“What must we do to be doing the works of God? Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent’.” John 6:28-29
What does God want us to do? Jesus reply is: Believe. The word sounds so passive, so inactive that the cry of our hearts is ‘what must we do’? When I’m in danger of losing my job and I ask the Christian community for prayer, they tell me to ‘trust in God’. But that sounds like sit still, do nothing and watch as God sends through that job offer while you sip coffee and pray in your living room.
The feeling is compounded when you read verses in Scripture where at the moment of panic in crossing the Red Sea, Moses tells the people “you need only be still, the Lord will fight for you.” Really? Well, sure they had to move their legs as the waters parted but it seemed like God did most of the heavy lifting. Yet, in our lives, jobs don’t usually just come by themselves, our kids don’t self-parent, our health requires exercise and good eating habits. It feels like we have to do most of the heavy lifting. So what does faith actually mean?
It has long been noted that in Hebrew thought, ‘faith’ was never simply assenting to a set of doctrinal propositions ‘Jesus died on the cross’, “God loves me”. Faith was expressed in obedience. Blondin the famous tight-rope walker once performed over the Niagara falls. He asked his audience if they believed he could carry a person over the falls in a wheelbarrow and upon approving nods proceeded to ask the Duke of Newcastle to get into the wheelbarrow. His refusal to do so, his inaction revealed that his supposed faith was in fact, not true faith at all. Faith that moves, faith that gets in the wheelbarrow never starts with us; it is only the fruit of God’s unmerited grace towards us. It is our open hands to receive God’s gift of his kindness and love to us in Christ.
Faith and Sundays
However, I wonder if our constant refrain of ‘trust God’ and ‘it’s all by grace’ has been misheard as ‘be passive and expect God to do everything’ in our spiritual walks. Consider how we come to our church gatherings on Sundays. We turn up, expect to receive something from the sermon or the time of corporate singing and go away again judging whether it lived up to our expectations, whether the illustrations were relevant or not and fail to see – how active was I in that service?
But Rankin Wilbourne says this, “Union with Christ changes how we worship. We can now come to worship aware that Christ is present in us, that Christ is our high priest who is leading us into his Father’s presence and that Christ is speaking through all the elements of the worship service, from beginning to end. This allows us to come into worship expecting to hear from God as opposed to evaluating the music or the quality of the sermon. You come to church and instead of passively observing, you can actively ask, “God, what do you want to do in me now? What do you want me to hear? How do you want my life to look different as a result of being here?”
If the sermon was uninspiring, repetitive and meandering, and you despairingly seek to find a nugget to cling on to, may be even then God is teaching you how to show grace, how to be patient, how to persevere when everything doesn’t go as you would like.
But ask yourself. How often do I actively come on a Sunday or to meet with my community group saying “God what do you want to do in me now?”
If in my relationship with my wife, I came home every evening, sat on the sofa and expected her to provide all the food, give me a great sex life, meet my every need and then evaluate her performance at the end of each evening, I’m not sure our relationship would have great depth to it. I suspect the tenderness and sweetness would be missing. If she burnt the rice and overcooked the chicken, yet I was still pleased that I could be with her and that through the experience we were learning grace and perseverance and patience together – I wonder how much richer and deeper and more glorious our relationship would be. If I am asking regularly, how can I love my wife? How can I understand her more? That shapes the way I react to situations. I become an active participant in the relationship instead of a passive critic.
And in our relationship with Christ, this is what he is wanting to do with us. He will not burn our spiritual food but his servants might. Yet, he is using every situation to mould us increasingly into his image and to nourish and grow us deeper in him. Faith knows – the wind to move our sailing boat is the Holy Spirit – not self-effort. But the need to put up the sails ready for his wind to blow is our job. Let us be actively faithful – dependent on him alone.
Rankin Wilbourne, Union with Christ: the Way to Know and Enjoy God