[‘encouragement’, ‘exhortation’, for life and ministry]
Jesus said, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working [Jn 5:17].
But do you have a limited view of God at work? First of all, you may think that God is only at work in the miraculous, when in fact he is always at work, in the ‘ordinary’ as well as the ‘extraordinary’. Secondly, you may think that God only works sometimes, and not all the time.
So when, where, and how is God at actively at work?
For many of us this is our usual list:
God at work
|God was at work||God is at work||God will be at work|
Jesus’ incarnate life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension
But we sometimes forget to add:
God is also at work…
God is also constantly working, as he sustains the whole universe in Christ, moment by moment, including all humanity; keeping us alive, and enabling us to live, function, and do all our daily tasks.
God is constantly at work! God is constantly at work sustaining the universe and sustaining human life and all life by the power of Christ. If God in Christ stopped working for a moment, there would be no universe, no creation. ‘He sustains all things by his word of power’; ‘in Christ all things hold together’ [Heb 1:3, Col 1:17 NIV11].
All animate creatures constantly depend on the gracious provision of God.
All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. [Ps 104:27-30].
His sovereign rule is marked by his providential care for his creation. He is intimately and immanently involved in every aspect of its existence. He sustains it and holds it together. Nothing exists or happens outside his care, his rule, his generosity, and his power.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them … See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin … that is how God clothes the grass of the field … [Matt 6:26,28,30].
God constantly and intimately sustains and rules the universe and our lives by his great power through and for Christ. He is omnipresent in his glory, power, common grace, and love. Nothing happens except by the power of God. God sustains the universe in part by using secondary causes, including different elements of volition for animate objects, including all humans. He sustains and rules the universe by using Christians as secondary causes. Sometimes we are aware that this is happening, and sometimes we are not aware that this is happening. But God is always at work, always present, always active.
Calvin describes God’s sovereign providence in these words ‘the universal activity of God whereby all creatures, as they are sustained, thus derive the energy to do anything at all’.
The perpetual sovereign providence of God is fundamental to Biblical faith, and so to our daily lives as humans, as believers, and as ministers.
Christ is seated at God’s right hand, ruling, loving, sanctifying, building, and enabling his people through the Holy Spirit.
God in Christ is at work: ‘I will build my church’ [Matt 16:18]; [as we make disciples] ‘I am with you always’ [Matt 28:20]. He is the saviour of his body, the church:
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, with stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless [Ephes 5:25-7].
He is the head of his body, the church: ‘From him the whole body … grows and builds itself up in love’ [Ephes 4:16]. Christ ‘from whom the whole body … grows as God causes it to grow’ [Col 2:19].
He enables gospel ministry:
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me [Col 1:28,29].
He enables and empowers all ministry:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ [Ephes 4:11-13].
God, Father, Son, and Spirit are at work every time any believer uses a gift for the common good of the church.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines [I Cor 12:4-7,11].
No wonder Paul can say,
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow [1 Cor 4:5-7].
And also: ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose [Phil 1:5, 2:12,13].
Christ knows, judges, rewards, and disciplines his churches:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance … You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place [Rev 2:1-5].
So God is at work among us, in us and through us, transforming us, and working through our gospel work and our prayers.
God is constantly at work drawing people to Christ, to faith in Christ. God is constantly at work transforming us into the image of Christ. ‘We all … are being transformed in his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit’ [2 Cor 3:18]; ‘Inwardly we are being renewed day by day’ [2 Cor 4:16].
God is constantly at work creating his people: Christ is constantly at work building his church: God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are constantly at work enabling our ministry. God changes us and uses us to achieve his gospel plan. He graciously makes use of us, our lives, our example, our words, our works, and our prayers, to accomplish his saving will for the world.
All humans live by his power ‘in him we live and move and have our being’ [Acts 17:28]. Believers in Christ live by his power. Servants and ministers of God live and work and pray by his power.
When we work for God, but not with God’s grace, we forget that nothing exists or happens without God!
So it is not just a matter of working for God: it is that God works in us and through us and by us; we work through, in and by God’s power; and in this way we work for God. We can work for God, because God is already at work! The work is his, not ours.
- We often focus on our work, and the work of others. We should focus on God’s work, and trust that he will do it in his way and at his time. We should recognise reality, not try to fight against it!
- God is always acting in judgement and in mercy in the world and in his church. We have to let God do that, and not try to work against his work among us.
- When we do ministry, and when others do ministry, God is at work!
- As God is already at work, and has already gifted his church, perhaps we should temper our planning by asking what is God already doing in this church, what gifts do we already have, and how should we use them. And also by saying to God, ‘Whatever you want us to do, we will do it’, and then trusting that God will do what we asked!
- So often we decide to do evangelism one way, and then God opens another door we had not expected. Hooray! Praise God! Go with the flow!
- Insoluble problems are God’s problem. As I used to say to God when I was at St Jude’s: ‘Well God, this is your church. You created it, and Christ died for it. We can’t solve this problem, so it is yours to solve’.
- Here is a prayer for everyday use:
Heavenly Father, I trust in your Son Jesus Christ as the saviour of the world, and your gospel as your power for salvation for all who believe. I trust in your Son Jesus Christ as the holy, loving, powerful and generous saviour, head, lord, and judge of his church. I trust you as the good, gracious, and wise ruler of this world, the just judge of all people, and I trust that you will bring glory to yourself in the church and in Christ Jesus.
- Here is another prayer for everyday use:
Gracious God, I trust you: to provide all the gifts, time, energy and health for me to live for you and do the good works you have prepared for me to do; to place me where you want me to serve you; to use my life and ministry; and to hear and answer my prayers.
With warmest good wishes and prayers for you. May you know God’s constant gracious work in you and through you.
Calvin, Institutes, 311.
Thanks to Nicky Chiswell for these words. ↑