Attempting Great Things
We live in an age of great things – of space stations that orbit the globe, of high-tech medical robots, of multi-million dollar budgets. The modern world is bursting with initiative and impressive projects, whether 35-mile tunnels under mountains or elaborate artificial islands.
The Problem Today
But take a look at the Christian world, and sometimes the scene is depressingly monotonous. Why is it that God’s people are so quick to settle into comfortable norms, as if all we desire is a stable and routine world?
If the modern world of business and science is focused on massive projects and daring initiative, the modern church seems all too accepting of the status quo. Occasionally we are challenged to take a few risks. It’s not that I dislike books like Radical …it’s just that Jesus has been reminding us of these things for thousands of years already!
The Dominion Mandate
God’s people were the original ‘movers and shakers’ in the world, and they did so because they were given a sacred charter to worship God by thinking big:
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
This is called the ‘Dominion Mandate,’ and it is God’s direct charge to mankind. It gives humanity the authority to take dominion over the world, not as a usurper over God’s kingdom, but as the rightfully appointed overseer. While the Dominion Mandate isn’t a blank title to exploit the natural world, it is authority to exercise loving and gentle rule.
This is one way that humanity is separated from the beasts of the earth. Created in the image of God, we also exercise authority, just like God does. Zebras and blue whales are unable to exercise dominion, or to subdue the earth. And while rabbits and ants might be able to multiply and fill the earth, they have no charter to think and attempt great things in the world.
As good as it is to fulfill the Dominion Mandate, Christians need to view this mandate from a spiritual perspective – not just exercising authority in the world, but ‘subduing the world’ for Jesus Christ. In other words, our charter applies not only to the physical world, but also to the spiritual realm.
Paul reminded his hearers of the spiritual warfare that he was engaged in: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). He painted the physical scene as a backdrop for spiritual conflict: “…you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…” (Ephesians 2:1-2)
And Paul was a man who was zealous about big things. He expected great things from God (saying famously, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:13), and he attempted great things for God, bringing the Gospel to the heart of the Roman empire, and setting his sights as far as distant Spain (Romans 15:23-24).
Expecting and Attempting Great Things
This is why I am so excited by big projects – whether starting a Christian university in the heart of Africa or seeing a family leave their American lifestyle to pursue God’s work in the developing world.
William Carey – the ‘father of modern missions’ who translated the Bible into multiple languages – expressed this idea best when he said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
Christians should not attempt things for God because we are a particularly illustrious lot. Abraham described himself as ‘dust and ashes’ (Genesis 18:27),’ Bildad calls man a ‘maggot’ and a ‘worm’ (Job 25:6), and the Bible describes us as withering grass and falling flowers (1 Peter 1:24).
Rather, this challenge to expect and attempt great things is based on a realization of who God is – a subject richly illustrated throughout the Bible. For “who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?” “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”
Yes, there are still ‘great things’ to be expected from God, and ‘great things’ to be attempted for God – whether among the one billion slum dwellers in the world, or in the least evangelical US metro areas, or among the 2.8 billion unreached peoples. Not that we are all called to these places, but we are all called to take God at His word, and serve Him with everything we have!