February 3, 2009
This sounds so simple. In principle it is. But in practice we sinners are wired to trust in means, not God. Over and over I devise plans, and then find my initial enthusiasm rise or fall as the plan seems smart or not. This is trust in plans, not trust in God. There is no doubt God wants us to use means to get his work done. But just as clearly he wants us not to trust in these means. "The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD" (Proverbs 21:31). Therefore, our confidence should not be in the horse, but in the Lord. "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God" (Psalm 20:7).
George Mueller's life was devoted to vindicating this truth. He explained once how it relates to our vocation. We should work to earn a living and supply our needs, but we should not trust in our work but in God. Otherwise we will be ever anxious that our needs will not be met if we can't work. But if we are trusting God, not our work, then if God ordains that we lose our job, we can be confident he will meet our needs, and so we do not need to be anxious. Here is the way he put it.
"Why do I carry on this business, or why am I engaged in this trade or profession?" In most instances, so far as my experience goes, which I have gathered in my service among the saints during the last fifty-one years and a half, I believe the answer would be: "I am engaged in my earthly calling, that I may earn the means of obtaining the necessaries of life for myself and family." Here is the chief error from which almost all the rest of the errors, which are entertained by children of God, relative to their calling, spring. It is no right and Scriptural motive, to be engaged in a trade, or business, or profession, merely in order to earn the means for the obtaining of the necessaries of life for ourselves and family; but we should work, because it is the Lord's will concerning us. This is plain from the following passages; 1 Thess. 4:11-12; 2 Thess. 3:10-12; Eph. 4:28.
It is quite true that, in general, the Lord provides the necessaries of life by means of our ordinary calling; but that that is not THE REASON why we should work, is plain enough from the consideration, that if our possessing the necessaries of life depended upon our ability of working, we could never have freedom from anxiety, for we should always have to say to ourselves, and what shall I do when I am too old to work? or when by reason of sickness I am unable to earn my bread? But if on the other hand, we are engaged in our earthly calling, because it is the will of the Lord concerning us that we should work, and that thus laboring we may provide for our families and also be able to support the weak, the sick, the aged, and the needy, then we have good and scriptural reason to say to ourselves: should it please the Lord to lay me on a bed of sickness, or keep me otherwise by reason of infirmity or old age, or want of employment, from earning my bread by means of the labor of my hands, or my business, or my profession, He will yet provide for me. (A Narrative of Some of the Lord's Dealing with George Muller, Written by Himself, Jehovah Magnified. Addresses by George Muller Complete and Unabridged, Vol. 1, [Muskegon, Mich.: Dust and Ashes Publications, 2003], p. 393)
This truth applies not only to our vocation but to all areas of life. Moment by moment we use means to keep us alive and accomplish the purposes of God (food, houses, phones, cars, medicines, doctors, builders, advisers, etc). The lesson we need to learn is not to trust in these things when we use them, but to trust wholly in God. This applies also to planning for our church. We plan. We budget. We teach and preach and counsel. The temptation continually is to trust in these things and not in God to work in and through and without these things. So as we dream toward ministry and missions and a permanent North Campus, let us use means, but let us trust God. His promises are the only sure thing. All our means are fallible.
Mueller summed up the principle like this: "This is one of the great secrets in connection with successful service for the Lord; to work as if everything depended upon our diligence, and yet not to rest in the least upon our exertions, but upon the blessing of the Lord." (Narrative, vol. 2, p. 290). Or, as the Bible more carefully says it: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). Even more to the point, Paul says: "By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).
May the Lord grant us freedom from all anxiety as we trust him not means.
This article originally ran in June 2008.
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