January 1, 2013

Working Together

Snail hunting: (n.) an activity pursued in the shallows of a lake or other large body of water with the goal of finding snails.

You may not spend much time snail hunting—or maybe, you do. (Snails can be delicious, after all.) The snail hunting I have observed is usually my nephew and my dad’s thing. They scour the bottom of the lake for snails to move into the large koi pond nearby. My nephew is almost two years old, and the truth is that he is not terrifically helpful in this endeavor. The process slows down when he gets involved, just like when he unloads the dishwasher with me or picks up his toys. In most cases, the work could be done faster and often better without his “help.”

So why does he get frequent invites to go snail hunting? It might not surprise you to hear that the time my dad spends with his grandson has more to do with being together than the task at hand. He could accomplish his goal of collecting snails more easily alone. He could do without counting them seven times. But he chooses company—chooses to have small hands join his in reaching through the chilly water to grab a small shell. He does it because he loves his grandson and enjoys spending time with him.

In 1 Corinthians 3:9 Paul wrote, “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” Paul was explaining that God has planned for us to have a part in His kingdom work; He meant for us to work together with Him. God is omnipotent; He is all-powerful and able to accomplish anything He wants independent of our involvement. Yet He has a long history of choosing fallible humans to join Him for the glory of His Name. God does this for the same reason my dad takes his grandson snail hunting: He values our relationship with Him. God does not need our help, yet He asks us to work alongside Him because He enjoys being with us.

If God invites us to join Him and we have decided to follow Him, what might keep us from succeeding in this rarely glamorous but ultimately glorious pursuit? If the enemy of our souls had his way, nearly anything would. However, four predominant ways come to mind that can easily trip up even those who desire to be used of God. Let’s take a look at each of these traps and see what Scripture has to say about avoiding them.

Distraction — Perhaps this is the most subtle of ways we can be prevented from working in God’s kingdom. Whether it’s a grouchy boss on the job, children who are young (or old!) and need attention, or a schedule that is really too full, small things that distract hurt us. Over time, our desire to see God’s will be done “on earth as it is in Heaven” can be dulled. We end up feeling more isolated and less capable of responding with God’s heart to the world around us. Distraction can also keep us from seeing the mundane activities of life as places where God would like to be prominent.

So what does God’s Word say to help us? When Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you,” He meant it! “These things” include food, clothes, and the stuff of daily life. If we focus on God, He has promised that all of our needs will be provided. When we look at Jesus, we see a perfect example of this—a focused, kingdom-oriented life. It’s easy to get distracted (even with kingdom work), so we must fight to keep our eyes on the Lord.

Comparison — Another easy way to get our eyes off the great call we have received is comparing ourselves with other believers. When we look at anyone else—which we must do in order to compare ourselves—we remove our focus from Christ, our Leader and Guide. Comparing ourselves often leads to hurt in relationships, whether or not we recognize it, and usually involves discontentment and/or complaining, either about ourselves or another. A sure sign of the temptation to compare ourselves to others is when we begin to have thoughts like, “Why don’t I have ______ like them?” or, “If only they knew/did/thought like I do, we wouldn’t have this problem.” These are an indication that our focus has strayed from Jesus.

When we are tempted to compare, we can meditate on 2 Corinthians 10:12: “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Wisdom is measuring ourselves by God’s standard, with His grace. When we see ourselves as we would be without Christ and see how powerful His grace is, other comparisons pale.

Pride — Occasionally, my nephew decides that he should be more independent, in which case he announces confidently, “I do it.” Sometimes he is right; other times, his confidence outweighs his ability and a mess ensues. Isn’t that the way we feel at times? Life happens, and we are tempted to declare our ability to take care of a situation. Or maybe we just do it, without conscious thought.

The glory of working for the Kingdom of God, though, is that we partner with One infinitely greater than ourselves. Where we have abilities, He has gifted us with them. Where we have strengths, He has provided them. A quick glance at His perspective shows that we are all lacking the omnipotence and omniscience that would be required to participate in His Kingdom independently. We will not have success unless we submit to God’s way and work in cooperation with the other individuals He has called. Where pride keeps us from fellowship with other believers or from asking for help, we miss out on a piece of the grand story He is working out. Pride can also keep us from seeing the problem; Obadiah 1:3 records that “the pride of thine heart hath deceived thee. . .” We see only ourselves instead of the big picture. Yet, if we ask Him, God can help us have the right perspective.

Fear — “No cankoo.” That’s “No, thank you.” This is what my nephew says if he would rather not do something. As you can imagine, the reasons for a “no cankoo” vary greatly, but once in a while, when the option is something potentially scary, he will decline. I guess human habits start young, because I think many of us find ourselves in the same position. Maybe we are afraid of failing at something God is calling us to do; maybe we are afraid of what it will cost. Or maybe, just maybe, we have a pretty good idea what it will cost, and paying the price sounds rather unpleasant!

We find directions to “fear not” over three hundred times in the Bible—probably because God knows we need to hear it frequently.

Human habits are no match for God’s power to help and encourage. We find directions to “fear not” over three hundred times in the Bible—probably because God knows we need to hear it frequently. We read in Hebrews 13:6 “. . . that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” Other places in Scripture hold directions to not fear when faced with natural disasters, illness, or other adversities. Our circumstances may be fearful, but we need not panic. God’s sovereignty can be our peace, and His purposes are worked out in the stuff of everyday life. (See Romans 8:28.)

God has an aim that goes beyond finding snails or even working alongside us. He wants to change us as we work with Him. He has an amazing ability to bring about His great glory and our good through the simple things. Today and tomorrow and the next day, God holds out His hand, inviting us to join Him in receiving a Kingdom that will never be destroyed. It’s an eternal vision, and we are called to roll up our sleeves, get a little wet, and partner with Him in the adventure of a lifetime.

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