God’s Will or Hard Work?

James 4:13Several years ago, I noticed a trend of adding the phrase Lord willing to any statement of plan. “Lord willing, I’ll meet you for lunch tomorrow,” or “If the Lord wills, I’ll be at your baby shower next week.”

Now I know this comes straight out of the Bible, so don’t send me hate mail. James, the brother of Jesus, clearly says in James 4:13-15

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

What I’ve noticed, though, is that some take this concept of God’s will and apply it much more broadly than I believe God intended. Like the person who says (in my rough paraphrase), “Lord willing, my ship will come in.”

Isn’t that using God, turning Him into a genie or Santa Claus? Do we have no responsibility to apply effort? To work hard? To add to what God has given?

What else the Bible says

It’s not that I don’t believe in God’s provision. I rely on God’s provision in many areas of my life. And I don’t want to discount or negate His blessings because I love it when He pours those out on me. But I think some are confused about what they see in the big picture of God’s economy.

What do I mean? Well, let’s look at Matthew 25:14-30. Many of you will recognize this story of the talents. The Message tells it like this:

[God’s kingdom is] also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.

Each man received according to his abilities. Each man made a choice on what to do with what he was given. And notice that Jesus says that the first two men worked hard and doubled their money. When the master returned, he was pleased and rewarded those two servants.

But the servant who buried the money?

The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

Imagine the scene. This servant was cautious, wanting to protect his master’s money. He found a hiding place when no one was looking and safe guarded the place for the months his master was gone. Can you imagine the worry? The sleepless nights? The fear whenever someone went near that place?

And now he stands before the master, proud of the job he’d done. He’d succeeded in his task and returned every single penny.

And that wasn’t good enough.

The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’

Some of you don’t like that. After all, the man returned every penny! He could have gone out and wasted it, or gambled it on some fool scheme and lost. He could have invested it wisely in the housing or stock market, and a downturn could have cost him a huge chunk.

But the money is not the point, and it’s not what God wants you to focus on. Something bigger is happening. The key is in the beginning of the parable. Four little words: depending on their abilities.

My story

Depending on your abilitiesLet’s get practical. God gave me a talent for writing. For many years, I buried it in a safe hiding place, just like that last servant. I didn’t take any risks. I rarely even thought of writing as a career–that was for the Jerry Jenkins and Francine Rivers of the world.

But unlike that poor servant in Jesus’s parable, one day, I let a friend sneak a peek. And weeks later I took a risk by mailing it to a Publisher. And since that time I’ve gone to work, learning and improving the craft of writing. I’ve purposely added to what God first gave me.

No, I’m not on par with Dee Henderson or Karen Kingsbury, and I’m okay with that. Because I’m doing my best to steward what God gave me. I’m working according to my ability.

That’s all the master wanted out of his three servants. And that’s all God wants out of us.