Sometimes, doing nothing is what God wants us to do.
It’s a difficult concept, this doing nothing, conditioned as we are through multiple weekly church inculcations to see works as a means of expressing our faith: we attend services and Bible studies, we participate in outreach ministries, we talk to people about Jesus, we sing at corporate worship programs as our principal means of expression, we volunteer for “leadership opportunities,” we pray eloquently aloud, we teach and minister and . . . do.
Indeed, so important is the process of doing that it becomes part of our social lexicon:
“How are you?”
Deep, pensive sigh: “Doing great, but I’m really busy, you know? Insanely busy.”
“Oh I know, I know. I’m busy too.” To reply in any other fashion is to imply a sense of slothful indolence, a spiritual torpor resulting from an inactive prayer life and distant relationship with God. Nobody wants to admit that we’re not buddy buddy with Jesus.
In the 21st century it is busyness, as opposed to cleanliness, that is next to Godliness, but given that, in our quest to be continuously active in the work of the Lord, we host Small Groups Study Alive! on Tuesday nights, our house is probably spotless, at least superficially, as well.
All by Ourselves
As anybody who has ever cleaned a house knows, when you’re doing it by yourself, nothing gets done unless you’re doing it, so while you’re washing dishes, for example, the carpet isn’t being vacuumed, the toilets swished, or the laundry folded. Unless we’re doing it, it’s not getting done, an attitude we take with us from the home to the office, into the church, and throughout our world, without ever asking the essential question:
“Why am I cleaning this damn house all by myself anyway?”
In a home with multiple members, it’s not as if we are the only ones generating dirty underwear, discarded mail, and uncleared dining room tables, and when we take on the tasks of many, we are being unrealistic, and foolish, with our time. So it is in our spiritual lives: whether it’s because we want to exhibit — to ourselves or an audience — an external level of metaphysical maturity, or whether it’s for a deeper, embarrassingly humble reason: we have a desperate need that we long to have fulfilled, and we’re determinedly trying to get God’a attention, we feel the obligation to do something, in order to see action.
After all, in our Puritanically based culture, which meshes seamlessly with a corporate oligarchy, we know from childhood that it’s all in our court. Ain’t no one gonna do it for us.
Helpless in Our Humanity
No one could have had more of this attitude than the Israelites, when they were on the run from Pharaoh, trapped in an impossible spot between an angry army and a very large sea. And indeed, the Hebrews did get upset over their inability to control the situation, to which their leader Moses answered:
“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today . . . The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)
Most of us know how that story ended — a literal sea of activity, with the Hebrews safely ushered to the other side. The principle activity required of them was to first, wait and see and second, walk.
A few weekends ago, we invited our 6-year-old granddaughter to spend the day with us, simply because we like being around her. The idea was that her mom would drop her off mid-morning, but in one of those unforeseen, totally unplanned inconvenient circumstances, the baby of the family spontaneously fell asleep for a much-needed and long awaited nap 20 minutes before mom was to leave. And while we live only three miles away,
- It was insanely rainy,
- It is the height of stupidity to wake a sleeping baby,
3. Nobody was about to escort the kid to the porch, point down the street, and say, “Take a left, go two blocks, then take a right; walk for roughly 65 minutes at your speed, take a left, another left, and a right, and keep a sharp eye out for Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Call if you get lost.”
In short, getting to Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a physical impossibility for a 6-year-old child, and while her great-great-grandparents no doubt performed far more impressive walking feats on their daily treks in the snow to the schoolhouse cabin, Grandma, Grandpa, and Mom didn’t see any reason to ask the child to do something that was effectively beyond her ability.
So Grandma got in the car and picked up the child. It was the decision of an instant, a no-brainer, really, because the central goal was to spend time with our granddaughter, and any minor schedule arrangement was more than worth the joy of being together. In a situation where one person is able to do nothing, and the other is able to do much, much more, the person of greater ability uses that ability to do much, much more, while the person who is able to do nothing, patiently waits.
God is a Person who is able to do much, much more than anything we can do. And while frequently, we work together, with His graciously giving us tasks and work within our ability, sometimes the task He gives us is to wait on Him.
And waiting, which feels like doing nothing, is incredibly difficult. We are tempted to fill the time with busy tasks — like running up and down the living room until Grandma arrives — but really, all we’re asked to do is wait. Quietly. Patiently. With a sense of trust that He loves us, He knows that it’s raining and the distance is too far, and He’s on His way in the car.
Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where it took me years and years to realize that I wasn’t the only person on the planet waiting for an answer to a prayer to which I really wanted and needed answer. On the journey, I encountered and talked to many people who felt the same way, and one of the benefits we receive as we wait is the encouragement that we give to one another.
God hears your prayers, and more than any U.S. President could possibly imagine, He feels your pain. Do not look to the examples of men to show you the ways of God.
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