For years I struggled with the question of God’s guidance and our responsibility. Actively pray but be passive outwardly? Or actively pray and be active outwardly? Put simply, Pray or Do? Wait or Work? Through much personal trial and error (and error, and error…), I have come to realize it is both.
Through his book on prayer, the famous evangelist, John R. Rice, taught me something about the man who knocked on his neighbor’s door at midnight asking for three loaves of bread to share with his friend who was coming which I never heard or considered before:
The man did not stop at asking. As I add to the lesson, he did not simply call over from his bed, out the window, to his neighbor. He went over and knocked. And he kept knocking and asking until he got what he needed! The Lord told us this story with the lesson that the Father delights when we ask from Him. At the same time, there is effort on our part, humanly speaking, to do what we can. “Whatever your hand finds to do,” Solomon said, “do it with your might” (Ecc 9:10 ESV).
We Christians bristle at the old and unbiblical saying, God helps those who help themselves. And that’s certainly true when it comes to trying to earn salvation. But it might surprise you to learn that that phrase was used by none other than the Prince of Preachers himself, Charles Spurgeon, speaking of seizing opportunities.
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In his incredibly helpful booklet of maxims and proverbs I wish I knew about 30 years ago, John Ploughman’s Talk, Spurgeon writes, “There’s no good in lying down and crying, ‘God help us!’ God helps those who help themselves.” In another section of the same book he writes,
Hard work is the grand secret of success. Nothing but rags and poverty can come of idleness. Elbow grease is the only stuff to make gold with. No sweat, no sweet.Charles Spurgeon, “John Ploughman’s Talk”
God, in the Bible, often condemns the idle. We sin when we are too lazy to make the slightest effort to solve our problems. God expects us to exercise dominion (Gen 1:26,28) over our circumstances, to the measure that we can. Sometimes that will be a lot, and other times not at all. He knows how much or how little we can do in any given situation, but our responsibility is the same in either case: Faithfulness.
Deuteronomy 8:9 says He will lead His people to, “a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper” (ESV, emphasis added). Did you catch that? First, God didn’t place the iron and the copper on the surface. He embedded them inside the earth, in the rock. Second, Who’s going to do the digging? God has given it to man(kind) to do.
Consider the example of the four lepers in 2 Kings 7.
Now there were four men who were lepers at the entrance to the gate. And they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us we shall but die.” So they arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians.2 Kings 7:3-5 ESV
Those men had more sense than most of us do at times! How often do we stay and lament instead of get up and go? Even the natural man understands this, to a degree. There is a saying (mis-)attributed to Thomas Edison that goes, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
This morning I read Isaiah 32:8 in my NIV Bible. The principle is the same and I like the unintended rhyme of the verse, “But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands” (emphasis added).
God honored the plans of those men, and delivered Samaria in the process! He it did partly through the natural means of them realizing it was pointless to do nothing, they needed to do something to try to change their dire situation. Theologians refer to these two aspects as Divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
What are you praying about? And What are you doing about it?
Pray…with work gloves on.