Have you ever heard this American-ism? Who hasn’t? In fact, my father used to quote it to me all the time growing up. Trouble is, he wasn’t a Christian. But he was a self-made man. He grew up in a family that had money, pre-1929! Born in 1924, he lived a while in Alaska as his family raised silver blue foxes for their fur-fashioned luxury stoles and coats supplied to wealthy blue bloods.
That niche soured quickly as the depression dried up the demand for expensive accessories. Reduced to poverty, the family moved south to Arizona where his father was killed by a drunk driver in 1930. ‘Mom’ relocated back to Arkansas with my dad and two brothers to eke out a living. There were cousins there, I think. The family scraped by, subsisting at the lowest economic rung. FDR saved my dad through innovative Civilian Conservation Corps camps for young men. Spending his senior year of high school away from home, Pop studied at night in order to graduate on time with his class back in Mountainburg, Arkansas. His checks provided the funds so his mom and youngest brother could eat. From there my dad joined the army, grappling his way up the military ladder. He earned a BS and an MA at night. He commanded units in Korea and Viet Nam during 5 combat tours. He pioneered and wrote aviation doctrine as well as a book.
About his relationship with God, all he would ever say when I gently pressed amounted to: “I’ve made my peace with the Lord” But my dad DID live by the ‘Gospel’ – the American good news of ‘work hard and make something of yourself’.
And Ben Franklin’s aphorism about God lending a hand to independent self-helpers fit his worldview. See this brief Wikipedia explanation of the history of the phrase that Ben Franklin popularized. For a long time I didn’t know how to counter that statement. After all, the Bible does extol working hard to add to our virtue. Take Peter’s exhortation in 2 Peter: 1:5-7
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love.
That sounds like effort! If the God-waiting-on-us-to-do-our-part doctrine is not so, then what do we make of much of the moral law in the Bible?
After thinking about how to reconcile “work hard and your efforts will be supplemented by God v. to trust God and watch Him do it all” I think I can propose the right way to consider this topic. Here’s my attempt:
It’s a matter of one’s starting point, having the correct ‘mindset’ to borrow a term in vogue in my field of education. Do we believe that God created us and then left us to follow our interests and passions, with our calling the shots in life? Or do we take our cue from our Creator and ask some of those foundational questions such as:
- Since God created us, He must have had a purpose. What might that be?
- And if it makes sense to look at what He has written to discover His plans for us, what has He said?
- And how are we to DO this work for Him?
It would also be prudent to identify God’s own ‘teleos’, His goal for offspring created in His image. Fortunately, He does not leave us guessing. God writes in Isaiah 43:6b-7:
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
Paul in the New Testament echoes the same purpose when he writes to the Christians in Ephesus: (Chapter 2:10)
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
How does God get the glory when the spotlight shines on us and what WE do…..with a little boost from God?
That was rhetorical, obviously. He can’t!
God ONLY gets the praise and glory and acclaim He deserves when unlikely, weak people accomplish His work where it’s evident that only He could have enabled either the attitude of the ‘worker’ or the results. Remember the 5 loaves and 2 fish accounts? Were the disciples praised for their supply of enough food to satisfy 5000 hungry men? Do you understand a bit more Jesus’ curious exhortation: Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
I never could figure that out! If we’re doing the good works, wouldn’t WE get the kudos? Why would anyone think to praise God?
The good deeds we are to do, we are to do with His strength, in a humble way that magnifies the surpassing greatness of God. No surprise there! If we actually read His Word, we find out that God expects nothing less from us. After all He explicitly created us to carry out and accomplish pre-planned tasks, each one initiated BY HIM for you and for me.
So back to my blog title: Are you exhausted? Could it be that you are doing a lot of ‘good stuff’ that you initiated without reference to Your Creator? And working hard in your own strength, in a way that makes you look good? No one is denying that much good is done in the world by Christians and non-Christians alike. But IF we’re worn out, maybe, just maybe it might be because we are functionally living out the American Credo. After all, who could possibly criticize our good works? Have you considered the answer to that question might be God, Himself?
Here’s a sobering thought: …..anything that is not done in faith is sin. Romans 14:23c