Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A prayer for help to be productive

Studying through Zechariah I came upon the following verse this morning, Zechariah 4:6 (ESV) 6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” My reflection on the verse eventually led me to pray this:
God, I need you. I know that I cannot make a kingdom difference in this situation unless you cause that to come about. I cannot encourage this person I am about to speak to on my own. I cannot prepare this presentation in a God honoring way without you. I cannot effectively lead these people without you. I cannot effectively manage this process unless you work through. Would you work through the abilities that you have developed in me? Help me to see and understand how to develop my skills and offer my best, while learning to actively depend on you through the responsibilities of this day.
Here’s the reflection that led to that prayer: Whatever I am trying to do, whatever my hand finds to do, my ultimate confidence is not in my abilities. (I really like the new song and video by Steven Curtis Chapman that brilliantly emphasizes the point of Colossians 3:17 (ESV) 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.) It is not in my might, it is not in my position, it is not in my wisdom, it is not in my gifts, it is not ultimately in my ability, rather my confidence needs to be in the Holy Spirit affecting the circumstances I face. In this text this is a solemn acclamation of the Lord of hosts. This does not mean that there is not a place for my gifts and abilities. Clearly there was a role for Zerubbabel to play. If this is about the rebuilding of the temple, then he would have had to use his skill in either leadership or building to bring this about. So our gifts and abilities have a role to play. But our ultimate confidence does not lie in our abilities. The problem seems to me that our pride keeps us moving toward confidence in ourselves, confidence in myself. It is always a bit of a dance, a bit of an inward challenge to keep these things in mind and to live with this real awareness. On the one hand, I’m completely dependent on God. On the other hand, it seems that I am clearly responsible to develop competence in every arena.

This brings up for me the subject of productivity, which is the area of expertise for Matt Permann, Director of Strategy at Desiring God ministries, who is writing a book on productivity, which I will read as soon as it is available. He regularly probes the issue of the development of competencies in effectiveness and productivity from a biblical perspective.

Where does my confidence lie? It lies in the power of God to actually make a kingdom difference through me. I cannot make progress otherwise. It is somewhat like our physical bodies in that we have responsibility to care for our bodies, to exercise, to eat well, and to get rest. Furthermore, we are responsible to take unique actions. There are many things within our choice to accomplish. Yet many systems in our bodies function without our choice. We depend totally on God for these systems. When they stop, we stop, ultimately.

In the spiritual realm, and in the realm of accomplishing work it is similar. We have a responsibility to learn and grow and it would seem we are to do this aggressively. But there is the constant danger then for our confidence to be placed in our own strengths. But that is not what will make the ultimate difference. We grow, we work wisely, but ultimately it is God at work through us that will make the difference. It seems easy to go too far in either extreme here. So what do we do practically? As simplistic as it sounds, I believe that it means that we have a greater need to pray. My experience is that we don’t really pray that much at this practical level. Perhaps too often, we work and serve and go about our business as if it all depends on us. What needs to happen is that often throughout the day we find ourselves praying along the lines of the prayer at the top of this post.

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