“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”(Philippians 2:12)
Some years back while pastoring in New England, a couple moved to our state to be a part of our church. God put it in their heart to come, and we were delighted to have them as a part of our local church body. They were both Bible school graduates, and they both served in our church for a number of years, occupying leadership roles.
However, as happened with a number of people who were new to the Northeast, the adjustment was not without difficulty. The difference in climate, culture, and being away from family, made the transition tough for a while. I would see it particularly in the wife, whose eyes were often filled with tears during the service, and I knew her faith was being tested. I wondered if she wasn’t second-guessing both herself and their decision to come.
The husband’s struggle was in his ability to find work in the printing industry, which was already suffering from the innovation of desktop publishing. There were simply no jobs around like he had had before, and something else would have to be found to meet the family budget. Eventually he did find work, though it was hard, physical labor, probably more suited to a younger man than one middle-aged.
I felt for them. I had seen others likewise struggle, and as their pastor I wanted to step in and do all I could to make the transition less difficult. I tend to be a pretty mercy-motivated individual, not liking to see anyone face a challenge or go through hardship, let alone those of my own congregation for whom I feel some responsibility. However, God taught me a valuable lesson in dealing with people through this experience. He very definitely told me to step back and allow Him to finish what He had begun in them. God let me know that what I thought was stepping in to help was really interfering with His process in their lives.
Sometimes we just have to realize that we’re not God. We are not the Savior, and sometimes when stepping in to make someone else’s process easier, we inadvertently undermine a work God is doing in their lives. Maturing is not always easy, and there are some lessons regarding faith and patience, character development, and spiritual growth that we can learn no other way than to simply go through life’s challenges. We’ve all seen what happens when parents won’t let their children grow up, stepping into every conflict on their behalf to right the world’s wrongs. Those kids often grow up incapable of handling anything on their own, shouting to all who will hear that the world is unfair anytime circumstances don’t fall their way.
There are times, no matter how much we want to help someone, that we need to realize God is at work, and the only way some victories can come, some lessons can be learned, and some maturing take place in people’s lives, its to let them work it out between themselves and God. No two people’s journey of faith is the same, and sometimes we can give poor advice, telling others what we think they should do, when really they need to be going to God rather than to us.
This is a lesson I have had to learn on a number of occasions, when certain spiritual victories could not be won through another’s prayers or by letting others fight my battles for me. Sometimes we have to fight the giant ourselves, and when we win, we have a testimony of God’s faithfulness that is our own and not another’s. It is the accumulation of these hard-fought victories, where God and God alone brought us out, that give us wisdom and experience that can speak into the lives of others when it is appropriate to do so. This is the way maturity comes.
Some time back, my wife and I started an outreach in wine country. As we toured the vineyards, I noticed there seemed to be little by way of irrigation. I asked the tour guide why this was, and she said something to this effect: “It’s the struggle of the vine that gives it its flavor.” Wow. What a message! Again and again, Jesus tells us through John that the rewards are to the “over comers” (see Revelation, chapters 2 & 3), and there are some battles you are simply going to have to fight until you win. God will be with you, but He’s not going to do it all for you. He expects you to use your faith, exercise patience, practice perseverance, and stay the course. That’s how it’s done. That’s how champions are made. That’s how disciples are made. That’s how God works in us to make us the men and women He’s called us to be.