We serve a God who loves us more than our labors.
Oh, it’s true that God wants us to work to feed our families and to responsibly take care of the world He created. And He expects us to serve the weak, hungry, naked, thirsty, and broken people around us even as we remain alert to those who have not yet responded to the Holy Spirit's tug on their lives.
And yet we serve a God who loves us more than our labors.
We must never forget this because there may come a time when our ability to “do for God” is torn from us by health or failure or unforeseen catastrophe. It is in those hours that God wants us to remember that He loves us not for what we do for Him but because of who we are: His children! Once we call on the name of Christ for salvation, nothing—“trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger of sword”—will ever again separate us “from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 39).
When all we can do or all we have is taken from us, then all He wants us to do is rest in our identity in Him.
When I first made the acquaintance of a new friend from abroad, I noticed his posh English accent and that he wore a ring on his little finger. Later I learned that this wasn’t just jewelry; it revealed his family’s history through the family crest engraved on it.
It was a bit like a signet ring—perhaps like the one in Haggai. In this short Old Testament book, the prophet Haggai calls for the people of God to restart the rebuilding of the temple. They had been exiled and had now returned to their homeland and begun rebuilding, but enemy opposition to their project had stalled them. Haggai’s message includes God’s promise to Zerubbabel, Judah’s leader, that he had been chosen and set apart as their leader, like a signet ring.
In ancient times, a signet ring was used as a means of identification. Instead of signing their name, people would press their ring into hot wax or soft clay to make their mark. As God’s children, we too make a mark on the world as we spread the gospel, share His grace through loving our neighbors, and work to end oppression.
Each of us has our own unique stamp that reveals how we’re created in God’s image and expresses our particular mix of gifts, passions, and wisdom. It’s our call and privilege to act as this signet ring in God’s world.
“We’re cutting your job.” A decade ago those words sent me reeling when the company I worked for eliminated my position. At the time, I felt shattered, partly because my identity was so intertwined with my role as editor. Recently I felt a similar sadness when I heard that my freelance job was ending. But this time I didn’t feel rocked at my foundation, because over the years I have seen God’s faithfulness and how He can turn my mourning to joy.
Though we live in a fallen world where we experience pain and disappointment, the Lord can move us from despair to rejoicing, as we see in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Jesus (Isa. 61:3). The Lord gives us hope when we feel hopeless; He helps us to forgive when we think we can’t; He teaches us that our identity is in Him and not in what we do. He gives us courage to face an unknown future. When we wear the rags of “ashes,” He gently gives us a coat of praise.
When we face loss, we shouldn’t run from the sadness, but neither do we want to become bitter or hardened. When we think about God’s faithfulness over the years, we know that He’s willing and able to turn our grief to dancing once again—to give us sufficient grace in this life and full joy in heaven.
She called herself a worrier, but when her child was hurt in an accident, she learned how to escape that restricting label. As her child was recovering, she met each week with friends to talk and pray, asking God for help and healing. Through the months as she turned her fears and concerns into prayer, she realized that she was changing from being a worrier to a prayer warrior. She sensed that the Lord was giving her a new name. Her identity in Christ was deepening through the crucible of unwanted heartache.
In Jesus’ letter to the church at Pergamum, the Lord promises to give to the faithful a white stone with a new name on it (Rev. 2:17). Biblical commentators have debated over the meaning, but most agree that this white stone points to our freedom in Christ. In biblical times, juries in a court of law used a white stone for a not-guilty verdict and a black stone for guilty. A white stone also gained the bearer entrance into such events as banquets; likewise, those who receive God’s white stone are welcomed to the heavenly feast. Jesus’ death brings us freedom and new life—and a new name.
What new name do you think God might give to you?
My youngest brother, Scott, was born when I was a senior in high school. This age difference made for an interesting situation when he grew to college age. On his first trip to his college campus, I went along with him and our mom. When we arrived, people thought we were Scott Crowder and his dad and his grandmom. Eventually, we gave up correcting them. No matter what we said or did, our actual relationships were overridden by this humorous case of mistaken identity.
My wife, Marlene, and I have been married for over 35 years. When we were first dating, we had a conversation I have never forgotten. She told me that at 6 months old she had been adopted. When I asked her if she ever wondered about who her real parents were, she responded, “My mom and dad could have selected any of a number of other babies that day, but they chose me. They adopted me. They are my real parents.”
It’s probably not a name we would use for ourselves, but the apostle Paul often called believers “saints” in the New Testament (Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2). Did he call them saints because they were perfect? No. These people were human and therefore sinful. What then did he have in mind? The word saint in the New Testament means that one is set apart for God. It describes people who have a spiritual union with Christ (Eph. 1:3-6). The word is synonymous with individual believers in Jesus (Rom. 8:27) and those who make up the church (Acts 9:32).