“There are two spiritual activities which are to be unceasingly part of a believer’s life, two great pillars that hold up the believer in the matter of daily living. One is the study of the Word of God. Two, prayer.”
— John MacArthur
I’m not one to usually criticize John MacArthur, who some would argue is the best exegetical preacher alive today, but when I was listening to his sermon “The Paternity of Prayer” on my way to work the other day, the above quote popped out at me.
Immediately, I thought: Wait a minute. What about service?
I do not disagree that study and prayer are two essential aspects of the Christian life, but if we forget or minimize the necessity of service, we fail to put legs to what our study and praying have revealed. This is why I have often thought of Christianity like a three-legged stool that must continually be in balance, where one leg is study, one is prayer, and one is service.
You cannot neglect one or two of these legs without toppling over. For instance, a person that is great at study but does not pray, he only has head knowledge and can get filled up with the arrogance of much learning. Or if he has a passion for prayer so as to see great miracles occur but does not study or serve, he will not produce anything meaningful. This is why Solomon warns us:
“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecc. 12:12-14)
And it is why Paul says:
“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2)
In both situations, Solomon and Paul emphasize that the most important thing is not knowledge or faith by itself, but it is adding both of these things to what you do. As Paul later wrote in Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (NIV)
Service, then, is a necessary leg of the Christian existence. If it was not, James would not have argued that it is our deeds that prove our faith (Ja. 2:17-18) Jesus would not have said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn. 13:35) And the disciples in Acts would not have delegated the work of distributing food to the widows to seven godly men so that The 12 would not neglect “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:1-4)
I understand that it is safer to remain in one’s study, surrounded by books and excavating truths never before understood. I respect that it feels more comfortable, and at times it feels more spiritual, to pray for a person or a situation, rather than get involved. But God calls us out of our safe places and asks us to leave our comfort zones. This is why Jesus tells us “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Because we are to be a going people. We are to be an engaging people. We are revolutionaries who are on a mission to change the culture of our homes, communities, and nations. We are a people who are to serve “by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11)
We are not to be cowardly or sluggish or foolish. Those are mistakes the anxious. We are not to be arrogant, doubting, or disbelieving. Those are the mistakes of the inactive. We are to be doing, going, and serving. Giving our bodies up as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), which is “your spiritual worship” (or, “your rational service“).
Neglect not this third leg of Christianity. It is where you get to see the truth you’ve studied in action, and where you witness your prayers become weapons of warfare. It is where you are allowed to join the holy, sovereign, creating God in the redemptive work He is doing. To reject such an honor is disrespectful. To refuse such a privilege is unthinkable. No man is remembered who does not add service to his study and prayer.