Divine Collaboration

It’s hard to imagine isn’t it?  Divine collaboration.  Sounds like something out of a cerebral mythology thesis.  At least it does to me.  Yet, those are the words that keep coming to mind.  

“Daddy,” I asked. “What do you want from me? What do you want from Your Church?”

With a wink and a contagious grin the size of galaxies colliding, he replied, “I want Divine Collaboration.”  

This is an honorific to Him, I can tell.  It’s a title he likes to pin on all His kids.  We are all his Divine Collaborators. And I could tell He was thrilled that he’d gotten my attention.

Perplexed and definitely curious, I said, “Please explain.”

I am a philosopher and processing with God is something I like to savor.  I want to stew and chew and taste every scoop of insight the Lord ever gives me.  I feel delightfully compelled to savor and digest the nuanced flavor profile of God’s interactions, not just with me, but with his Body and with his Creation. I’ve learned a lot eating at the Lord’s table with Him.  We talk.  A lot.

The other day I was talking to a friend about this tattoo idea I had and all of a sudden I heard myself say, “It’s kind of like this ‘divine collaboration’ between God and me.”  It just made sense to me to say it that way.

I had to smile. There it was again. 

My husband and I took a road trip last month to celebrate our anniversary.  We drove along part of the iconic Route 66 through Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona all the way to the Grand Canyon.  As we drove through high desert devoid of much life and saw rock formations that put modern architecture to shame, I heard it again: divine collaboration.

The land spoke to me as I marveled at the spectacles and grandeur created where infinite pale sky meets striated rocks in various stages of petrification and erosion.  I felt the profundity of time’s endlessness: infinitely changing and staying the same all at once.  I had never felt closer to my Father God, the Creator of All Things than I did in those moments of experiencing his Creation.  His words were clear: this is divine collaboration.  

As I experienced the beauty of God’s world in all its intricacy I began to pray for the people who lived there, and I felt the land speak to my heart about them: these people that God loved so dearly and who had been so horribly abused by the “progress” of European settlers.  I wept and prayed and wept and prayed.  I fell in love with those impoverished and yet resilient indigenous people who continued to hold on through the worst types of adversity.  Serious divine collaboration.

 It’s so much more than just a “good conversation” with Jesus.

1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,a 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,b 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,c being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:1-11 ESV

Even Jesus didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he accepted it anyway and obediently emptied himself from fear and doubt and the entitlement of his status, and trusted that His Father in Heaven had his back and they were a team, even if it didn’t feel like it sometimes. 

Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on a cross because He trusted God.

1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1

How can we possibly be like Jesus? Jesus divinely collaborated with the God of the Universe, while considering equality with God something beyond his grasp, and obediently and humbly received and obeyed, even in angst, even in hunger, even in torment, even in fear.  He conquered because he humbled himself and obeyed in perfect unity with God.

Even though obedience made him look like a slave.

So maybe trusting God in obedience isn’t slavery, even if it might look like it is?  Maybe obedience is actually divine collaboration.  Maybe choosing to humble oneself, one can find exaltation in the Living God and be empowered in His Righteousness to be joint heirs with Christ.

14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sonsf of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:14-17 ESV

Divine collaboration: to trust that even obedience unto death will gain eternal reward and glory for God AND you.

It can be unimaginably painful, I’m not going to sugar coat it.  Yet, I know that suffering pays beautiful dividends for those who are willing to learn and grow from it.  Empathy, courage, salvation. It all come from suffering.  Death and suffering are not the end for those who are in Christ Jesus.  We know, because of Christ’s example of trust and faith, that God will be faithful to us as well.  

God doesn’t want mindless robots.  He’s not going to force you to do anything.  He asks.  He always asks, because he loves you.  He offers this divine collaboration to anyone who would accept it.  If you can get over yourself long enough to believe that it might actually be better with God than without, to accept for even just a moment that God is in fact good and trustworthy, you too can have this beautiful title of “Divine Collaborator”.

Divine collaboration means trusting God, submitting to God, and then freely talking to God without fear of condemnation. 

Daddy didn’t get angry with Jesus when he questioned Him in Gethsemane.  He listened.  He comforted.  He strengthened.  And Jesus endured to the end.  He trusted the Father, and on the third day was resurrected from the dead.

Jesus obeyed God and was raised up in Glory.

We have seen the truth of who God is in the flesh of Jesus Christ, and we believe in our hearts through faith, that God raised him from the dead and he will one day do the same for us.  We are saved from death into life and from orphan to first born son. God wants us to be his friends.  He wants unity in love.  Unity in love means divine collaboration. It means trusting that the source of love and life is from God and endowed to his children with generosity.

Divine collaboration isn’t passive.  It isn’t selfish.  It isn’t arrogant.  To walk in Divine collaboration with God is to actively believe in the reality of your shameless and righteous status as a child of God and fearlessly “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:16) not just to receive forgiveness of sins, but to be lifted up into glory with God himself and receive wisdom and comfort from Him for eternity.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.  

Refuse to be silent receivers of God’s mercy and love.  Choose instead to be Divine Collaborators.  Let’s use the tools we have been given, infused with the Holy Spirit and the many gifts He has provided us, and share our thoughts and ideas with Jesus with confidence. Realize that He’s already decided to “use the foolish things to confound the wise” (1 Cor 1:27) so we can stop worrying about if God really wants to hear from us or not. Trust me, he does.  No, we’re not worthy of it on our own, but we’re not our own if we’ve given ourselves to Jesus.  

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

Divine Collaboration with one another is equally valuable.  God’s obedient and loving children are a collective force.

We are stronger together as Christ’s body here on Earth. Know that we are all one with Our Father in Heaven by His Spirit.  We should be unified as His image bearers and as walking tabernacles of His Presence.

Let us each humble ourselves and be divine collaborators together with our Lord.

Disobedience and the Temptation to Sin

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.
1 Kings 11:1-2

Admittedly, I can’t relate to loving many foreign women and taking them as brides, but I can definitely get on board the disobedience bus. My heart can be so quickly drawn away from the things the Lord has warned me against.  I justify and explain it away every day in order to have the things I want.

For Solomon, disobedience and temptation came from having a blessed and rich life.  God had granted Solomon wisdom, vast fortune, and long life. Enjoying worldly comfort gave Solomon a false sense of security.  He began to look at his success and blessings as gods instead of God Himself.

We all do it.  We say things like, “I can teach the Bible great.  I went to seminary!” or, “I worked really hard to get that promotion!” or, “I set my mind to it and I got it done.”  We are so arrogant. We forget that every breath we take is a gift of God. Every celebration, every penny, every good thing in our lives comes from God.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17

Nowhere in that verse does it say we can give good gifts to ourselves.  The lie of the arrogant heart is self sufficiency. Without God we would not even have our life.  So, why does the comfort in provision take us down the road of disobedience?

If the Lord had blessed Solomon with wealth, and wisdom, and good health, why shouldn’t He also provide beautiful, exotic women to enjoy it all with?  Sure, those women were idol worshippers and devoted to destruction by the Lord for their denial of His sovereignty, but he could change their minds, right?  He could show them the beauty and glory of God because of how richly God had blessed him.

Hear what I’m saying?  In my ministry I am constantly trying to talk young women out of  “missionary dating”. People hear my testimony about praying for my Muslim husband to come to Christ and they think that’s a great way to win thier beloved to Christ.  But it’s not.

I am not special.  I was a fool to marry someone who didn’t know Jesus.  It caused great sorrow and pain in my life to be married to a man utterly opposed to my religious point of view.  My husband didn’t come to Christ until I had repented of my foolishness and pleaded with Jesus to help me.

I think Solomon felt untouchable.  I think he had enjoyed so much blessing that nothing would keep him from continuing to receive it.  He might have looked back at his father’s life and thought himself no different. David loved beautiful women, too, so what’s wrong with that?

For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.
1 Kings 11:4-6

David repented for his folly time and time again.  His default with God was to be a humble servant. Every failure he met with repentance.  Every blessing he received with humility. David’s heart was for God’s promise of salvation.

Solomon had fair warning, but chose to disobey anyway.

And the Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 4 And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ 6 But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 8 And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ 9 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.’”
1 Kings 9:3-9

I think that seems pretty clear.  The Lord is surely quick to bless and to forgive, but He wants us to trust Him in obedience and humility.  God asked Solomon to simply trust God’s way over his own: to obey and be blessed. And in his old age, Solomon decided not to.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
1 Kings 11:6-8

Solomon turned away from the provider of all his blessings and honored his wives above his God.  

I don’t think it was intentional.  I truly think it was arrogance. How often do I become over confident in my own success?  How often do I attribute my accomplishments to hard work and diligence instead of to God. God lovingly partners with me, and He wants to give me good gifts.  Shouldn’t I enjoy that beautiful privilege and walk with Him?

God’s grace is never ending.  His mercy is not dependant on my behavior.  The day I accepted His promise of salvation, He sealed me with His Spirit so that I would maintain a confidence in Him that I couldn’t have known before.  My sincere love for Jesus is undeniable to Him, just as David’s was.

It’s not about our disobedience so much as our trust.  Do we trust God or do we trust ourselves? Do we obey God because we trust His good gifts for us, or do we obey ourselves because we don’t want to put our trust in someone else?  Or do we just get complacent enjoying the good gifts we have been given, and forget about the One who gave them?

Jesus, help me not to take you for granted.  Help me to believe and trust Your will for me.  Lord, when You give me good gifts, help me to appreciate them as gifts and never take them for granted.  Protect me from my own arrogance. My sinful self is incapable of obedience, but You are my obedience, Lord.  You are my righteousness. Let me fall back into Your perfection. Let me serve You with a humble and repentant heart.

For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He adorns the humble with salvation.
Psalms 149:4

 

A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18