The core belief motivating my current journey is that God won’t do the work for me. This feels like a lack of faith in God because for so long I believed that He would be at work within me making the changes I couldn’t make through the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit. In other words, I believed that the Holy Spirit was doing a mystical work within me to change my personality, my character, into the image of Jesus Christ, and I believed that this was a work separate from anything I could do or even participate in. My role was to be faithfully obedient with whatever lesson or calling He gave.
So, by being faithful with my devotions, reading and feeding on the Word of God, the Holy Spirit would use the Word like manure to the roots of my soul tree. He was the gardener, the promise keeper, the one doing the work within me. And He was supposed to be faithful to that promise, even when I wasn’t holding up my end of the deal. That’s what grace was all about, after all. He was supposed to fill up what I lacked.
But that’s not how things worked out. Instead, I was left to make decisions in my own wisdom and strength and to face the consequences thereof.
If someone asked me what I believe now, I would say that I believe in the Divine Creative Force. The force that brings something out of nothing, that brings life out of death. The force that keeps moving forward with creative momentum despite all the atrocity, death, pain, and suffering in this world. The force that inhales all those evils and exhales loving kindness and rebirth. The light in the darkness that gives shape and purpose to the darkness.
This Force is much more mysterious and unpredictable than the God of my youth, and much less personal. But, pick any story you choose and the present application will be the same: you can choose to live within this Force, or you can choose to resist it.
In his second epistle, Peter tells us that we have everything we need for life and godliness. Then he goes on to explain how we build up our faith by cultivating virtue into love. This is how we indwell, or enter into, the Kingdom of Heaven. Not to apply ourselves to the task, he says, is as good as forgetting that we have been set free and forgiven in the first place. So, we have everything we need (through our knowledge of Jesus Christ and His promises, as Peter would say) to live within this Force, but we must do the work of living. The Force will not cultivate virtue into love for us.
Like farmers, or gardeners, we have to do the work of tilling the ground, planting the seed, feeding, fertilizing, and watering and the Divine Creative Force brings forth the harvest. Turning a seed into a plant and then maturing the plant into a harvest is the part we can’t actually do. We can prepare and care for the field or garden, but we cannot create the actual growth. That’s what the Divine Creative Force does, and it works in our souls just like it does in nature.
We go through the work of adding virtue to our faith, knowledge to our virtue, self-control to our knowledge, perseverance to our self-control, brotherly kindness to our perseverance, godliness to our brotherly kindness, and love to our godliness. And in the midst of all that work, the Divine Creative Force brings forth the harvest. But the harvest will not come if we do not do the work.
A man went out to sow his seed. Some of it fell on rocky soil and the plants that grew withered quickly for they had no root. Some fell on the path and were eaten up by the birds. Some fell among thorns and thistles and the plants that grew were choked out. But some fell on good soil and grew and produced fruit. We must do the work of cultivating our soul soil if we want the seed to grow.
Jesus said that He is the vine and the Father is the vine dresser, or the gardener. I always thought that meant He, the Father, would do the work of bringing forth fruit in my life, but Jesus goes on to say that the branches which do not bear fruit are gathered up and thrown into the fire. So there is the possibility of NOT bearing fruit, despite the Gardener’s handiwork, and the responsibility to bear fruit by abiding in Christ is OURS.
We must do the “work” of abiding in Christ. What does it mean to abide in Christ? It means to obey Him. What does obedience look like? It looks like loving one another. How do we love one another? We cultivate virtue into love.
How can I speak of work when Christ says He offers us rest?
We rest by trusting the process. If we know that we cannot physically make the seed grow, then we can stop trying to BE the Divine Creative Force that brings forth life, and instead trust the process of gardening and let the Divine Creative Force bring forth the living plant.
I think of the Camino. It’s possible to get so caught up in trying to plan every stop, count every mile, and make every decision days ahead of time that you miss the experience of being present on the Camino. But there is another way. You can stop all the planning and let go of all the expectations and simply trust that the Camino will provide. Trust that there will be a bed waiting for you. Trust that you will eat tonight. Trust that you will be alone when you need to be alone, and you will be in good company when you need the fellowship. Trusting that the Camino will provide will give you rest, but it will not change the fact that you still need to get up in the morning, pack your bag, and get your boots on the trail. You can trust that Santiago will be there, but you still have to walk 500 miles to get there.
I think also of the inmates I worked with. They were working so hard to get out on parole, to go home, that oftentimes they would get themselves tangled up in policies and regulations trying to rush out the door. Trust the process, we told them. That’s where they would find rest, in trusting that if they took their time to do the right next step, they would eventually walk all the way out the door. But trying to force things along, to pressure the Department or case workers to hurry things up, demanding answers and resources from the State or loved ones, or faking their own personal growth and inner change just to get rubber stamped for departure, would all surely end in failure. If not now, then later. Trusting the process meant doing the work that would create the changes within them that would enable them to get out and stay out.
Finally, I think of the kids trudging through their wilderness therapy programs. How eagerly they would ask how they could get to the next stage of the program so they could be that much closer to going home. I remember clearly telling one young lad that he could not get into Family Stage by trying to be a Family Stage member. In order to get into Family Stage, he had to press into Group Stage. Being the best Group Stage member he could be is what would open the door to Family Stage.
Be here now and the Divine Creative Force will bring tomorrow to you.
Perhaps this is what it means to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.”
Perhaps I have not come so far from the faith of my youth as it may seem. Perhaps it is not my faith that has been challenged so much as my expectations. More to the point, perhaps God has invited me to grow up in my faith and begin taking on the personal responsibility of working out my salvation. Instead of relying on God the Father to meet my every need like a good, little boy, perhaps God is inviting me to take on the rights and responsibilities of a full citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Where has your journey taken you?