly affected on a mission trip to the third world are your concept of justice, mercy, and faith. Together, these make up the basic fundamental aspects of the character of a servant of God. On your trip you saw injustice all around and you vowed to come home and do something about it; mercy and compassion welled up in you until your heart hurt; and your faith was increased in ways you didn’t even know it was lacking. Once home however, you’re bombarded with emotions of judgment for the way people around you are living and probably frustrated from seeing yourself slipping back into the desires for “more”, for comfort, for the American dream you’d chased (with everyone else you know) your entire life. You know you’ve been changed to the core but every one else just sees you as they always have…the pharmacist, the plumber, or their child’s history teacher and track coach.
How then do you let others see the dramatic change in you? How do you “do justice, mercy and faith” (Is. 1:17, Micah 6:8, Zech. 7:9)? Naturally, upon your return, you will share your stories, photos, and the revelations you were given; you might begin to partner financially with and advocate for the organizations with whom you served while on your trip, or maybe even change who you hang with and start surrounding yourself with a more like-minded community. All of these actions are great and will help you live outwardly the changes that took place inside of you. Along with that here’s the one thing I’d encourage you to do.
Are you ready?
Grab your notebook as this may take a few times of re-reading…
My assumption is that you probably already have something in your heart that you want to do as a response to what you’ve been shown – something exciting, bold, greater than you. “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). This is what you were created for. Did you get that? This is your purpose in this life – Walking in the “good works” that your Maker prepared for you to do. But, if you’re like me, there remains one dilemma… you have a lot of really good ideas. “Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Prov. 19:21). So how do you determine the difference between your great plans for good and “good works prepared ahead of time for you?”
You ask Him.
He’s begun this work in your heart. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). This is something He is leading you in; something He wants for you. He’ll show you. Offer up all your good ideas to Him and He’ll give back to you “good works for you to walk in.” Be prepared for Him to speak through the Word, your friends, your spouse, and then hold onto it. It will be challenged. But He’s gracious in this process. As Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do good…”. It is a process. It won’t happen overnight. You won’t know how to get there immediately. But He’s given some real good hints to help you find where “there” is: “Seek justice; correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless; plead the widow’s cause” (Is. 1:17).
Make this your answer to what it is you “do”.