Tag Archives: Effort

Human Endeavor vs. Divine Direction

“Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)

When I was younger I had all sorts of ideas of things that I could do for God. I was part of a number of groups and fledgling movements and ministries that I, and/or others, were convinced were going to be “big.” Looking back, I confess that I regularly confused what I was going to do for God with what God wanted me to be doing. I’m pretty sure that my motivations were often the same as Peter and the boys when they were selfishly vying for positions of power and prestige in Jesus’ earthly administration.

What a contrast in today’s chapter to see the change in Peter and John now that they find themselves immersed in what God intended, as opposed to what they were envisioning they would do for God just a few chapters back.

I have always loved the simple wisdom presented to the Jewish leaders by Gamaliel (who, btw, was the Apostle Paul’s teacher and mentor). If what is happening is a human endeavor motivated by human desires under human power, then it will fade and fall apart. If, on the other hand, it is something divinely directed by God and part of what God is doing, then no one can stop it.

I long ago gave up my efforts at spiritual prognostication and looking for ways to predict and be in on the “big” thing that God’s going to do. I find that God is constantly doing a lot of really awesome and powerful things through a lot of amazing, faithful people. That’s cool, but it doesn’t mean it’s what God is divinely directing me to do. I discovered long ago that it is easy for me to become enamored by the desire to be part of the next “big” thing God is doing and ignore the “little” menial acts of daily spiritual discipline that make up the core work of being a follower of Jesus. If I focus on the latter, then the former takes on a completely different perspective.

I sometimes hear prophetic words given that God is going to do this or that. I think it’s awesome and I believe that nothing can stop God from doing what God is going to do. I’ve simply come to the place in my journey where my core desire is to be discerning between human endeavor and divine direction.

I simply be where God wants me to be, doing what God wants me to be doing. The rest will take care of itself.

The Big Lie

It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land
Deuteronomy 9:5 (NRSV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of delivering the morning message among weekly worship with my local group of Jesus followers. In the message I shared what I believe to be the most subtle, insidious lie that we are led to believe about God and eternity: it’s about what we do or don’t do. Nothing could be further from the truth:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:7-10 (MSG)

Then this morning I read God sharing a similar message to the Hebrews through Moses. I hear in Moses’ message the concern that once the people took possession of the land they would “probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing.” Moses reminds them that it’s all God’s doing, not theirs.

I so easily fall into the mindset that God will accept me or reject me based on my deeds, good or bad. If I fall into sin I believe God will punish me. If things are going well I get the feeling I must be doing something right for God to be blessing me. So I do extra good things to try and counter balance the bad and earn a little extra blessing. I think in the back of my head that eternity must be based on some giant set of scales that will weigh out the good and bad in my life. If good tips the scales I’m in, if my good falls short of my bad then I’m hosed. But that’s not at all what Jesus taught and what God’s Message says. Here’ another reminder I shared yesterday:

It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. Titus 3:3-8 (MSG)

Today, I’m grateful for all the God has done in redeeming me and thankful that it’s not up to me or my effort, my good deeds, or my ability to earn my way into God’s good graces. God’s gift has restored my relationship with Him and given me back my life.

Some Things Earned; Some Things Given

btw, Rev 5:5 is tatted on my right shoulder!
Personal Trivia:I have a Rev 5:5 tat!

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Revelation 5:5 (NIV)

Part of my business is the assessment of the quality of service that individual customer service agents provide over the phone to their company’s customers (e.g. “your call may be monitored to ensure quality service”). In the 25 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve come to find that there are some very strong opinions  and philosophies about the standards by which people should be measured.

My company has always advocated a high standard of performance because we believe that the ultimate test is a customer’s satisfaction. In my experience, most companies say that they deliver a high level of service, but when you survey their customers you find that relatively few customers agree. In order to differentiate yourself in the mind of the customer your service has got to be really good. So, we set the bar high and encourage Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) to work hard at delivering a consistently above average level of service. When CSRs reach their goal they generally feel a sense of accomplishment and pride.

In other words: Many olympians compete in a race, but only one earns the gold medal.

There are a lot of people who don’t like this approach. I’m constantly running into those who are advocates of setting the bar low enough for the vast majority to reach it with little effort. In this approach, it is believed that every CSR should get a perfect score on almost every call even if we have to water down the standards or obfuscate the measuring approach to make it attainable. Exceptionally good service is not what this measurement approach strives for, but simply avoiding exceptionally bad service. I find it to be the celebration “good enough.” Admittedly, CSRs do like this approach as they are largely rewarded for maintaining the status quo.

In other words: Pretty much everyone who shows up for the race should get a gold medal.

I have come to realize that these conflicting approaches have spiritual implications. Speaking of “only one gets the prize,” I found it interesting in the chapter this morning that only One was worthy of opening the scroll and the seven seals in John’s vision. The Lion of Judah, the Lamb who was slain (a.k.a. Jesus) was the only one worthy to open the seals because of the blood sacrifice He had made and the price He paid through His death and resurrection.

I have found that, in the Kingdom of God, there are things which are unattainable, things which are given, things which are sacrificed, and things which are earned. The key is to learn and know the difference; to understand which things are which.

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