God Needs You!
By Mike Rans
God needs us to change the world and we need God to make us world-changers.
We often think that God works alone. After all, why would the Creator of the universe need help? It is amazing how much of Christian thought is based upon the assumption that God doesn’t really need us. But what if the Almighty really does? What if God doesn’t work alone? What if our maker cannot work alone? For many, this idea will shock, but I want to explore it because I think it’s really important: life changing, in fact.
I was educated in a school in the UK that was formerly for the sons of missionaries. Although I labelled myself Christian, I was at best confused. I imagined a God to whom I could pray to fix my problems, but when the issues weren’t resolved, I became disillusioned.
More often I felt God’s absence rather than presence in my life, and by the time I was at university I had become an atheist. And not just any atheist. Surrounded by mostly non-believing engineers and computer scientists, I became a die-hard opponent of every God-follower. I dismissed the faith of others, seeing Christians as incapable of rational debate. However, even as my wall of unbelief appeared solid and lasting, cracks were developing within as I struggled for meaning and purpose to my life. I dabbled for a month with Zen Buddhism, which was attractive, as it lacked a central deity, but I soon reverted to atheism and cynicism.
I would probably have stayed in that comfort zone were it not for meeting the woman who would become my wife. After nearly two decades of atheism, I was grudgingly reintroduced to Christ. This time, it was different. I discovered something new about God. It was something I had not encountered before, something I had thought was not even possible. I discovered a relational God who cared about me and who was not focused on belief but on love. I took the next step and was baptized in a Baptist church in London. That’s when the changes really started.
When you stumble across, or are led, to a God who wants to partner with you, it is a truly life-changing experience. You take chances that you would have missed or ignored, and doors seem to open for you. The first opportunity to really shake things up for me was the prospect of a job in another country. Now for many people, moving overseas seems like not that much of a big deal. For someone like me who suffered from nervousness and anxiety, the thought of having to fly to attend all day interviews would be reason enough to avoid it. If that weren’t enough, I had been grappling for more than a month with sleeplessness.
God was there, though, gently encouraging. I took that flight to Denmark to attend the interview, arriving at the hotel the night before, sure that insomnia would ruin my chances. But you know what? I slept. Not just a few minutes here and there, but right through the night. I woke up fresh for the first time in weeks and I felt a lightness, even a confidence. The interviews went smoothly, and I accepted the job offer. That’s when my girlfriend and I realized we should get married and move together to start a new life in Copenhagen!
It was exciting for me to live and work in a new country. Unfortunately for my wife, it was a different experience. She had stopped working and found it hard to adjust to the new lifestyle and culture. After the birth of our baby, she suffered from postnatal depression, so I took nine months leave to help look after our son. During that time, God gradually healed her with the help of psychologists. They identified that her condition would improve if she went back to work, as it would allow her to focus on something else. The problem was she had been a homemaker for two years and jobs that didn’t require fluent Danish were rare. Nevertheless, an opening in the international humanitarian sector presented itself. With God’s gentle encouragement, she could pass the test and interview.
Meanwhile, God was slowly leading me to the conviction that investment banking was incompatible with following Jesus. Instead, I was being called to serve directly in God’s kingdom-building mission. I was someone who constantly worried, the kind of person who takes the safe option. Despite this, I was being encouraged to give up a well-established career just when I had the responsibility to care and provide for a baby.
I wasn’t even sure what I was being called to do. I thought about retraining as a pastor, but conversations with my pastor revealed another possibility. Over time, it became clear that I should use my existing skill set to serve in a new area. Several things happened that show how God made the most out of my willingness to collaborate. First, relevant opportunities emerged at the appropriate time. Second, although the most appealing one was at a junior level, the organization decided that my experience was valuable for the project and tailored the role accordingly. And third, my current manager was incredibly supportive in the transition, telling the team that he was happy to help me follow my vocation.
As if all this upheaval wasn’t enough, God wanted to help me overcome something else: my fear of public speaking. Nervously at first, I became assistant minister at the international church I attended. As I grew in confidence, I reached the stage where I was comfortable standing in for the pastor when he was on holiday. What a tremendous change from the person who couldn’t bear to stand up in front of an audience!
Recently, God even reached out to my five-year-old son who dreamed that he was called to be vegetarian. I was astounded that he received this invitation and amazed at how he wanted to respond. Admittedly, he has struggled. It’s a big ask for a young boy to stop eating some things he really likes, and I know that the Almighty won’t force him. I am glad that God won’t give up on him even when he is reluctant but will reach out to him in love throughout his life.
What I hope you can see from this glimpse into my family’s partnership with God is that our Creator is relational. We need God and here’s the surprise: God needs us. Some will be shocked at the idea of the Master of the Universe requiring human help. They will insist that God is simply arranging training or testing exercises, perhaps as preparation for the afterlife. It strikes me as odd that those same people often believe that Christians must convert people. After all, why would an all-powerful, all-knowing maker need believers to bring non-Christians to faith if they are not necessary for anything else? Why wouldn’t God just do that task alone too?
I strongly doubt that an all-loving being would purposely create all the suffering in the world simply to test Christian response. Frankly, I think God has better things to do. Why generate an artificial reality in which a few lucky people in the know realize they are in a pre-heaven simulator while the rest stumble through a series of pointless trials on the way to eternal torment? Instead, God looks for allies to complete the divine mission. We are called to be God’s hands and feet in the world. If we discern and consent, we receive help in preparing for the challenge. With our agreement, God transforms us so we can better work in partnership.
This has profound implications for our understanding of the relationship between faith and works. There is much confusion on this topic, but it is really quite simple. They are in effect the same. You might wonder how on earth this can be, since one seems about thinking and the other appears to be about doing. However, they are tied together by the two commandments that Jesus elevated above all others. These are to love God and to love neighbor. We demonstrate our love of God by loving our neighbor. We show our love of neighbor when we give of ourselves for their sake. Faith is not when we agree to some statements about God, but when we allow ourselves to be changed and to serve our neighbor in need.
Question: What do you think about the idea that God needs you and cannot work without you?
Michael Rans is a data science consultant with the United Nations based in New Zealand. He studied engineering and computing at Oxford University and has lived in the UK and Denmark. Having discovered a relational God later in life, Michael now runs Facebook and reddit groups where he writes articles related to cruciform theology.
To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.