John, a teenager at the time, was listening to the exasperations of his mother. I suppose her frustrations we’re fueled by his not helping around the house, or perhaps a disrespectful attitude. She pleaded with him, reminding him the story that leads all teenagers to roll their eyes: “I carried you in my belly for nine months. I gave birth to you and nurtured you. I changed your diapers and taught you to read.” John, looked at his mother and said,
“But what have you done for me lately?!”
I chuckle when I think of this because I know John and his mom. They were actually quite close and both her pleading and his response were said in jest. But I wonder if you’ve asked that same question in the midst of real conflict and sorrow. Maybe your hard efforts go unnoticed, or worse yet, criticized. Maybe you’ve been on the giving end of a one-way relationship that seems to suck the life out of you for lack of a mutual demonstration of love and concern. Maybe you once knelt before the cross and asked Jesus to save you from your sins and to show you the abundant life he promised. Only now, you look at the difficulties in your life and wonder “God you once filled me with joy, but what have you done for me lately? Where did you go and why did you leave me in this life of woe?”
It’s not that God is a magic genie, subject to our every wish and command. He is not the Great Santa whose job is to fulfill our request list. And still, God promises to be with his people always. His promises of abundant life, filled with love, joy, and peace are true promises. They are ours for the asking. And yet, with our eyes focused on our troubles, we forget the promise, thinking, “It must not be true for me.” The reality of life on earth is that we often focus on our circumstances rather than on God.
I wonder how we might respond if God asked us the same question: “What have you done for me lately? What have you done in my name?” The wonderful news is “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-9
We couldn’t earn forgiveness or favor from God. He offers it to us freely. We access his gioodness and power through faith, which itself is a gift from God. Why? So we could be who we were meant to be, a new creation created in Jesus in order to do good in the world. There’s nothing wrong with random acts of kindness, but you and I were created for more than that. We were create to participate in the work that God himself has prepared us to do. We were made for the very purpose of helping others in practical ways and with the expressed intent of showing them the love of Jesus. We were made to experience and express love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Are these not the blessings he has offered to us recently, even in the day before us?
This leads me to measure my ambitions and personal interests against God’s better plan for me. Indeed, what have I really done for God lately? How have I shown his compassion? How has his power to overcome my circumstances been evident in my conversations? Is there anything noticeable about my life because Jesus is doing something magnificent for me and in me, not just years ago or even recently, but right now? Is the light of Jesus hidden in my life, or is it able to shine brightly upon the lives of those around me?
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. – Psalm 51:10-12