Lying in bed this morning, aching and feverish after a long, but unproductive night of sleep, I thought about the role this sickness plays in God’s plan. I know that He always does what is best, that sickness in this world is one of the means He uses to accomplish His purposes—even in the lives of His saints.
That’s what I know. But when traced to its logical conclusions, this basic knowledge leads us away from the Western ideal of “getting more done” in a pretty radical way. As a culture, we’re enamored with the idea of doing more, doing it more efficiently, doing it correctly. But a matter fundamentally more important is often ignored: Is what we are doing the right thing to do at all?
To say it another way, is our passion really God’s work?
For we are His workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
One of the most significant features of God’s work is that the work is God’s. It originates with Him; it belongs to Him; it is executed by Him. That's pretty basic, but it’s over this point that we often stumble in our dedication. We want to be a part of God’s plan for the ages; we want to fulfill our calling. We have a spiritual gift that we ache to use. But the work of God belongs to God; either He does it or it isn’t His work.
What is the work of God? Of first priority, we are His work. God’s grace-gift saved us apart from works and now His grace-gift fashions us apart from works. He is the Workman and we are the workmanship—a poem He writes to the meter of His eternal purposes.
And His eternal purpose is that we, the workmanship, join Him, the Workman, in the work. But He is not asking us to write our own poem. When we mix our purposes into His work, we lose connection with His meter, the cadence of His plan. The result is confusion and dissatisfaction. All of God’s work is His, even when He involves the workmanship in the process of doing the work.
This sheds light on the problem of why God doesn’t bless our spiritual endeavors. Sometimes our work simply isn’t God’s. If I could evaluate my work for God from God’s perspective, I wonder what I’d see. I have a natural love for building the kingdom when it is my own empire. I delight in building up the body when it builds me up. But God’s interest is in His kingdom, and critically important to His kingdom is that He is the King, not me. Sometimes God doesn’t bless our work, however apparently noble or self-sacrificing or beneficial or needed, because our work is simply not His work. Perhaps it is His work for someone else. Perhaps it is His work for us at another time. But right now, He is at work in us for another purpose.
This leads to another reason why God doesn’t bless our work: He is more concerned about His workmanship than about the work the workmanship can perform. To say it another way, God really cares more about what He is doing in us than what we can do for Him. That is an old saw, but it’s one of the easiest truths to forget. And when you stop to think about it, it is one of the most incredible revelations of the character of our God. When He sends us out on impossible quests, He goes with us, He empowers us, and He works in us for our good while we are working together with Him. This is a far cry from the gods of the heathen whose worshippers cut themselves and danced around the altar, whose self-inflicted wounds went unnoticed by their blind deity. Our God does not bless a work that is not best for His workmanship.
There’s one more problem with receiving the blessing of God on our work—and it is our expectation of what God’s blessing on God’s work should look like. It was at Mount Sinai that Moses was offered what appeared to be a magnificent spiritual boon: In the wake of the golden calf incident, God said that He would destroy the people of Israel and make a great nation of Moses. Pretty attractive to anyone with the slightest proclivity to self-seeking. And the idolaters would only receive what they justly deserved.
But Moses implored God,
“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all the land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:13).
Moses was offered a people called by his own name, a lasting tribute to the value of his spiritual work—but he no longer would have a covenant-keeping God. Moses' choice was infinitely superior though it cost him forty years of hardship in the wilderness with a stiff-necked people. The covenant of God with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob made God’s purpose clear; Moses’ work was to keep the meter of the poem God had already begun, to stay in step with the eternal plan of God.
Isaiah faced a similar problem with his assignment from God. It was a tough job and he asked God how long he must keep at it.
“Until cities lie waste without inhabitant,” the Lord said, “and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land” (Isaiah 6:11,12).
That is God’s description of what Isaiah’s success as His workman would look like.
We are created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared beforehand, but sometimes the result of our obedience looks like a curse rather than a blessing. The discrepancy between our thoughts of successful work and God’s are bridged only by faith. We can’t see the end, but God can, and He is at work in us for the best.
For as long as I can remember, Ephesians 2:10 has been one of my Dad’s favorite verses. He illustrated it for his boys by imagining a game of croquet in which God’s pre-determined works for us were wickets through which we, like the croquet ball, were to go. We don’t set the course, we don’t pull out the wickets we don’t like, we can’t skip the ones we have a hard time with, and sometimes it looks like we are going backwards rather than forwards.
But it is God’s work we are about, and we get the privilege of working together with Him while He is at work in us.
I’d never choose a nasty respiratory flu bug as a way to enhance my life or my service to God. These days have been quiet, but miserable, and certainly not measurably productive. There are lots of ways I could have used this time, lots of projects that I’d like to have tackled. But in the plan of God, this is the best thing for me, His workmanship, and, amazingly, it’s the best thing for His kingdom, too. "Doing things" makes us feel good about ourselves, like we’re valuable and worthwhile. But we’re valuable to God because we’re His workmanship, because He selected us for His own purposes before the world began. And now He wants to work through us, in us, to accomplish His plan—even when that plan looks all wrong—even when it is best achieved through a case of the flu.
© January 2013 by Robert G. Robbins