Series: Proverbs II
How Do I Balance Work With Grace?
September 17, 2017 | Randy Smith
How Do I Balance Work With Grace?Proverbs 16:1, 3, 9, 20
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith
Last week we spend considerable time examining what the Bible has to say about discipline and hard work. I hope I proved to you that it is clearly a command for believers to be diligent. It strengthens our testimony. It increases the fruitfulness of our lives. It copies the character of God. We have been entrusted with gifts and talents and time to use for God's glory. We are to be faithful to discharge the personal and spiritual responsibilities given to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ. Remember, according to Proverbs, God loves the ant (Pr. 6:6-11; cf. 12:24; 13:4, 18; 21:5; 23:12).
A.W. Tozer said, "We must face the fact that many today are notoriously careless in their living. This attitude finds its way into the church. We have liberty, we have money, we live in comparative luxury. As a result, discipline practically has disappeared. What would a violin solo sound like if the strings on the musician's instrument were all hanging loose, not stretched tight, not 'disciplined?'"
So that was last week. And last week I promised you a follow-up message this Sunday. Because if all you do is take last Sunday message without other considerations, you will find yourself in a boatload of trouble.
Hopefully, providing you took the sermon seriously, your mind was provoked to ask the following questions. How do I stay disciplined without running around aimlessly? How do I know what I am called to do? From where do I get my strength? How do I not feel a low-grade of guilt when I say "no." Where does grace fit into all of this? Where does Jesus fit into all of this?
With the time we have left I'd like to answer those questions in a very general way. These are questions that have been personally pressing on my heart. Here is what the Lord revealed to me this week as I spent a lot of time with Him, especially in the Proverbs.
We tend to live in extremes. I know I do. For instance, if there is nothing to do I can be lazy. When the "to-do" list is full I can be diligent. There can at times be no compass, no guiding direction on my life. I can be a slug or ant, but neither with a Christian mind.
When you live in extremes your focus is almost always off the Lord and your life is now dictated by the people and situations that surround you and come your way. In effect they become your functional gods. The problem is they do a lousy job leading you and at the end of the day you feel worn-out and having accomplished little of spiritual value or unproductive and ridden with the guilt of an apparently wasted life.
Our Christian life is like driving on a highway. Veer to the left or right and you are in trouble. The same can be said for driving too slow or driving too fast. Spiritually this compares well to the lives of many Christians. They veer off the narrow path to the left or to the right pursuing unbiblical choices. But in line with this sermon, they either drive too slow doing nothing productive for the Lord or get ahead of the Lord driving too fast by doing a lot, but abiding very little.
Our time is one of the most precious gifts we have been given. It's irreplaceable. It's actually God's time, something we have been entrusted with. We are to use it wisely. But unless we go to the Lord for the proper use of our time and rest in His strength to not only direct our steps but also empower our movement, we have significantly failed on the relationship part of being a Christian. God enjoys using your hard work for ministry, but your hard work and your ministry must not be your god. What God wants is you!
God wants your strength to come from Him. God wants your direction to come from Him. God wants to work His plan through you. God wants you to find your significance in life from Him. In your life, is anything competing with deriving pleasure from the living God? (Eric Liddell quote).
You see, I'velearned that God loves us too much to let us operate not only outside of biblical commands, but also operate in domains that are unproductive and destructive. In His grace He will let us hit the proverbial wall so that we might reach out to Him and begin to put Him in the foremost of our planning and effort.
For example, if we hear the sermon to work hard and if we have not been given a battle plan from the Lord as to where we are to work we will find ourselves traveling down very dangerous paths. I've learned they all look very worthy and they are very effective in grabbing our attention (the Lord leads quietly - they shout at us), but in the end leave us unfulfilled and burnt out and having accomplished very little of spiritual value.
Our direction in life must come from the Lord. According to the Bible it is abiding in Christ through those spiritual disciplines (Jn. 15). It's giving Him first-place in all things (Col. 1). But according to Proverbs, it's often stated by trusting Him. Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 16:3, "Commit your works to the LORD and your plans will be established." Proverbs 16:9, "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps." Proverbs 16:20, "Blessed is he who trusts in the LORD."
What's the opposite of trusting God? "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Pr. 14:12). "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (Pr. 26:12).
When it comes to how we are to live our lives it must start with the understanding that the Lord is trustworthy. Can He be trusted to guide us appropriately? Sure, as a Christian there are certain pursuits that are necessary for all of us. For instance we must all share the gospel. But how is the Lord guiding you specifically? Is that to your neighbor or is that to someone oversees in Cuba? There are responsibilities on all parents similar ones that we all share, but specifically how if God calling you to lead your children? How has God gifted you and where is He calling you to serve?
You see, this is trusting God and staying within the parameters He has set specifically for you. Again, anyone can do nothing and anyone can mindlessly and aimlessly try to do it all (cf. 1 Cor. 9:26). What is your calling that has been birthed from a relationship with Him based on trust?
And who is the one that the Lord leads? Again we go to Proverbs. First, it is the individual that fears Him. "In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence" (Pr. 14:26). "The fear of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom" (Pr. 15:33). Second it is one who lives righteously. "The LORD is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous" (Pr. 15:29). "He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity (Pr. 2:7).
"He who trusts in his own heart is a fool" (Pr. 28:26), but "Those who seek the LORD understand all things" (Pr. 28:5).
And if I do seek the Lord in a desire to live my life for Him, it only stands to reason that if He is indeed a loving Father that He will provide the direction I need. Proverbs affirms this: "For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Pr. 2:6). Wisdom personified says, "I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me" (Pr. 8:17).
It is relationship. It is intimacy with God. So much seeks to pull us away from this ongoing focus. Some is bad. Some is a distraction in our high-tech and overcommitted world. And some of it is really good, but not necessarily your calling. If you are not wise and discerning, you will get yourself off-line with God and find yourself partially or completely disconnected. And God in His loving grace will not allow it to continue. He will allow you to experience the emotions of feeling overwhelmed, burnt-out, joyless, unfulfilled, unmotivated, frustrated and confused.
I'll give you some examples. Much of this revolves around people. We are commanded to love people. As Christians we feel the burden to meet other's needs. We think we need to be friends with everybody. We feel guilty if we have to say "no."
But as I read through Proverbs, God in His wisdom calls us to be very wise in our dealing with others. For example, "A man of too many friends comes to ruin" (Pr. 18:24). "Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him (Pr. 26:17).
There are certain people that we should consider not getting too close to. Proverbs 14:7, "Leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge." Proverbs 24:1, "Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them." Proverbs 24:21, "Do not associate with those who are given to change." Proverbs 22:24, "Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man." Proverbs 23:20, "Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine." Proverbs 4:14, "Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men."
There are certain people that should not get our time. "A man of great anger will bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again" (Pr. 19:19). "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you" (Prov. 9:8).
We are to be beware of the schemer (Pr. 24:8), the selfish (Pr. 23:6), the slanderer (Pr. 16:28), the adulteress (Pr. 5:8), the man of violence (Pr. 3:31), the contentious (Pr. 26:21), the flatterer (Pr. 26:28). Again, the extremes are easy (meet no one's needs/meet everyone's needs). God is calling us to act in wisdom in our dealings with people. And to be wise it requires time and intimacy with the Savior - and that is a place where few people choose to go, including Christians.
No one was more compassionate than Jesus, but He didn't heal all the lepers and cast out every demon. He had purpose. He worked hard, but He was not running around "crazy busy." And when it came to people that just wanted to take His time, refuse His counsel, sap His energy and remain in their misery, He moved on.
My friends, do not let people control you. Some are masters at it through their manipulative tactics (like tears and guilt trips and threats and gifts and legalism) and they are only toxic to your life. In the process they drain you of precious resources and your energy accomplishes very little for the kingdom. And when it's all said and done, rarely do they change. They just move on to another unsuspecting and naïve individual and church (Pr. 14:15). That's not a true friend. And that's not discipling. It's only affirming and enabling someone in dysfunctional behavior.
There are other landmines we hit when we have a desire to work hard, but go through life without the Lord's specific guidance.
We try to jump through too many hoops. What's that other than a Messiah complex and complete distrust in God's sovereignty (Pr. 21:30)? We hold too many burdens. What's that other than a failure to cast our cares upon the Lord? We run after the tyranny of the urgent. We bounce around in life from what appears to be the most pressing issue at the moment. What's that other than a life without discernment? And we set our priorities according to another's prescribed standard. What's that other than a gullible heart that often fears people more than God?
Hard work is important, but we must be careful to work hard in the domains where the Lord has called us.
Last Wednesday night I left the church and got into a phone conversation with Pastor Jack on the way home. I pulled over, but when I tried to leave my car wouldn't start. The dashboard light went on indicating that my battery was low. If a gentleman from the church didn't help me with jump the battery my car wasn't going anywhere.
Likewise we have warning lights that God uses to get our attention when we are not working in a way that is best for both of us. How about anxiety? "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down" (Pr. 12:25). Anxiety is a sign we are not trusting Him for the events in our lives. How about the fear of man? Are people bigger than your God? Are you trusting in people, even your church shepherds more than the Great Shepherd? "The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted" (Pr. 29:25). How about a lack of joy? Trusting God results in abiding in the Spirit which produces spiritual fruit like joy. "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones" (Pr. 17:22). Isn't it God's desire to bear much spiritual fruit through you (Jn. 15:5, 8)? Is that happening? It takes hard work, but a lot of wisdom and grace as well.
So let's respect the continual tension in the Christian life. How do we navigate it? Through Christ! We personally seek the Lord, study our Bibles, pray to Him, grow in wisdom, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and guard our conscience and look for God's specific answer for us. It takes more work than Christians often invest, but it is the Christian life and one that is certain to keep us in the Lord's will and have all things resulting from a relationship that begins with Him, is through Him, and is for Him.
In your work for God, remember that it is He that must work through you (1 Pet. 4:11). In your work for God, remember that it is to be Christ-exalting and kingdom-focused. And in your work for God, remember that is all an act of grace.
Though Christians often do one and neglect the other, extremes, there is no contradiction between grace and hard work. The need for both is mentioned throughout the Bible.
Listen to how they are used together in the Bible. "And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Col. 1:29). "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, 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" (Philippians 2:12-13). "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10). Do you understand and respect the tension?
So we discipline ourselves for godliness, but trust in His grace. We strive to live our Christian life, but find our rest in Him. We labor to the point of exhaustion, but realize His yoke is easy and His load is light. Examine yourself regularly to stay balanced.
We live Gospel-centered lives - trusting His grace and sovereignty for salvation and trusting His grace and sovereignty for daily living as well.