In Isaiah 49, God says something unexpected. By way of the prophet Isaiah, God foretells the coming Messiah, or “Servant of the Lord,” who will one day restore the “tribes of Jacob” and deliver them out of captivity. It was an assurance the Israelites needed and a hope that sustained them, but they wouldn’t have expected the words that came after.
In verse 6, God clarifies his intentions for this Servant of the Lord.
It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
The term “Gentiles” is shorthand for “everyone else”—everyone outside of Israel—meaning God’s plans were far more sweeping than the Israelites ever dreamed. God was broadening the scope of his story to the ends of the earth, essentially saying this.
This story of your journey, your brokenness, your redemption? This story is not about you. All this time, you thought the plan was the restoration of Israel—and oh, my children, it is!—but that’s only just the beginning of it, because I am interested in far more than Israel. I am going to restore the whole world.
God wasn’t rescuing Israel alone. He was rescuing us all. And this would have been surprising news to the Israelites who, as God’s people, believed the story was about them. Granted, they weren’t entirely wrong. A lot of the story was about them. God had good plans for Israel, but that mission, on its own, was not the whole of the dream. God was after all of creation, and anything less was just too small a thing.
I don’t want to detract from the good messages of healing and wholeness in popular Christian teaching. Even so-called “self-help” books can play an important role in the work of the church. God cares about our healing, peace, and joy, which are the firstfruits of our salvation. Eternal life is not a far-off promise, but an in-breaking reality that begins the moment we say yes to Christ. We taste that salvation every day, when we experience freedom and contentment in him.
But if that is all we are after, if that is the end point of our faith, the purpose of our gospel, and what we believe God exists to do, it is too small a thing. God has a plan infinitely bigger than our self-esteem. Our healing is only one piece of the puzzle, so we cannot settle for a gospel that has “personal satisfaction” at its core. It’s counterintuitive, but this me-centered gospel cannot give us what we want. It only makes the burden bigger and our faith smaller.
That’s why God calls us into a bigger story. And strangely enough, the bigger story will give us the joy we seek. When we stop living for ourselves and live fully focused on God, we will encounter freedom and lightness like never before.
Of course, this is about more than living an abundant life. It’s also about the world, which needs the gospel now as much as ever. As wars rage, children are trafficked, families go hungry, and darkness runs wild, the world needs people of courage, conviction, and action. And the enemy knows this, which is why he does everything in his power to keep us out of the mission and focused on ourselves. He paralyzes us with lies and insecurity, and sometimes he even enlists the church into his scheme. As long as he can keep our focus inward, he enjoys a minor victory.
Thankfully, we don’t have to choose between fulfillment and self-forgetfulness, or between the abundant life and the obedient one. We can have both in Christ. So I invite you to embrace the freedom of this bigger story. Don’t settle for a focus that is partially about Christ but mostly about you. Messages about your worth and your belonging are good, but they are also too small a thing, and you were meant for more.
Cover image by STIL.
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