Wednesday, October 17, 2012

To Will and To Do

Last summer, our upstairs neighbors dropped off a load of unwanted books.  Among the paperbacks was this title, The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life. To my mind the title promised more of the same: pseudo-psychology meets watered-down Christianity.  Not for me, thanks.  However, unsurprisingly as my supply of new books dwindled, I was drawn to the worn pages.  Do you ever read a book, back of a shampoo bottle, set of instructions to a remote control, child's textbook, 8 month old newspaper, or even your Bible just because you were out of stuff you wanted to read? I have.  I am a junkie. 

So I flipped to the forward and learned that the author was a Quaker and the book was originally published in 1870.  I have met Christians who do not read widely because they fear being led astray.  I have some sympathy for this point of view and in this light limit the books my daughter reads.  However, I found as a mature Christian that there are a world of people out there that I can disagree with and still learn from. People who also love Jesus Christ and shine, to the best of their understanding, His truth.

The author, Hannah Whitall Smith, rigorously grounds her arguments in Scripture which I appreciate. She has a practical mind and convicted me repeatedly of sins I would like to overlook.  She also has a uniquely clear understanding of a question in the heart of tired women everywhere: How we find the will to do what we should?

Although she treats the question in several sections of the book, I think I can sum up the question and the answer for you fairly.  Smith observes that when we do what we "should" we lack motivation for continuing.  The thing we "should" do quickly becomes a duty, an obligation and finally a burden.  In response to this she examines Philippians 2.

To me this was not an obvious jump.  I expected the answer to the question to be some guilt, some shame, maybe a homily on working harder.  Instead she came back to Jesus Christ.  In the famous canon on the incarnation Paul says that Jesus  "humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name."  (Philippians 2:8-9) Jesus did two things - humbled himself and acted obediently. In a sneaky "therefore" Paul goes on to say in verse twelve, "work out your  salvation with fear and trembling."  Jesus was exalted, Smith writes, because he humbly obeyed.  We are called therefore to work humbly.  What could be more humble than fear and trembling?  Just when we feel that the job is impossible we should remember: it is God who is working in us to "will and to work."

Absorbing this for the first time, I was flabbergasted.  How many times have I approached my work for God as a drudgery?  How often have I thought too much of "should" and "must?"  I have to acknowledge that it is God who is at work, not just me.  I am humbly obedient and as a result God is toiling.   Exalting Jesus was God's work not Jesus'.  In the same way, He is at work enabling me.  Smith points out that no one struggles to do the thing they "will" to do.  I mean who sits down in front of the TV and finds it a duty to watch their favorite show?  The thing we "will" to do is the world's easiest thing, and through our continued obedience God is enabling us to "will" to do His work.  So when I step out to obey and find the next act of obedience just a little easier, I am in step with the Spirit who is causing me to will to work!

In the months since I first read this book, I have reread it three times.  I have posted quotes as my Facebook status. I have read sections aloud to members of my family. I have recommended it ad nauseam to the people I have met.  It was a book that changed the way I think about my work and helped me reflect carefully on some Bible topics that are frequently confusing, such as the relationship between faith and works.  I want to recommend it to you too.  Not because you'll agree with everything in it; you won't.  But because she is going to make you think, and she might make preparing communion or teaching Sunday School that much more of a joy to you too!

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

No comments:

Post a Comment