What If I Feel Like I’ve Failed at Serving God? How Can He Be Pleased with Me at His Return?

Question from a reader:

As someone in my 20s, I have tried to live by biblical principles for quite some time, but I feel like my life works are very insignificant compared to Christians older than me or saints of the past. I know I am responsible for how I live, and I know I have many wasted opportunities. I know Jesus can return at any time or perhaps not for many years. While I’m excited for His return, I am also afraid that my life will be a disappointment to God and my rewards will be very little. God appoints our times and prepares our good works for us, but I can’t help but feel like a failure and not useful to God. Maybe I was never meant to be great in the Kingdom? I desire a longer life to serve God faithfully because I’m afraid of God not being pleased with me if He returned soon.

Answer from Doreen Button, EPM staff:

Thank you for sharing your heart. You’ve obviously thought about and care deeply about this. Your desire “to live a life worthy of your calling,” as Ephesians 4:1 puts it, tells me that your heart is in the right place.

There is a key thread woven throughout your letter that I’d like to highlight in helping you find a new and more comforting perspective. That thread is feelings. Our emotions are important, but they are not the law or the prophets. As true Jesus-followers, our first and foremost focus belongs on what God/Jesus/Holy Spirit says and does and expects us to say and do. And not because we are required to follow a bunch of rules, but because Jesus gave us an example of what truly loving God and loving others looks like. Jesus said, “Anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:19). And what are those laws? Jesus said that loving God with everything we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves are the two actions the law and prophets hinge upon.

We are to look to others as examples of those who followed the faith. But Jesus never asks us to look at others in order to judge the value of our own works. Hebrews 11 tells us of the faithful works of men and women throughout biblical history. It’s a pretty impressive list. And it could be incredibly intimidating. But I challenge you to find a single one who lived perfectly (Rahab, the prostitute for example…). The entire book of Hebrews is about how much better Jesus is than any angel, prophet, high priest, or other hero of the faith. If you read on into Hebrews 12, you’ll see that He alone is the one we are to emulate and adore. We are to “keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

I hope you hear my heart when I say that your life works may very well be insignificant from a human perspective when compared to someone who’s followed Jesus longer. I’m sure mine are (and I’m older than dirt). There will always be others who appear to be more godly and less godly than we are.

Let’s return our attention from ourselves to the One who calls us to “be perfect as I am perfect.” That should keep you busy for a lifetime!

I’m kind of joking here because obviously no human will be truly perfect this side of Heaven. Yet there is a way that perhaps we can be “perfect” in the way Jesus was. He continually recognized His weakness as a human and constantly leaned on His Father for strength and wisdom.

Are you able to admit your weakness? What you’ve written tells me that perhaps you focus on that weakness more than you focus on His strength.

Are you able to offer that weakness to your Father as your “living sacrifice, wholly and acceptable to God as your spiritual form of worship” (Romans 12:1)?

Are you willing to accept His words that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1)?

Are you willing to trust “the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood…” to “equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21)?

And are you willing to believe that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6)?

Bottom line: Jesus doesn’t look at your neighbor to see if she did something amazing and then wish you’d done something that amazing too. Jesus may look at your neighbor to see if you’ve loved her as He would—when is the last time you washed someone’s feet, literally or metaphorically (see John 13)? But because you’re clothed in Christ’s righteousness, He looks at you with love, not disappointment, and invites you to love Him in return and out of that, to love those He’s put into your life. Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? According to Jesus it’s the one who is as humble as a child (Matthew 18:4), putting others’ needs above his own.

So, emulate the saints around you who emulate Jesus, or better yet, simply emulate Jesus. And leave the judgment about whose works are best to “the One who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

I hope this encourages you. You obviously care about what Jesus thinks, and I pray that you will find comfort and acceptance in Him as you keep your eyes on Him and His Word. The more you do that, the more your feelings will begin to line up with truth. And do it one moment at a time. Leave the future to God and use the present as His present to you to do only that which He’s called you to.

You are loved (John 3:16). You cannot be forgotten (Hebrews 13:5). And every tiny thing done to God’s glory is a very big thing in God’s eyes and will be rewarded (Matthew 10:42).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Photo by Janis Karkossa

Doreen is part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and helps Randy with editing and answering reader questions. She is a certified biblical counselor.