We work because God works in us, to both make us work, and to work. Huh?
I feel that the case usually is, when I return to blogging, it is not because I have some profound insight. My return to blogging is usually prompted by something else. Something far less encouraging, really. My return to blogging is usually my means of communicating that, again, God has seemed silent and I have grown distant. I can’t say that this post isn’t motivated by the same thing.
I think this morning at church, I was touched by a tangential comment. It always seems to be these secondary comments; not the point, something just thrown out haphazardly, that get me. Maybe it is because these points are not drawn out, forcing me to think about them further on my own. In contrast, the main point of the sermon is belabored for half an hour, effectively telling me everything I need to know.
Anyway, I think I realized that this time, the burn out has come because of the working I am doing in my Christian faith. The work that I have done to grow closer to Christ has, paradoxically, moved me further away from him. This seems strange to say, especially since the Apostle Paul taught us that we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. Right?
I think I’ve missed two essential aspects: doing it with fear and trembling, and the source of my willing and the source of my working. More on the second in a few. But first, I think seminary has forced me to do a lot of work, and maybe even included a bit of fear! in my training. But just busywork, even finals or essays or tests, which involve studying the Bible, don’t mean I’m necessarily studying out of a right reverence for God. Whether reading the Bible, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, or anybody else for school can have the same effect on me spiritually if I don’t do it in order to grow closer to Jesus.
This can be rectified, obviously. Jesus wouldn’t be honored by seminary work or seminarians if it were impossible to do the work which leads to Communion with him at school! The New Testament contains many commands which help us recenter our worship while we work. Work to the glory of God, in all that we do, as we don’t work for human masters, but for the Lord of the world. When we remember that, our “regular” work can be work that comes from our salvation.
But Paul also reminds us of the source of our work. God both works in us that we would have the will to do this work, but he is also doing the work in us. I burn out when I do seminary work, Crossway or barista work, or church work on my own power. It is finite, and it will drain very quickly. Especially as an introvert, my energy to do work is constantly being attacked. Without time to recharge, I can’t continue working, and does it ever feel like I don’t have time to recharge. Thankfully, all of my work can be done by God’s power because of his gracious mercy and his offer to extend his unlimited energy and power to me.
But it is more than that. Having the energy to work means nothing if I don’t have the will to work. This extends especially into working out my salvation, does it not? As a human, born of Adam, even reborn into Christ through the Spirit, the world constantly tries to take my attention away from Christ. Like a child in a candy store, everything distracts me and takes my desires away from Christ.
Thankfully, God does not expect me to drum up the will to work out my salvation. As goodness and mercy have pursued me all of the days of my life, God in Christ pursued me to reconcile me to him in Christ before I could seek him out. But he does not stop there: he knows our weaknesses. Therefore, he gives us the will to work in response to what he has done. It is not very often one person can be the one stop shop for everything, but God has graciously done this for us in Christ.
So, when I have no will to work, I burn out by trying to get that power on my own. When I have no energy to work, I burn out by working without that energy. Thankfully, our gracious God gives us both, because we are frail, in our non-resurrected bodies. Thanks be to God who will, eventually, get me out of my latest dry spell and into the joy that exists at his right hand.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed,so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.