Carole and I were doing some menial work together this week.
Tuesday, I prayed over the work, just briefly. We worked with ease, we laughed. We worked smoothly, took a break and rested, then went back for more work. At the end of the workday we had the joy of completion and no fatigue.
Wednesday, we started again. It was labor. You know the difference between labor, like swimming through mud, and play that pretends to work? Well, this day was not the same as easy Tuesday. We were unloading and re-packing my car for a short trip the next day. At some point the car was accidentally locked with both keys inside. We are 45 minutes from any city. The locksmith was to come the next morning and really it was the least of my problems…there was only one problem: why was Wednesday hard and ended with what could be called a frustrating problem plus a $70 expense, while Tuesday had been like sailing on a breeze without effort?
For some days I have been thinking with the Lord about His willingness – no, it was more than that, His command to do our practical work for us, in place of us. I’ve experienced that phenomenon countless times, over many years.
Jesus saves us then He lives IN us but down in the most practical and menial ways, He will perform for us, instead of us!
THAT is unimaginable! Most of Christianity has no idea, and certainly no experience, that this is His will, His intention, His humble offer. He not only carries my burden, He performs my tasks!
I first learned this some 30 years ago in the (sort of) famous incident of the “lemon éclairs.” Jesus cooks, Jesus cleans, Jesus sweeps and He uses my body to do what are my tasks. And then those tasks become outlandish glory that bless people who have no idea Jesus was involved in the doing. Unimaginable blessing. Too good to be true!
The problem is me. I love to work in the house and garden. My parents both loved to work and working hard was not a burden they laid on me. Work was joy to them. So their beautiful example lives in me. I still can say, “I got this. Hi-ho, Hi-ho it’s off to work I go!”
“Goodbye Lord, I go to work now. Check in with You this evening.”
Now the Lord has had to reduce me physically to a complete inability to work, and not just once. I’m not rigid or great at working; I also have a nagging lazybone. But my flesh – though dead – still can rise up to get involved!
John saw this tendency in me and prayed for years that I would not see the practical work as different from the spiritual work, and separate the two. In spiritual work, I love the leaning of utter dependence on the Spirit. I am fully assured I can’t do it. But give me a garden of weeds and I’m off, heedless and reckless. And in the end, broken down and exhausted.
“For me to live is Christ.” I have lived this revelation, down in the practical and up to the spiritual. I have known the glory and wonder of letting Him perform big projects using my body. But I can also see a task and put on my tackle mode.
The problem is the works of the flesh are death. ALL works of the flesh! Let me describe physical work of the flesh: Fits and starts, confusions and distractions. The end of the enormous effort, there is too little progress to the finish line and no satisfaction or joy. But worse are all the catastrophes that seem to be constant in the process. The locked car was a catastrophe of self-effort, very typical of the flesh. I knew what had happened.
Some time ago, I gave John and the office helpers a mandate. Every day before they began, we all were to pray Proverbs 16:3 and give God the work of the day. Let me say here, that one characteristic of this Shulamite Ministries is that we work. We are like the seven dwarves, we go out to work every day.
I wanted this to become a way of life to begin every day and every project:
Proverbs 16:3 Amplified Bible
Roll your works upon the Lord [commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and] so shall your plans be established and succeed.
In time, that verse just slowly faded away under the day-to-day load. I won’t deny being unfaithful to this mandate myself, but I also know how utterly crucial this issue is. This small matter of work is literally and eternally a matter of LIFE OR DEATH. The enemy greatly opposes this small thing: Christ reigning in ordinary life! That is a divine wonder to the watching heavens, little seen and less appreciated by mankind. But the power of a simple work performed by Christ Himself is a world-changing miracle. It has a holy effect on all of life and that is no exaggeration.
The works of the flesh are death, meaning destruction with no exception. Everything of the flesh is opposed to God and takes His place. I loathe my flesh and am glad that it is crucified with Christ. On the other hand I can yield to the flesh, which never changes in its particular weakness. My flesh likes the pride of work done. But ultimate failure is the only accomplishment of the flesh. And worse, it IS ‘goodbye to the Lord,’ a breach in the sacred relationship of dependence on Him, a loss of joy and union.
Tuesday was ‘unto Christ and in His energy’ and Wednesday was a debacle of ‘let’s do it.’
I said to Carole about the locked car, “Forgive me, this is my chastisement. I knew that we should have started with prayer and declaring Proverbs 16:3, to ‘roll the works upon the Lord.’ I didn’t do it, I just dived right into the mud.”
She was pierced to receive this chastening for herself and it was a comfort to me that she so understood and was willing to live, letting Jesus perform all.
A small and ridiculous view? Can we not do simple works on our own? No, not at all! Life or death – one or the other – rules every moment, every deed…even every thought. It’s not about a law so much as it is ‘falling from grace,’ leaving my PLACE as God’s beloved child and missing out on my priceless union in Christ.
It’s a matter of absolute surrender and perfect obedience to God. Again I want to say it is a breach in our divine union with Christ, a breach that opens a door to the demonic because it IS ‘selfish ambition.’ The flesh is always assisted by dark powers. A work can be sin or glory, flesh or spirit.
I always remember a time in London Heathrow airport in 2000. Sue Casey and I had been on a trip to Greece and Israel. As happy grandmothers we had bought tons of fun-junk for our grandchildren. It was late at night – near midnight. We had to pack because the flight home was extremely early, about 3 AM. Sue was sick and running a fever. I was exhausted and the ‘fun stuff’ we bought looked like a mountain that would never all fit into our suitcases. We despaired and we knew we had no strength to tackle what HAD to be done.
I said, “Sue, we are going to commit all of this to the Lord and trust Him to pack for us.” So we prayed and gave it all over to Jesus.
In the most natural way, we began to work. The energy and solutions appeared. I believe it took no more than 20 minutes and it was done, everything packed and finished. We looked at it all in amazement.
Jesus packed our luggage and as the verse says, “He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and] so shall your plans be established and succeed.”
To some that would sound preposterous but Sue and I know. We know Jesus packed our luggage!
My propensity to work has been slain by the Cross so many times as to be a complete humiliation to my self-sufficiency. In this matter of ‘flesh doing the work,’ I am ever under the loving grip of the Lord. Who would think it is sin to do your own work? Oh, but I have seen its arrogant face. It is ‘good’ rebellion and its fruit is bitter and frustrating.
The locked car was an easy chastening. Jennifer found a locksmith. He came the next morning, fished for the keys in the console, then pulled the whole key ring out by inserting a balloon gadget in the locked door. Amazing! Such fun for Carole and me to watch! We returned to being children together, enjoying abundant life again. Oh what a tragedy to ever leave that little place of happy play, in wonder at Jesus!
John 15:4 and 11 NKJV
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you and that your joy may be full.