Last week I visited my oldest son to celebrate a few birthdays. He showed me a picture of a time he helped me fix a drive shaft on my old pickup. He was two years old, and I was twenty-nine. He offered wrenches when I asked, and he even handed me the right size, occasionally.
Nobody in their right mind would really think his two-year-old mechanical skills were indispensable for this repair. I invited my son to work side by side simply because I loved working with him, not for his expertise.
While he was only two, he was also mature enough not to grab the wrench out of my hand and say:
Dad, I’ve got this drive shaft covered; why don’t you go fill the windshield wiper fluid, or something.
Many years ago I worked with a man who acutely felt the needs of God’s people. Each morning he awoke with this inner compulsion to work harder for the kingdom. He was as driven for evangelism as Steve Jobs was for design.
When he looked at other Christian workers, he couldn’t understand why they didn’t work as hard as he did. He began to believe his life was more important than others, that God’s anointing on his life was exceptional. He even began to ask God if he might be one of the twenty-four elders seated around the throne (mentioned in Rev. 4:4).
Every waking moment, his beating heart was haunted by this thought from Augustine:
Without God, we cannot.
Without us, God will not.
He felt the terrible weight of mission: What if his tiredness prevented him from speaking to the woman in the coffee shop? How would God’s kingdom suffer if his flu thwarted his counsel to that newlywed couple? He was driven, anxious, a little disdainful, and kind of disagreeable to share a coffee with.
Because his obsessive life was so epic.
Last week I heard God speak to me in a sermon I gave. (Hey, at least somebody heard God!)
We are in a series called The Lies We Believe, and the topic they gave me was the lie that We Have to Earn God’s Approval. I realized that one of the reasons we serve God is to demonstrate our usefulness to him, and then to prove to him that he made a great choice when he chose us.
When Jesus is transfigured, his glory is partly unveiled; he is joined by Elijah and Moses, and his beauty is almost blinding. Ego-hungry Peter sees this miracle and blurts out, “Hey Jesus, it is good that we are here!” He was living half of Augustine’s quote: Without us, God will not.
But Augustine didn’t mean it literally. God created heaven and earth quite easily without us; he didn’t really need the staff of Moses to part the Red Sea; and not one disciple was with Jesus when he converted Paul on the road to Damascus.
The tears of God are the meaning of history, and we make God weep when we think we can gain his love by proving our usefulness. He invites us to serve because he prizes us. The gospel is not bragging to God of our riches but seeing that we are his treasure.
Our Service Is Invitational Relationship—PERIOD
I’ve done all kinds of car repair, but one bad experience with brake-work when I was sixteen has driven me to the mechanic for anything related to car-stoppage.
Last September, my oldest son—now thirty-five—stopped by our house and asked me to help change the pads and rotors on his wife’s minivan. Any witness to the event would have seen my son under the car calling out, “Impact wrench! Screwdriver! C clamp!” as I scrambled to find the right tool. I wasn’t needed nearly as much as I was wanted.
I never grabbed a wrench from his hand, and I even offered him the correct size, occasionally.
Mary Beth Wenger
I very much appreciate your emphasis on relationship and invitation! The analogy is beautiful and beautifully written with the ending adding a sweet note. As an analogy it fails only in one point from my perspective—somehow one more person is needed—when Abba Father invites me to enter in to the yoking with Christ to see His perfect will done on earth, He also provides the power needed to do it through Holy Spirit in me and through me as I remain in Christ and He in me. I can be invited into God’s work, and yet endeavor to accomplish it in my strength without the leading and empowerment of Holy Spirit. One test I have for everything I do is whether the yoke is easy and the burden is light as Christ promised. If it isn’t, I either need to yield and surrender to the work of Holy Spirit in me to accomplish it (let go of self effort!) or I need to check in to see if I am carrying: 1. A burden He never called me to carry
or 2. He called me to carry it, but the grace and empowerment has lifted because it is no longer assigned to me to carry.
Thank you for your blogs! I enjoy them. I just ordered another copy of your book to give to my nephew and niece in love.
Samuel C. Williamson
Holy Smokes! Great response.
Yes, we too often think we are indispensable when we are wonderfully invited; and we also bear burdens when God is calling us to do the impossible–only through HIM (Abraham and Sarah having a child in their 90’s, Moses parting the Red Sea, and David fighting Goliath). Augustine’s first line is important: “Without God, we can not!”
Amen! Yes the Gospel is seeing that we are his treasure! Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Samuel C. Williamson
John, I love how you see that parable about God seeing us as his treasure. We need to “Be” before we can “Do.” Only when we see us as His treasure will we ever be able to make him our treasure.
Very timely! Thanks.
Quite profound. God doesn’t need us, he wants us. He loves us and cherishes us, forgiving us unstoppably. Understanding that it is not about us, is the eye opener and a beginning of true faith.