Joining in God’s Work
By Bob Luhn
God invites us to open our eyes and see what God is doing so we can join in God’s work.
Early in 1986 I attended a conference in Seattle entitled, “Signs, Wonders, and Church Growth.” Since my church was not experiencing much growth at the time—and because I had been reading anything I could get my hands on concerning church growth—I jumped at the chance to attend this conference. It was unlike anything I had experienced before. The main presenter was John Wimber, the pastor of the Anaheim Vineyard Church. From the opening session, Wimber talked about how miracles, healings, and so forth were integral to the growth of the early church—and apparently a big part of church growth in the Global South. This took me back to my first months as a follower of Christ. In those days, I received some amazing answers to prayer. I received what felt like Holy Spirit inspired insights into people’s lives. I shared wisdom beyond my years.
I remember distinctly one of my respected professors saying in class that, “the book of Acts is not normative.” We should not expect the miraculous happenings of that era to happen now. Miracles were given only for confirmation of the gospel; now that we had the Bible and centuries of tradition, we didn’t need any miraculous events. As a freshman student who knew he knew little, I nodded my head in agreement with the professor’s statement. And I found that I soon didn’t expect God to answer my prayers or provide wisdom when I needed it.
After Seminary and a disastrous pastorate, I needed more than techniques. I needed more than theories; I needed more than the written Word, I needed God to show up! Lives were at stake and I didn’t have enough “firepower,” as it were, to help much.
At the Wimber conference, I heard him teach from the book of Acts as though it were a blueprint for how we should do church today. I wept off and on for three days. At last, someone was living and teaching the way my early months as a Christ-follower had been. I soaked up everything he was teaching. I felt like my early walk with the Lord was confirmed and I found myself saying, “Who says the book of Acts is not normative Christianity?” Though I wasn’t excited about persecution and martyrdom, nevertheless, I hungered to live an Acts-type life.
One of the key truths I took away from that conference—one that was later affirmed by Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God—was this, “God is always working and God invites us to join in that work.” Wimber and Blackaby both pointed to John 5:17 as a key verse, “Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’” This establishes an important truth—or reality, as Blackaby labels it. God is always at work in every situation and in every person’s life. I used to think that it was up to me to bring God into a situation or into someone’s life. If I didn’t pray or if I didn’t verbalize God-talk, then God would be absent from the scene. This, of course, put tremendous pressure on me to make something happen. The old saying, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me,” was how I lived (and crashed and burned. That’s another story for another time.) This was liberating to me. Hallelujah, God was already at work long before I showed up!
Then, both of my mentors—as I came to think of them—went on to John 5:19 where Jesus said, “. . . the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees the Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” That blew me away! You mean to tell me that Jesus could do nothing by himself? He didn’t teach by himself; he didn’t heal by himself, didn’t multiply loaves and fishes by himself, didn’t do any of his ministry by himself. He somehow knew where God the Father was already working and joined into his Father’s endeavors. This fifth chapter of John presents a case study of how Jesus did what he saw the Father doing. While passing by the mysterious pool of Bethesda, with its reputation for miraculous cures, Jesus saw a man who had lived with his disabilities for thirty-eight years (see John 5:1–15). Out of a great number of people John identifies as “the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” who used to lie there in hope, Jesus healed just this one man. Apparently, he was the only one the Father nudged Jesus to heal. Jesus and the Father were partners in this good deed.
Continuing on to John 5:20 we read, “The Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.” Out of the unique love relationship between the Father and the Son, revelation takes place as to what God is already working on in any situation. As Blackaby says, when we see what God’s Spirit is doing today, that is God’s invitation for us to join in that work. Now, because God loves you and me, God shows us at least hints of what the Spirit is doing so we can join in with that work. We are invited into partnership with God.
So, how has this idea of partnering with God worked itself out in my life? Here are just a few examples.
- In my counseling sessions I worried far less about what I would say and focused much more on listening. Listening for what God was already doing or saying to the individual. When I pointed out what I discerned God was doing, often the person was given hope they weren’t going through their crisis alone.
- When “Sue” came to me wanting to start a compassionate ministry in our congregation, I could recognize that was God working in her heart to advance something God wanted done.
- When the local counseling center referred people to me because the counselors had detected spiritual issues with their clients, I had the confidence that God would complete through me what God had already started. I sensed several of these referrals dealt with intense, spiritual oppression and it was with confidence that I could help the people break free. I knew God was way ahead of me.
- When a man came up to me in the grocery store and asked if I would baptize him, I knew God was already working—and inviting me to join in. I had shared the gospel with this man years before, but never ending in a commitment. But after experiencing tragedy in his life, the Lord worked subtly yet powerfully to bring him to a point of repentance. I was definitely the junior partner in that conversion!
- When a business executive came to me with the idea to start a fiesta to celebrate Hispanic culture in our town, I immediately joined forces with him—knowing that God was the initiator. Both he and I enjoyed being God’s partners together.
- As I was working on this essay, two individuals contacted me saying they wanted to give to families in need but didn’t know how to do it. I made some suggestions and as a result money will pass through me to families in need, and the donors will remain anonymous as they desire. A God-partnership, wouldn’t you say?
To sum up, discovering that God had called me into partnership was so liberating. Whether in evangelism, counseling, ministry development, or community involvement, knowing that God was inviting me out of love to partner with God in blessing people has made my life a grand adventure. My frequent morning prayer is, “Lord, show me what you are up to today so I can join you in that work.” And time after time, that prayer is answered.
Questions: Where have you seen God at work in the past seven days? Did you join in the work? How might you have been a partner?
Bob Luhn has served as a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene since earning a MDiv from Nazarene Theological Seminary in 1973. Retiring from full-time pastoring in 2014, Bob has served many Nazarene churches as an interim during pastoral search processes. He is the proud father of three beautiful daughters, three amazing sons-in-law, and seven above-average grandchildren.
To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.