Monday, November 7, 2011

Work and Pray

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling Charlotte campus

“. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (NASB Php 2:12b–13)
Does having a business plan, using marketing strategies, or taking lessons on how to raise funds for a mission on ministry mean that we are not living in faith and trusting God? Several times in the last month, I have heard Christians indirectly talking about this question. I know people who land on both the positive and the negative side of the answer to this question. A new missionary wants to practice his “spiel” on me to see how it flows and if it will be effective in getting financial commitments. We have a discussion among faculty, and one faculty member asserts that marketing strategies demonstrate a lack of faith that we are engaged in God’s ministry and that he will provide. What are we to believe about this?
When I was a brand-new Christian, before I had read this passage in Philippians, my spiritual mentor encouraged me to “work as if everything depended on me and pray as if everything depended on God.” When I read Philippians, I had an aha! moment. I can work as if everything depended on me because God is working in me, both giving me the desire to fulfill his will and enabling me to do the work to accomplish his good pleasure.
So many times, Christians argue about whether the ultimate is one thing or another (for example, God’s sovereignty versus human responsibility, or here, works versus faith). When I read scripture, it becomes clear to me why it’s so difficult for us to reduce it to one ultimate thing. It is because the Bible teaches both. God is sovereign and we are responsible. Our salvation is by faith and we must do works as evidence of and response to that faith and salvation provided by God. We must resist the temptation to seek a single ultimate, bottom line assertion.
This verse is a great comfort to me because it assures me that I can step out in faith and use all of the gifts, resources, skills, and education that God has given me to plan, strategize, and execute these plans and strategies, knowing that it is a God at work in me, giving me these gifts, resources, skills, and education so that I may follow the desires he has implanted in me to accomplish his good pleasure. Of course, one of the gifts we must always exercise is discernment. I believe God guides us into what he would have us do, but also when and how and with whom. But as I plan and move forward, I pray and I trust God that I am moving forward in his plan.
When Dr. Sid Bradley, former dean at Charlotte and founder of the counseling program of which I’m the director, talked about utilizing psychology as a Christian counselor, he talked about the Exodus, and how the Israelites when they left Egypt, at God’s command, “plundered the Egyptians.” When we learn strategies and approaches from the world (compatible with biblical principles of living), we are plundering the Egyptians. We are taking the gold, silver, and precious jewels of the world and utilizing them for Kingdom work. So may I also encourage you to “work is if everything depends on you and pray as if everything depends on God.”

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