There’s this old joke about a guy who lives in a town and a flood is coming. The police go door-to-door and when they reach this guy he refuses to leave, telling the cops, “The Lord will save me.” Sure enough the flood hits the town and it’s bad; the man’s house starts to fill with water. Just then a boat comes with National Guardsmen who tell the man they can save him. He replies, “Thanks, but the Lord will save me.” The waters keep coming and soon the man is on his roof when a helicopter appears. They lower a rope ladder for the man, but he declines, saying, “The Lord will save me.” The man drowns. When he gets to heaven he’s confused and asks God, “What happened? I thought you’d save me!” God replied, “I sent you the police, a boat, and a helicopter, what more do you want from me?”
I’ve always liked that joke, because it tells a truth that more Christians need to embrace: We have our part to do in our relationship with God.
I was reading Nehemiah the other day and a section actually reminded me of the joke and prompted me to write this blog. Nehemiah had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon to rebuild the city wall. Not everyone was happy about this and the enemies of the Jews plotted to attack and kill everyone. Here’s what Nehemiah 4:9 says, “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”
I love that! Nehemiah prayed for God’s protection AND he posted armed guards to protect the work being done. It’s not that Nehemiah didn’t believe God would protect he and his workers, in fact he strongly states in verse 14b, “…Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, and your wives and your homes.” Clearly Nehemiah was relying on the Lord for victory over his enemies.
But Nehemiah understood his God; it’s a relationship and God expects us to do our part! Certainly Nehemiah was aware of his people’s history and how God had handed victory to the Israelites over and over against larger armies in the past, but the Israelites had to fight! While God occasionally ran off an enemy without a fight, most of the time God protected His people while they did their part!
Let’s fast forward to our lives today. Do you find yourself praying to God for some kind of relief but you’ve not done your part? I’ll admit I sometimes catch myself doing that. For example, I’ll pray, “God, help me with my anger when people irritate me so that I can be the man you created me to be.” Then I’ll be surprised when I get angry again, thinking, “God, why didn’t you help me?”
The fact of the matter is I didn’t do my part so God couldn’t help me. When I pray for God to help me with my anger I also have to take actions to mitigate the reasons I get angry as per scripture. I know that I am supposed to bear with people. I know that I am supposed to “agape” love people. I know that I am supposed to forgive people their trespasses. I know that I am to turn the other cheek when insulted. I know that I am to rejoice in all circumstances. I know that I am not to sin when I am angry. I know that I am to love my enemies. I know that I am to pray for those who persecute me. I know Jesus told me I would have trouble in this world and not be surprised. I know that Jesus told me that people would hate me because they hated Him first. I know that I can love because God loved me first. And I know that I am responsible for acting out all these things and more as a disciple of Christ while I seek God’s grace and intervention.
So are you like me? You seek God’s favor but you’re not actually doing your part? I know a lot of Christians who do so you’re not alone. I think we all may fall into this trap sometimes, which is why it is so important that we practice our daily disciplines or prayer, scripture, and meditation. Romans 12 tells us not to conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds and then we will know the perfect will of God. I know that I need to be a Romans 12 Christian and do my part in my relationship with Jesus so that Jesus can intervene appropriately in my life.
I am convinced that God is sending us the police, boats, helicopters, and all sorts of other help everyday that we don’t see, because our expectation is that God will save us apart from action on our part. I think we actually don’t see the people who God puts into our lives with messages we need to hear from Him. We miss situations where God’s hand has shown us His will for us because it wasn’t directly written on stone tablets. We miss our opportunity to be transformed by the Holy Spirit because we don’t seek His voice in our lives and instead look for “signs” of God in lives.
Like all relationships we have to be active participants. Like Nehemiah we need to pray to God for our needs and take actions that will help meet that need.
Take a second and think about this: In your prayer life have you been asking for God for something but not doing your part to make it happen? If so you may want to write down your prayer request and think about how God would want you to respond as Nehemiah responded to his need. Perhaps God is just waiting to partner with you instead of just responding to you.