The Joy of Doing Nothing
By: Deji Yesufu
I heard the phrase “Reformed Theology” from Robert Tillman Kendall first. He is generally known as R. T. Kendall but I prefer to call him by his full name because his book “WORSHIPPING GOD” introduced the concept of God’s sovereignty in salvation to me for the first time. Kendall was minister at the Westminster Chapel, London, for 25 years. He succeeded the pastor who succeeded D. M. Lloyd-Jones from the pulpit of that great ministry. Kendall is, unfortunately a Continuationist in theology but I will forever be grateful for God using that little book to introduce me to the greatest Christian theology of all time – reformed theology.
The book “Worshipping God” is a manual on practical Christianity. I had just become a Christian in 1998 when somebody gave me the book to read. Kendall, in that great Christian manual, took time to teach the concept of worshipping God as the essence of the Christian life. So he showed us how to worship God in prayer, in fasting, in giving, in music, with all of our lifestyle, and even how to worship God in difficult time (he called it worshiping God in the dark). The book was particularly useful for me because as a new Christian, I needed some practical advice on how to live the Christian life. I still follow most of Kendall’s suggestions in that book. The greatest chapter of that book is the second to the last chapter and that is titled “The Joy of Doing Nothing”. In that chapter, Kendall tried to summarize everything he had been teaching by stating this point: “… that the greatest worship we can give to God is not what we do for him; rather the greatest worship is our response to what God has done for us.
The highest worship that the saints offer to God is not so much in what we do for God but it is what God does for us. God wishes to bring the saint to a point of awe and wonder; he wants the Christian to see him at work; he wants to leave us in such awe that we are even unable to say ‘thank you’. The greatest works of God in the life of the saint is one that leaves us in such awe of God that gratitude in itself seems inadequate; we begin to feel that the ‘thank you’ we wish to offer to God is a form of payback. We hold back gratitude and we just enjoy God. God sees our heart and he receives all the praise even in our silence. It is such a heartfelt encounter with God that brings the saints to a life of sheepish servitude to God. We understand that nothing we can ever give God is sufficient; so we live the rest of our lives indebted to his grace (this is a paraphrase). Even though I no longer have the book, those lines written in the first few chapters of the book, remain etched upon my heart forever. God gave me understanding of the doctrine of grace and from that day on, I began to live it out in its fullness.
Kendall proceeds with his teaching: “… at the heart of a person who has encountered this joy of doing nothing, is the doctrine of justification by faith.” It was later that I encountered Church History and saw how Martin Luther discovered this doctrine but Kendall taught it in the context of doing nothing. He took a scripture like Romans 4:4-5 and went on to explain further how God brings a man to justifying faith. Paul the apostle wrote: “… now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” While all world religions press on their adherents some duties that must be done to earn the approbation of their gods, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ brings the greatest blessings on the saints when they do nothing for it. They simply sit back and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and they are saved. The doctrine of justification by faith was revolutionary in the 16th century because most of Christendom of those days was replete with men and women thinking that the way to God was through the many things that they must do to earn his approbation. Suddenly, an Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, began to point to all the people that God needed nothing from them but simple faith. That the greatest blessings of life come when we do nothing for it – but simply believe. Amen.
The doctrine of justification by faith does not stop at the point of entry into Christianity alone. It is also extended to how we actually live the Christian life. Entry into the Christian life is by faith; and living out the Christian life must be dictated by faith also. Paul alluded to this when he told the Galatians that they were foolish: when they started the Christian race by faith, why are they now resorting to works to perfect it (Galatians 3:1). What that means is not that Christianity is devoid of duty; what it means is that Christianity is informed by faith. Whatever else we do as Christians must be informed by a heart that is instructed in God’s word and that firmly believes what they are about to do. This is why Paul teaches that whatever is not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
It means that Christian duty must exhume from a heart of understanding. When we give, we give because we wish to honor God with our resources. When we pray, we pray to talk to our most gracious God. When we go to church, we join other Christians in worshiping the exalted Christ. This also means that the Christian never does anything except he is firmly convinced by the word of God. It also means that no one has the right to tell a Christian what to do or what not to do. Christian ministers should preach the word faithfully and apply them practically; then leave God’s people to come to personal convictions on what they wish to do at any time. A church that keeps dictating to its members what they should do is gradually becoming a cult.
The joy of doing nothing also points at a famous doctrine that is taught in the Old Testament: it is God saying to his people not to avenge themselves – vengeance is mine (Deuteronomy 32:35), I will repay. There is a joy in doing nothing but simply sitting back and watching God defeat one’s enemies. Sincere faith in God is one that tells the saints God does not only exist but is also actively involved in our lives. Genuine faith is one that sees God in action in the now; it is one that sees God in everything. There is a grave danger in the strong taking advantage of the weak: there is a God that fights for the widows; that defends the fatherless; that provides for orphans; that generally protects the weak. There is a grave danger in taking advantage of the weak and encountering the wrath of a mighty God. There is a God who give joy to the weak by making them do nothing, while he steps into a situation and humble the strong. One of the greatest blessing of being meek is that one understands that one’s strength is given by God and thus to be use for God’s glory and never to oppress the weak. Those who oppress the weak stand in danger of encountering the wrath of a just and powerful God.
Dr. R. T. Kendall is 86 years old now. He is probably in retirement. During my NYSC I wrote two letters to two people I did not know personally but whose books were such a blessing to me when I became a new believer. The first book was by E. M. Okwori. His book “Godliness for Gain” introduced me to the evil of Nigerian Prosperity Gospel and gave me discernment against it. I sent him a letter by post but he never replied. While serving in Yola in 2002, I googled R. T. Kendall and found an office email. I sent him a mail but he never replied. Truth is that those men did not have to reply my letters.
The essence of writing books is so that complete strangers may be blessed by them hundreds and even thousands of years after the author had died. Kendall taught me that the greatest place in the Christian life is that point where you just sit back and enjoy God: you do nothing but marvel at his grace. The whole concept of grace is God doing a work in sinners who are completely underserving of it. They do nothing but receive everything. Sometimes, those who encounter this doctrine, actually take it a little bit too far. We look down on duty and exalt grace to an unhealthy level. It is the root of the antinomianism of every age in Protestantism. Even at that, it is important to tell the saints that Christian duty is not the paramount thing in our walk with God. Grace is. When grace has done its perfect work, duty will naturally follow.
There is a joy in God: a joy where we do nothing but glorify God and enjoy him forever. Amen.
(Attached photo are those of R. T. Kendall. They are obtained from Google)