Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” John 6:29
How can I work the works of God? This is really a trick question. Because the first confession of the Christian life is that we cannot do the work that God requires. We are categorically unable to do holy work, in ourselves. Jesus taught us that we can only work the work of God by belief in Him, the One the Father has sent (Jn. 6:29). In other words, our work of faith is no work at all, in ourselves, but simply belief in the One who has worked salvation for us.
In this faith, trusting in the work of Jesus for us, there is a component then of following through in obedient works: we are ordained for good works, and sanctified to them. But even this task can be overwhelming, if we look at it in totality. At any moment of our life, if we look at what we are, compared to what we are called to be, it can be overwhelming. Discouraging. Paralyzing.
But God doesn’t look at us like that. God doesn’t demand the finished product, nor place its expectations upon us. He lovingly looks at us in Christ, and then faithfully conforms us to the image of Christ, over time, into eternity. It is thus that He can look at what we consider failure, and bring eternal good from it (Rom. 8:28, 29). When we judge ourselves based on the weight of finished expectations, we are judging ourselves in pride, with self as the focus. The better way is to make Jesus the focus, trusting His work — and then working humbly on the next simple task at hand. We confess that we can’t work what we should, but that Christ can work it through us… and then we look for the next thing at hand in which we can show obedience. In faith, we “do with our might what our hands find to do” (Eccl. 9:10). Like this, something miraculous happens: In our very confession that we cannot work as we should, somehow the work of God happens in us and through us.
In the Lark Rise to Candleford Christmas, a former seafaring man struggles with this paradox. In his mind, he sees all that he wants to be — indeed, all that he should be — for his family. In the unspoken part of his heart, he knows that he is not what he should be. So he secretly plans to abandon his family. After all, if he can’t live up to everything that his wife and children need, then they’d probably be better off without him — and he’d be better off without family responsibility: If no responsibility, then no unmet expectations. So his thinking goes, in pride.
He plans his escape to the sea. He writes a letter to a sea captain, requesting crew work that will take him far from home. But his wife sees the address of the letter before he posts it, and his secret escape is not so secret. She privately weeps in anguish, sensing that her husband is going to abandon his family again.
She confides her fears to a wise friend; who, in turn, speaks perchance to the husband. “Why are you leaving your family, when they need you so?” she asks him. He responds that the weight of all that he should be for his family is too much for him. And his solution is to run.
The wise friend simply turns to him and says, “Surely we can do for one day what is impossible for a lifetime!” In other words, yes, the full weight of what you see for yourself is impossible. But by God’s grace, you can go home and live for just one day, being present for your family, meeting their needs — humbling yourself just for one day: the day called Today.
That sentence shocks the husband. It breaks through the fog of pride and the misery of narcissistic expectations. He returns to his family table in time for Christmas, perhaps truly present for the first time, and hopeful for a faithful future. Surely, we can do for one day what is impossible for a lifetime!
The secret of working the work of God is an apparent paradox. We have to give up any hope in ourselves, and place it in our Lord. We confess our utter need, and then humbly focus on the task at hand — no matter how seemingly insignificant, the task of today. J.C. Ryle says, “Expect less of yourself and more of Christ.” It’s good advice. The work of God is accomplished in the humble works that we find before us today — for our family, for those closest to us, for those whom God brings into our lives, for those whom God bids us pray. Today! We can do these daily works as we think less of self and more of Christ. Confession: Less of me, and more of Christ, in all I do and say. If it is Christ at work in me, then no task is too humble. The pie that is baked: It is Christ in me. The ham that is cooked: Christ in me, for family. The house that is cleaned: Christ in me, the hope of glory. The neighbor that is helped: Christ in me, speaking peace and hope…
George MacDonald looks at this paradox of faith and says,
You can at once begin to be a disciple of the Living One – by obeying Him in the first thing you can think of in which you are not obeying Him… We must learn to obey Him in everything, and so must begin somewhere. Let it be at once, and in the very next thing that lies at the door of our conscience!
Truly, the work of God is before us, in the very next thing at the door of our conscience, and the very next person at the door of our house. All God asks is the next moment, the day called Today.
Give God this day, today, the whole way through Advent, and you will be working His work — even with all your faults. And this Christmas, you will encounter Him as never before! Amen.
The highest blessings of Heaven be upon you this Advent, as you surrender your life to Christ, faithfully working while it is day, today! Alleluia!
Love in Christ,