Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Great Hypocrisy In The Church: "Pray As If It Depends On God and Work As If It Depends On You"

I think I have figured out why we have a hard time believing that anything is possible with God: too many of us believe that everything depends on us. Oh we won't say that with words and we will argue about it with anyone who would dare say that, yet we demonstrate it in our actions. Honestly now, when something goes wrong, what is your first reaction? Do you call someone for help, turn to someone for council, try to find your own solution or is your first reaction prayer? Now don't lie to yourself about this, be honest. We may wish for all things to be possible with God but we only turn there when we have exhausted all other possibilities. The fact is, our salvation depends on this being true.

After Jesus had finished with the rich young man he turned to his disciples and said in reflection:

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)

It is not as difficult for a poor man to give up all that he is to follow Jesus as it is for a wealthy man with many possessions. Faith comes easier to a person who has nothing to lean on. A wealthy man has all his security in the things he possesses so it is easy to understand why it would be harder for him to turn his back on all of that to follow Jesus. A follower cannot follow unless he is fully dependent on Jesus Christ for everything he needs and this is where we make a major mistake. I've heard a famous quote that typifies our attitude these days:

"Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you." - St. Augustine

I understand the context in which this was intended but we use it in such a way that it is far from the truth. No wonder we have lost sight of the "all things are possible" God. "All things" are not possible for us; we all have limitations. However, "all things" is possible for our limitless God. When the disciples heard Jesus say this about the rich man it sent them into a panic because they were from the old system of sacrifices, earning or buying forgiveness. The age of grace was upon them but they did not yet understand:

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25)  

Imagine their thoughts. If this rich man with all of his advantages, who has lived a good life and did everything right according to the law, has difficulty getting into heaven, what hope did the rest of them have? There's that system of earning your way; living a good life, eating the right foods, dressing properly, talking properly, paying your tithes, going to church, hanging out with the right people, watching the right movies and so on. There is nothing wrong with these and they all have great value as fruit of a righteous heart but they do not produce righteousness. Nothing we do can produce righteousness; it all depends on God's work. So Jesus answers them:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

The blessing of salvation is 100% the work of God. Nothing we can say or do can earn us that salvation. In fact, it is an impossible thing for us to receive. Someone might say that we have the work of receiving it, of accepting it. That's like saying you earned the Christmas presents you receive this year. The only part you play is actually saying thank you; it is an unearned gift, as are all the blessings of God. Certainly we have the choice of rejecting the gift, returning it to the sender but how foolish we would be to do such a thing. Our salvation is dependent on the truth that "all things are possible" with God.

Now, if he has given us salvation through the Son how will he not give us all good things? That is the question Paul posed when he was writing about us being more than conquerors through Jesus:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

Let's get this into our thick heads, we serve the "all things are possible" God. You may not see it or understand it but all you have to do is believe it. Look to the examples of the past. Look to what God has accomplished through men and women who chose to believe it. Consider the victories you have had in your life when you had nowhere else to turn but God. We just need to change our pattern of thinking so that God is the first one we turn to instead of the last. Allow me to give you one simple example.

Yesterday my wife called me to ask me to pray for her and her friend who were stuck in the middle of the road. The van they were driving was too light and they could not get off the sheet of ice. Instead of praying immediately I gave her instructions on how to rock the van back and forth until they were able to move. After she hung up I prayed. They also prayed. Even though they gave their best effort they were going nowhere. Then suddenly, out of the blue, a city's work crew came around the corner with a small truck full of sand and salt. Within minutes they were out. My advice accomplished nothing. The people who tried to assist them did nothing. But prayer sent the right people along who could do something.We continue to limit our limitless God by doing the work in our limitations instead of allowing God to work his limitlessness for our benefit. 

George Muller told a story about his first orphanage. They looked like they were going to have to close down because they did not have the money. Unknown to him, his staff were selling off the furniture and paintings to keep things going. He kept praying but God was not answering. Then when there was nothing else to sell and they had no more resources, a knock came on the door. It was a lady who was visiting next door who brought with her a large sum of money to donate. She explained she kept wanting to come over but every time she looked over the staff were coming and going with furniture and paintings and she did not want to disturb them in their busyness. The donation covered all their expenses for the next year or so. In trying to do God's work in our own effort we get in the way of what he is doing.

All things are possible with God. Instead of being so busy we need to quiet our hearts and minds so we can hear his instructions and do what he tells us to do not do what we think he wants us to do. God is still in the business of miracles and impossible things but he needs his people to believe and to allow him to do it. Stop working as if it depends on you and start listening knowing that it depends on him.

No comments: