“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Recently I was involved in two separate online discussions that have something in common. In the first, someone wrote to me, “You claim to play in a church group [the praise band]. You should be familiar with the term, ‘Teach a man to fish and he'll feed himself the rest of his life.’” I guess he thinks that’s in the Bible. Unfortunately for him, Scripture doesn’t teach self-reliance, it teaches reliance on God.
The second exchange was in response to a blog post by Rev. Mike Slaughter, and touches on a different aspect of our relationship with God. A man wanted to know, “[I]s God omnipotent or can he be thwarted by man? . . . If God is truly omnipotent, and He wanted me to have a job, I would have one. Otherwise, God is not truly omnipotent. . . . If I can stop God from working, then God is not truly omnipotent.”
I sympathize with the man who needs a job, and I’ve been praying for him, even though we’ve never met. But we don’t stop God from working. Instead, God allows us to stop God. God is always working toward our ultimate good. God is omnipotent but that doesn’t mean God can defy logic. If the man doesn’t have a job, it’s not because God can’t give him one. It’s because human beings with free will won’t give him one, for their own reasons. If God made someone give him a job, it would be a violation of that person’s free will.
This conflict, this division, between reliance on God and doing for ourselves and others, is one of the most challenging dichotomies in Christianity. If all that we have and all that we are comes from God, then that also applies to others. Why is one man desperate for a job while someone else is employed? Why do some earn millions while others barely have life’s basic necessities? Are they simply not as lucky as others? Are their circumstances the result of an accident of birth or geography? The simple answer is that they don’t have enough because we haven’t done enough. God places each of us in community. Each of us has something to contribute, something to give. None of us is truly self-sufficient.
The passage in Luke 12:22-34 illustrates both ends of this spectrum. Jesus begins by telling his disciples, “‘I tell you not to worry about your life! Don’t worry about having something to eat or wear.’” (vs. 22 Contemporary English Version). He appears to be telling them to rely only on God. But later in the same chapter, he tells them, “‘Sell what you have and give the money to the poor.’” (vs. 33a CEV). Even though his disciples will have their needs provided, others will not be as fortunate. Others, “the poor,” will be in need, and the disciples are to provide for them.
I’ve read that passage dozens of times, if not more, but I confess I never paid much attention to Jesus’ reference to “the poor.” It always seemed like a sign of faith on the part of the disciples: “If you truly trust God to provide, you’ll sell your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.” But if God will provide, why will some people remain poor? Will God only provide for some? Or will it be because God’s people have failed?
Later, Jesus told them, “‘I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things I am doing.’” (John 14:12a CEV). Jesus’ disciples—including you and I—will do the things Jesus did, things like feeding the hungry, ministering to the sick, visiting the lonely, and encouraging the downhearted. And praying for the unemployed. God works through each of us, in large ways and small.
In our church wide study of the life of Moses, we’ve learned that God saw the plight of the Israelites but God didn’t respond by sending a legion of angels. Instead, God sent Moses, a murderer, a struggling shepherd, a man who was “‘slow at speaking,’” (Exod. 4:10b CEV). God spoke to Moses and said, “‘Now go!’” (vs. 12a CEV). At times, God speaks to us and sends us, saying, “Now go!” I pray that we will hear God's voice and respond.
“Don't forget those who are suffering, but imagine you are there with them. . . . The Lord has promised that he will not leave us or desert us.’” (Heb. 13:3b, 5b CEV.)
Copyright © 2018 by David Phelps