We grow in Christ in the context of love and grace. Yet what can we do, as individuals, to allow God to work freely in our lives?
You can’t always choose the circumstances you face in life; you can, however, choose your response to it. It’s what you do with what you have that helps shape
your outcome. Some of the things we can do to build an effective outcome include:
First, do whatever work is necessary to build depth into your life. Address the character issues; are you a person of integrity, honesty, admitting your failures and learning from them, developing unselfish motives in serving others, recognizing and minimizing the distractions that keep you from growing and paying attention to why you do what you do?
Are you taking regular time for reflection about the quality of your inner life, about your thought patterns, your feelings and emotions, your desires, your joys and sorrows? Do you carve out space to stop the busyness and be in solitude and quiet—times to just be?
Do you take the time regularly to evaluate your goals and dreams, your priorities, and how your actions and behaviors and choices are either facilitating or detracting from them? Are you intentional about building relationships with others who can support you, hold you accountable, and encourage you toward your potential—people with whom you can be completely transparent about your struggles and temptations and pitfalls?
Are you paying attention to what’s “below the waterline” of your life?
Second, make use of the resources God provides in this process. What does this mean? What are God’s available resources? Here are a few to consider:
1. A safe place: God provides safe places for spiritual healing. One of the significant safe places is the Sabbath, a “sanctuary in time” in which our battered and bruised hearts can find rest and peace and healing.
The Bible uses the term “Sabbath” to describe this place in time. All through the many millennia of history, there have been people who have enjoyed safe sanctuary there. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, the well-known Jewish philosopher and theologian, put it this way: “In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity. The island is the Sabbath, a day of detachment from things, instruments and practical affairs as well as attachment to the spirit. . . . The Sabbath is the exodus from tension, the liberation of man from his own muddiness, the installation of man as a sovereign in the world of time.”1
Imagine having a whole day every single week to stop life’s busyness and chaos, and pay attention to the heart and soul of life, to reevaluate priorities, to reengage with the most important people in your life, to restore and revitalize your heart, mind, and body, to recapture your sense of destiny and purpose. It’s a sanctuary in time, a safe place away from the harshness of life, to experience healing and wholeness. It’s one of God’s great gifts to us, an amazing resource to help us experience abundance and fruitfulness and significance.
Just as in the Indianapolis 500 auto race, the cars must have pit stops for refueling and retreading and restoring if they hope to complete the race, so the Sabbath is one of those pit stops necessary for successful life. We ignore it to our detriment.
2. A fertile environment: A fertile environment denotes soil that has had unnecessary rocks and weeds removed from it, where the soil has been deeply cultivated and developed, and plenty of moisture made available for the seedlings to grow. It’s the responsibility of the farmer to provide that for the seeds.
How does God provide that environment for us? God often uses other people to surround us and facilitate growth.
The psychiatrist Paul Tournier has made the profound observation that there are two things in life you can’t do alone: be married, and be spiritual. We were designed to experience wholeness in life in the context of meaningful relationships with others. God provides people in our lives to facilitate a fertile environment for growth. We cannot make the journey alone and expect to end up with a harvest of abundance and fruitfulness.
3. A redemptive miracle: There’s another classic story about Jesus recorded in the Bible (John 9) that describes this powerful resource that God offers. Jesus and His close friends come upon a blind man. The prevailing Jewish philosophy and theology stated that blindness came as a result of sin, either the man’s sin or that of his parents. But Jesus offers a radically contrasting paradigm when his friends ask Him about the cause of the man’s deficiency. Jesus says, “ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, . . . but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life’ ” (v. 3).2
In other words, Jesus refuses to get into the debate about what caused the man’s disability. Rather, Jesus is interested in what God wants to do about it in the present. How does God want to reveal His power in this man’s life right now? So to show that new reality, Jesus heals the man of his blindness—powerful evidence to observers that God is all about bringing good out of evil. It’s His redemptive miracle.
Just before healing the man, Jesus makes this statement: “ ‘While I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ ” (v. 5). In other words, it’s His mission to bring light into darkness. Wherever darkness and evil exist, He comes to bring the goodness of His love into the middle of it. And we all know that when light shines into the darkness, darkness is dispelled. Even a little bit of light puts a noticeable dent in the darkness. That’s the radical difference God can make in our lives.
Because of this reality, the most prolific writer of the New Testament, Paul, states with confidence: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31, 32).
Paul goes on to state his conclusion. If this is true, if God is really on our side, then the final truth is that nothing can separate us from God and His loving desire to bring us to wholeness and abundant fruitfulness—death can’t, life can’t, angels can’t, demons can’t, fear can’t, worries can’t, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away (v. 38). “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (v. 28). This is the most amazing resource of all. God’s redemptive miracle in which He promises to bring good out of even the most evil in life.
What, then, should be our response? As the seeds have to do, we must simply trust the Farmer, to let the Farmer do what He does best (produce a harvest). So the significant questions are these: (1) Am I willing to trust God with my life? (2) Am I willing to acknowledge His place in my life and find direction from Him? (3) Am I willing to take the time to build a strong connection with God, talking to Him and listening to Him? (4) Am I willing to center my life on God’s purposes? (5) Am I willing to accept His love for me and believe that He will, if I let Him, produce an abundant harvest of fruitfulness and significance in my life?
Paul states this reality with absolute confidence: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). When the Farmer plants the seed, He will make sure it grows and matures into an abundant harvest if we let Him. That’s His pledge! Is this a Resource to the fulfilling life you and I are willing to embrace?3