I was spiritually raised in a very strict segment of Christianity. There were great things I learned at that church.
But, the emphasis that was placed on pleasing God actually created an unhealthy fear of displeasing God. You may ask, "What's unhealthy about that?" Nothing, unless you carry it to the extremes I did.
You see, I wanted to never displease God to the degree that I often became paralyzed when it came to making decisions. I would labor in prayer over even the smallest decisions. For example, if I wasn't sure God had given me His blessing to go to the store, I didn't go. You get the picture? I was dependent on God speaking to me over every tiny thing. If there was a problem or issue needing to be solved, my solution was to pray and let God fix it.
After several years, I was asked to pastor a church. My formula for church growth grew out of my background. I thought all you should do was to pray and God would grow the church. So pray we did! We held all night prayer meetings, early-morning prayer meetings, and long seasons of fasting and prayer, not to mention my habit of three hours of personal prayer every day.
We prayed and had great services but, after several years of this, I realized our church was not growing. We had not had a net gain in attendance in six years. As I began to consider the lack of growth to our congregation, I became puzzled. Surely we had called on God long enough and loud enough for Him to hear us. Why were we experiencing these undersized results? I remember saying to God, "Lord, there is something wrong with either you or me ... and I think it must be me!"
What was my problem? I had an incorrect understanding of the sovereignty of God as opposed to the responsibility of man. God had become my crutch. I wouldn't use my own legs of intelligence, experience, or talent and instead relied on the Crutch (God) to do the work for me. I know believers who use God as a crutch so they won't have to do something they need to do in the natural realm. Isn't that what unbelievers accuse us of repeatedly, using God as a crutch?
Scripture makes it clear that because God has made an uncompromising decision to respect the free will He gave to humans, a partnership is required. Paul articulated this well in exclaiming: "I can do all things...Through Christ that gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).
Paul had a part to play and God had a part to play. God strengthened what Paul did and amplified his aptitude. Paul used what he had and relied on God for the rest. So, is it God or Paul? The answer is yes! It is God and Paul together as a team.
Consider this verse: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (1 Corinthians 15 10 NIV).
What was Paul's part of the equation? He received the grace of God. We must put ourselves in a position to receive that grace. This verse also said that he labored more than all the others. Hard work made a difference. And what was God's part in this? He gave the grace that was needed to accomplish His purposes through Paul.
Was it Paul or God ... again, the answer is yes! It was Paul and God together. Paul labored but not just Paul all by himself, in his own strength. The grace of God was with Paul. Without us, God often won't; and without Him, we often can't.
Since my eyes became opened to this operative nature of the kingdom, I have met many who are off balance one way or another. Many believers are incessantly waiting for God to do what He is waiting for them to do. Others are so self-confident they never rely or wait on God. Both are wrong. The proper concept is the farming model.
Perhaps you've heard the story of the preacher who came to visit a farmer. As they both walked around looking at the crops, the preacher began to point out God's goodness saying, "I can't believe how God has blessed your tomatoes and look how God blessed your squash. And I can't believe what he did for your butter beans." The farmer had had enough and said, "Listen preacher, you should have seen the shape this field was in when God had it without me!"
Whether we have been saved for years or just becoming part of the faith, all can grow in the way they cooperate with God. When we are stuck on something or can't seem to break through, work through these important steps:
1. Have we done everything the Word says? We should work through the situation by searching the Bible for what God has said or promised to us. Then check to be sure we have acted by faith on these divine directives. I once asked leadership guru John Maxwell how he knew whether God approved of what He was doing. He told me, "I believe God gives me seed thoughts and I act on them." Think about how seeds are just the beginning of a living thing. These thoughts need to be planted, worked, and watered to produce. We need to make sure we have fulfilled our end of the partnership by exercising God's Word in and through the situation or challenge.
2. Are there any natural laws that we are neglecting? My wife and I were eating lunch with a young lady years ago that shocked us. After eating dinner, she ordered a banana split. It was a huge banana split and before she ate it, she said she had to pray again. We were surprised because we had already prayed for the meal, thanking God for the food we were about to eat. Yet, she bowed her head to pray these words "Lord, thank you for this banana split and I curse all the calories in it in Jesus' name." Somehow our dear sister felt that she could use the spiritual principle of being able to curse things to override the natural laws her indulgence would bring. God will not magically override His natural laws to soothe our consciences or placate our sin.
3. Are we experiencing a period of "God confinement"? For example, in 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul encountered a restriction that was orchestrated by God. He received a thorn in the flesh that was a messenger of Satan to buffet him. There was nothing that Paul could do that enabled him to get out of the situation. He just had to submit and endure it. When God confines us, He wants to teach us something necessary to learn before His grace is applied to fulfill the need. Again, reach back to No. 1 and No. 2 above and be sure you tend these principles carefully so when the confinement ends you will be ready to move forward.
4. Are we being influenced by fear or slothfulness? In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus shares the parable of the talents. In this parable, the one who did not produce was motivated by fear and laziness. At times in our lives we are also hindered by the fear of something or the resistance toward laboring hard. We must ask ourselves whether we are being influenced by either of these sins. There are many fears: fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of repeating the past, and so on. Any of these can cripple us from mobility toward our goals.
Know that the Lord always keeps His part of the partnership. It's up to us to keep up our end of the bargain and not use Him as a crutch instead of dealing with the four steps above. Notice in the Parable of the Talents that the master did not leave instructions with the servants as to what to do about the talents. They were to use the ingenuity and creativity God had already placed inside of them, and decide on their own in what direction they should move. Let's go and do likewise!
Kyle Searcy serves as senior pastor of Fresh Anointing House of Worship in Montgomery, Ala., and Norcross, Ga.
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