Friday, July 15, 2016

Understanding who's responsible


A man's own folly ruins his life,
yet his heart rages against the Lord.
Proverbs 19:3

We have a lot of confusion about what we think we are supposed to do, and what we think God is supposed to do.

Sometimes, when we talk about the sovereignty of God, the way God is in charge of and in control of everything, people can get to thinking that we don't have to do anything.

The idea can be compounded when we teach about salvation by faith alone, no works.  "It's all God," we exhort.  "God does it all.  You can't do anything to earn your salvation.  You are unable to do anything good on your own without God."

Now, this is true, but sometimes people misinterpret exactly what it means.

A person sometimes gets the idea that he can just lie back and wait, for surely it is God's job to make him feel happy about obeying, feel happy about doing his work, feel happy about living a disciplined life.  If God doesn't make him excited to do it and entertain him while he does it, then God has let him down.  Right?

No.  Not right.

Sometimes, a person needs to buck up and wash the dishes whether he feels like it or not.

God gives us a little at a time, and He holds us responsible for what we do with what He gives, as we receive it.

We start with nothing, and God begins the process by granting a flicker of faith, a glimmer of understanding, a beam of truth.  At that point, it is our choice: Will we walk toward the light?  Will we ignore it?  Will we help Satan throw a light-blocking curtain over it so it doesn't bother us?  (Satan doesn't need any help with that.)

God grants a little at a time, and we must not demand a full revelation, for that is not faith.  The Bible tells us that if we don't stand by faith, we won't stand at all.  Faith is hoping and believing that God will do what He said He will do, even when we cannot see the whole picture.  We do not know what God will do tomorrow with the results from the job He gave us to complete today.

Trust and obey, says the hymn.  Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus.

He gives you something: a pinch of wisdom, a task, a vision to understand a piece of the situation.  You trust Him and move forward with as much as He has given, obeying Him because you trust Him.

As you obey, your understanding grows.  You experience more of the Lord and His character.  He gives you more of Himself.  You take what He gives, and again you move forward, trusting and obeying.  As you obey more, you learn that He is always faithful, and you trust more.  The more you trust, the easier it becomes to obey, and on and on you go, trusting and obeying and growing in the Lord.

However, if you refuse to respond to the Lord's revelations with obedience, it is unreasonable to expect good things to happen.  God will do many things for you.  Gracious, He even died for you.  He paid the penalty for your sin.  He calls you.  He opens your eyes to see.  He draws you with cords of lovingkindness.  But He doesn't do your obedience for you.  If He did, it wouldn't be obedience.  You have to surrender yourself to His authority.

Failure to obey is probably our biggest hindrance to faith.

If you are God's backslidden child, He will eventually bring you to a place where you feel like doing the right thing, but it is up to you--and your compliance or stubbornness--how much He will have to allow you to suffer in your disobedience before you will admit that He was right all along and you'd rather do things His way.  Don't blame God if you are living in sin, pursuing sin, and suffering the consequences.  God is too good, too honest, too loving to let you blissfully assume you're on the right path when you are heading for hell.

Our responsibility is comprised of the things we can do.  In other words, we are held responsible to do the things that God has placed before us, to the best of our ability, with the resources He has provided, trusting Him to provide anything else we need.  We need to take what the Lord gives us and act. We need to be aware of what He has given us, and be thankful, acknowledging that everything we have comes from God alone. Thankfulness is imperative.

We need to pray, not with our own agenda, not presenting a list of urgent demands, but humbly asking God what He plans for us. Along with our prayers, we need to search the scriptures for answers, willing to surrender to what we learn.  We need to seek the Lord's heart and ask Him to help us be obedient to Him.  We need to spend time with Him.  Never accuse God of being silent if you haven't been prayerfully reading your Bible.  That's like dropping your phone under your bed, going out for the day without it, and later complaining that nobody called you.

We also need to find people who can help us draw near to God.  We need fellowship, encouragement and accountability.

We need to be serious about obedience, acknowledging the Lord's authority and seeking His will.  This is our job.  Our job is not easy, but life is not easy.  There are some cheats in life, but they all lead to destruction.  There is no easy way to attain anything worth seeking.  Our job involves hard work, but it is full of promise and hope, because God is also doing His job.

God does the things we cannot do.  He controls the factors.  We study for the exam, but God gives us the peace and the recall to be able to perform on the exam.  He can even orchestrate which questions come up on the exam, in mercy, blessing us according to our preparation.  We read our Bibles, and He speaks through the Holy Spirit into our hearts while we are reading.  We feed the child, send him to school, put him to bed, take him to the doctor, pray for him every day and teach him about Jesus, but God is the one who draws the child's heart; that, we cannot do.

Here's the benefit: because God is doing His job, we do not do our jobs in vain.  We plant the seeds; God makes them grow.  If God did not promise to make the seeds grow, there would be no point in our planting them.  However, He does promise to make the seeds grow, so we need to be faithful and obedient as we plant the seeds, or study for the test, or drive the bus, or administer the medicine, or stock the shelves, or wash the tupperware, or pitch the sale, or run the race.  We do the work He puts before us, and He walks next to us in the yoke, helping, encouraging, and controlling the outcome.

Here's another benefit:  God will empower us to get the job done.  That's right.  He will even give us His power to do whatever He asks of us.  We just have to respond to His leading and cooperate.  I used to have a thing about trying to turn the wheels of my car in the direction I wanted to go while the car was still in park.  It drove my husband crazy.  "Just start moving," he would say.  "The car will turn much more easily, and with less wear and tear on the tires, if you will just start moving before you start steering."  There is a spiritual lesson here.  God will be there for you when you begin to move in obedience.

We need to do the work of obedience while trusting God to complete His will in us and through us.

Our job.  His job.

It's kind of like that old Irish serenity prayer, which I will paraphrase here:

God grant me the serenity to leave to You 
the things that only You can do,
and the courage, obedience and fortitude 
to do the things You have assigned to me to do,
and the wisdom to discern the difference.

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