Working Diligently But Exercising Faith

It has been said that a Christian believer cannot be in faith and in fear at the same time. Some say that fear indicates an absence of faith, but that would not seem to be borne out by scripture. Many patriarchs of the faith have stepped out in faith even though they were still afraid. God’s call to Gideon (Judges 6-8) is a perfect example. Gideon resisted God’s mission because of Gideon’s social standing, but God said something very interesting to him: “Go in the strength you have” (Judges 6:14 NIV). Here, God does not say to Gideon that he should sit back and watch God do all the work, but rather that Gideon should avail himself of, and even employ, the abilities that God placed within him.

I find a parallel concept in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27) as well as in the parables of the sower (Matt 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:1-15) and the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). In each of these parables, Jesus speaks of using human effort to accomplish our tasks. First, in the parable of talents/minas, the good and faithful servants used their own good judgment and human abilities to invest the money and to fulfill their master’s instruction. Only the servant who who sat on his hands, however, and put forth zero human effort was chastised by his master. He claimed that he was fearful of his master’s standards, but wouldn’t the other two servants have been equally fearful? The faithless servant succumbed let his fears cripple him. He was green, he was untested, he had no faith in himself; the other two were more mature, they had experience, they had confidence in their ability to make wise decisions. We can infer these things because a wise master would logically entrust more funds to those who have more experience and less funds to those with less experience. The two who received more had already learned that they were authorized to use the good judgment instilled within them by God as their Creator and by their life experiences in God’s service while simultaneously also trusting God for protection and for success. They also probably did not just invest the money and hope it returned a profit. It is far more likely that they routinely checked on their investments to ensure that everything was on track and to make course corrections if not. Similarly, the sower of seed demonstrates human effort and judgement in sowing the seed, but ultimately it is God who operates through that predicate to work his will. Lastly, the woman with the lost coin does not sit back in faith waiting for the coin to turn up but rather searches for it with all her might and she is rewarded for her efforts by finding that coin.

Of course, Jesus also spoke of not worrying (Matt 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-34) about our physical necessities. On balance, however, it would seem that we are to diligently do that we are capable of doing, to exercise discernment in those efforts, but to also recognize the proper extent and limits of our efforts. This will keep us from overstepping, trying to do God’s part for him. But in all we should, by faith, prayer, petition, and thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6), trust God for success and guidance. If we find ourselves anxious and burdened by uncertainty, it is then that we must step back and examine the parameters and presumptions upon which we are operating.

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