Working with God
Summary: This Bible study presents the concept of having God as a working partner in whatever it is we’re doing, working cooperatively with him and relying on him for the results.
Principles versus Relationship
God Gave Us Free Will
Cooperating with God
God Wants Us Engaged in His Work
God Responds to Our Actions
God’s Power, His Purpose, Our Faith
God’s Power, Our Purpose, Our Faith
It’s really amazing how many different opinions Christians have about our relationship with God, the extent to which we can interact with him, and whether he’s even interested in what we do. The idea of working with God may be totally foreign to you.
Most Christian teaching today seems to emphasize that God does everything for us as an expression of his grace; that whatever we do is an act of the flesh and has no eternal value. So should we expect God to do everything for us, or is there some level at which we get involved? If we are supposed to be engaged in what God is doing, what does that look like? Does God intend to be involved in the things we do every day and, if so, how should that happen? In this study, we will address those questions and more.
Some things you are about to read may seem foreign or even questionable. Please consider what you read, pray about it and let God show you whether it has any value for you. It has the potential to revolutionize your relationship with God and your effectiveness at whatever you do.
This study must not be merely an academic exercise, because it’s not just about learning and applying some spiritual laws and principles. While the Bible presents laws and principles, its main function is to introduce us to God and help us develop a relationship with him.
Most Christians will agree it’s possible to have a personal relationship with God, though many will limit that relationship to the spiritual realm or turn to him only when they need help. We generally exclude him from our daily lives because we’re accustomed to doing everything ourselves — running our own lives, setting priorities and making decisions. The Bible would describe that as a worldly perspective; not the active, healthy relationship God wants.
It’s possible to live according to spiritual laws and principles yet completely miss God’s will. Those laws and principles are to help you understand what God is doing, allow you to test what you think he is telling you to do, or help you decide what to do in the absence of specific direction from him. Laws and principles are not substitutes for relationship.
To have a healthy relationship with God and work with him, we must replace our ingrained values, standards and perceptions which are based on our natural ways of thinking. We must choose to do what God has said — which requires a radical change of our thinking — and rely on God to conform our nature to his.
God created Adam and Eve in his image, gave them glory and authority like his own. It’s clear God created us to rule and have dominion (see Gen 1:26-28). He will not invade our domain and intervenes only when one of us specifically asks him or allows him to do so. Consider the Lord’s Prayer, in which Jesus taught us to ask for Father’s kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, which invites him into our domain and authorizes him to do his will here (Mt 6:9-10).
He gave us authority and he honors our decisions and actions. He also created a spiritual law that allows us to experience the results of our choices, whether those choices are godly or not. Romans Chapter 1 provides an example, stating that men knew God yet refused to glorify him or give him thanks and even worshiped idols, so he gave them over to their sinful desires. As a positive example of experiencing the results of our choices, those who choose to give generously will benefit from their actions (see Lk 6:38; 2 Co 9:6).
As further evidence of God giving us free will and honoring our choices, consider the nature of the entire New Testament. It shows us God’s intent and encourages us to embrace his nature, change the way we think, participate in his kingdom and serve others. He presents the benefits of doing so and the consequences of doing things our own way. He then invites us to choose his way and lets us decide.
The New Testament clearly presents believers as God’s servants because that should accurately represent our attitude toward God — an attitude of complete submission and service (e.g., 2 Co 6:4; Jas 1:1). While some Christians think that means we should have no mind of our own and need detailed directions regarding God’s will in every matter, that is not so. Jesus clearly provided examples in his parables of masters putting their servants in charge of their business, household or possessions (e.g., Mt 24:45, 47). His parable of the shrewd manager is about a servant or steward managing his master’s business accounts (Lk 16:1-13). In that culture, a large household had a hierarchy of servants with some responsible for very menial tasks and others with very responsible positions, even supervising the other servants. Consider Joseph, sold into slavery and bought by Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, who put him in charge of his entire household and all he owned (Gen 39:4-5). If a servant proved faithful, his master might give him greater responsibility or put him in charge of something, allowing him to exercise greater discretion (e.g., Mt 25:20-21). With this biblical model of a servant, being God’s servant clearly means we have authority to make decisions and take action.
Consider another model the New Testament uses for our relationship with God: that of his sons. Ladies, what I’m about to describe is about authority, not gender, as it applies to us today. Similar to the hierarchy of servants, there are different maturity levels for God’s children: a newborn infant, a young child and a mature son. The New Testament uses the Greek and Roman practice of adoption to show our ultimate relationship with God. Unlike adoption in western culture, Greek and Roman adoption involved formally and legally placing the person into a position with all the privileges, responsibilities and authority due an adult family member. To be a son of God is to have both the right and duty to conduct his business in his behalf and to call him Father.
So whether you prefer the model of a servant or of a son, the Bible portrays us as engaged in Father’s business with authority that is appropriate to our maturity and responsibility. As we mature, we can exercise greater personal initiative in our service to him.
God created us with free will then gave us authority as his sons to conduct kingdom business, but also to reign in life (Ro 5:17). To reign in life literally means to act as a king in life — to make decisions, exercise authority and make things happen. So scriptural precedent exists for relying strongly on God for direction and for exercising our own initiative. The key is cooperating. Whether you’re engaged in Father’s work or he’s engaged in yours, cooperation is a key to working with him.
Preparing to work cooperatively with God involves specific steps. You need to become familiar with his nature and will — his kingdom and righteousness, what he wants done, what he’s like and how he does things. You become familiar with this by studying the Bible, spending time with him and watching how he does things.
You need to learn about spiritual laws (boundaries) and principles (guidelines) the same way: studying the Bible, spending time with him and watching how he does things.
You must learn to recognize God’s voice so he can give you specifics — what to do, when to do it, how to do it and so on. We’ll discuss this in more detail later.
You need to identify the nature God gave you — your spiritual gifts or aptitudes, personality traits and compelling interests or passions — because it reveals your primary responsibilities, how he most frequently works through you and how you fulfill your destiny. He created you as a specialist, designed and equipped specifically to fulfill your life purpose.
Then, if you think something needs to be done and he hasn’t given you specific instructions, you know what kinds of things he wants done and how he operates. You know the boundaries and guidelines, what’s appropriate and acceptable. You also know your purpose in life, what you’re supposed to do. Within those parameters, you have authority to do what you think is appropriate. It’s been said it’s easier to steer a moving vehicle than a parked one, so be aware that God might give you specific directions or details after you begin.
Learning to work cooperatively with God will be a lifelong experience, but you will become increasingly effective as you learn.
Jesus encountered situations and responded to them: a blind man beside the road, a tax collector climbing a tree to get a better view of him, someone approaching him about a sick family member, a religious authority challenging his teaching, a woman touching his clothing to receive healing, a demon-possessed man shouting at him. Nothing in scripture suggests God gave Jesus a daily itinerary with details of what would happen and how he should respond. Nothing suggests God had to tell him what to do each time a situation occurred. Jesus clearly knew his purpose in life. He frequently spent time with God so he knew Father’s nature, desires, will and methods. So when things happened throughout the day, Jesus simply responded appropriately.
So can we. By ourselves, we clearly cannot produce the eternal results required in God’s kingdom. We can’t save people, heal them, deliver them or provide supernaturally for them. However, we respond to someone’s needs by doing our part and asking God to do his. We cannot do the supernatural part — only God can — and he will not do our part because that would usurp our authority. It’s been said God only acts when someone prays; that is, he will do nothing in our domain until we invite or authorize him to do so. He gave us free will and authority and allows us to take the initiative. We do not produce the needed results through our efforts; instead, God works through our efforts to do what only he can do. Our effects must focus on God’s intent and be dependent on his involvement.
Take the case of Peter and the lame man in Acts Chapter 3. Peter did not pray for the man’s healing, nor did he ask others to agree with him in prayer. He simply told the man, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, to walk (Acts 3:6). Then he took him by the hand and helped him up. Paul exercised the same kind of authority several times. In one incident, a slave girl who predicted the future via a demon was following Paul and causing a disturbance. Paul eventually became troubled by her disturbance and commanded the demon to come out of her (Acts 16:18). Nothing in scripture even hints that Peter or Paul waited until they heard from God about what they were to do. They saw a need, initiated action and God made it happen.
They were following Jesus’ model. He responded to situations as they presented themselves and commanded the needed results. “Be healed.” “Your faith has made you whole.” “According to your faith it is done.” “Rise up and walk.” To the wind and waves, “Peace. Be still.” To demons, “Be silent and come out of him.”
Obviously, you’re not Jesus, so you might think you couldn’t do what he did. However, Jesus is the “firstborn,” a prototype or model of what we’re to be and do (Ro 8:29). You are a son of God, as he is, placed in a position of responsibility and authority, tasked with conducting kingdom business, as he did (Jn 20:31; Gal 3:26). You have the same Holy Spirit within you (Ro 8:11). Jesus has authorized you to act in his name and perform the same functions he did (e.g., see Mt 28:18-19; Mk 16:14-18). He said you should follow him, which means to emulate him or do what he did (Mt 16:24). He commissioned you to do kingdom business, as he did on earth (Jn 20:21). While you are not literally Jesus himself, for all practical purposes there should be no difference between your results and his.
In reality, these same points apply to everything we do, not just when we’re “ministering” to someone. For us, there is no distinction between sacred and secular. We are citizens and ambassadors of God’s kingdom, representing him in the world where we live (Php 3:20; 2 Co 5:20). On the job, at family gatherings, going shopping or on vacation, we never stop being sons of God.
God our Father created us in his image, granting us free will and authority; not so we can operate independently of him, but cooperatively with him in everything we do.
Some Christians place so much emphasis on “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19, KJV) and “dead works” (Heb 6:1; 9:14, KJV) that one is left with the impression that anything we do through human effort has no value at all. While it is true that our works do not save us (Eph 2:9), it is not true that everything we do is worthless or sinful. God created us to do good works (Eph 2:10) and uses specific people within the church to prepare others for good works (Eph 4:11-12). Scripture repeatedly refers to good works (e.g., Col 1:10; 2 Tim 3:17). Our good works do not qualify us or earn anything for us, but are to be natural expressions of our relationship with God.
Almighty God — who has all authority and power — has chosen to work through us because he wants us to participate in what he does, have experiences like his and engage in what he is doing; a relationship like he had with Adam, only better. He wants us to get to know him by working with him, to learn how his kingdom and the spiritual realm work. Passivity and inactivity are not acceptable in his kingdom. This is an important point. Consider the parable of the talents, in which the master judged the servant who simply protected what he gave him as wicked and threw him out of the household (Mt 25:26-30). Eventually we will reign with Christ and he’s giving us hands-on training now, so we need to be actively involved (Rev 20:6; 22:5).
The Gospel of Matthew quotes Jesus twice as saying that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Mt 16:19; 18:18). The first time he said it to Peter and the second time to all his disciples. Whether the verbs mean “will be bound” or “will have been bound,” as different translations read, it is clear we are to initiate the action on earth. God has already completed the work in heaven and our involvement secures it for us. God doesn’t obey what we say and we don’t force our will to be done in heaven. We’re to work cooperatively with God so we participate in or apply on earth what God is doing in heaven.
Consider briefly some evidence that God wants us involved in what he is doing. God will crush Satan under believers’ feet (Ro 16:20). He chose people the world considers foolish, weak, lowly and despised to do his work so he alone would receive the glory (1 Co 1:27-29). He gave us the ministry of reconciling men to him, making us Christ’s ambassadors, his representatives making his appeal in his behalf (2 Co 5:18-20). God entrusts his work to a spiritual leader (Tit 1:7). The Lord gave a command through the apostles; that is, the apostles were speaking for him (2 Ptr 3:2). Though we cannot produce the needed results, we do have control over our willingness to serve, which allows God to do his work through us.
Sometimes God gives us specific instructions on what he wants us to do and we see examples of this in scripture. The Lord told Philip to go to a certain road where he would speak to an Ethiopian eunuch. Philip did as the Lord said and another person was added to God’s kingdom (Acts 8:26-35). God told Ananias to pray for Saul’s sight and the result was Saul’s conversion to the faith and eventually becoming the mightiest apostle of the first century (Acts 9:10-18).
In other cases, God’s instructions were more general. For example, God commissioned Paul and Peter as apostles to different people groups (Gal 2:8). They understood the role of an apostle, so they knew what God intended them to do.
God wants us actively engaged in his work, cooperating with him in his kingdom business. Yet even when he gives us instructions, he allows us to exercise initiative in our response. As we showed earlier, being a servant or child of God includes having authority, being able to make decisions and exercise initiative.
Faith is a key element in our relationship with God; in fact, it’s impossible to please him without it (Heb 11:6). When we base our faith on what the Bible shows us about his nature and ways, we can expect the absolute best results.
The results you get will be in proportion to your faith, not because your faith produces the results, but because stronger faith gives God more room to work. Your decision to act allows God to generate the needed results. Faith motivates you to act outside your comfort zone, or reach for an impossible goal, or position yourself for extraordinary results, and this opens the door wider for God to do his supernatural work. The more you stretch, the more he acts like God. The more you depend on him, the more faithful he proves himself to be.
God will do far more than you can ask or imagine because of his power that works in you (Eph 3:20). That power is the Holy Spirit’s, not yours, but he uses it in proportion to your faith. Jesus rebuked his disciples several times about their lack or “littleness” of faith and we often suffer from the same problem. Sometimes, however, our faith seems strong but we’re unclear about God’s will or timing and we step out in presumption rather than faith. If his power is not producing results through you, it’s time to reevaluate; maybe you are the limitation.
Everyone enters God’s kingdom with a childlike simplicity, totally dependent upon both his direct and indirect care through other believers. As new believers, we were totally incompetent in spiritual matters and gradually had to learn the basics. Jesus repeatedly said the greatest in God’s kingdom is like a little child. So as we grow spiritually, we’re to retain a childlike dependency on God even as we develop our relationship with him and learn to function in his kingdom. Being childlike involves trusting God implicitly, accepting whatever he gives you and believing everything he says. We’re to retain those qualities as we grow.
The New Testament emphasizes that we are to consider ourselves as God’s servants, which focuses on discovering and doing God’s will. This is totally appropriate because we’re to have an attitude of humble service to God. The church stresses the importance of agape-love, yet agape cannot exist without humility. It’s possible we cannot overemphasize the importance of humility.
We must nurture the qualities of humility, childlike trust and a servant’s heart, and doing so requires conscious effort. As we develop these qualities, God is free to entrust us with increasing responsibility and authority.
Several scriptures show us that God responds to our purpose and faith, meaning he allows us to exercise personal initiative then uses his power to produce the needed results. This is an important aspect of our working relationship with God, which is a true partnership.
As we’ve seen so far, God gave us free will, delegated authority to us and honors our decisions. Whether he gives us specific guidance or allows us to use our discretion, he expects us to act in a way that conforms to his nature and ways, and the spiritual laws and principles he defined. Within the parameters he gives us, we can initiate something by doing our part and relying on him to do his.
In Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, which we saw earlier, Jesus said that whatever we bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. It’s easy to see how we could misuse this to satisfy our self-centered desires. Where there is great authority to act, there is great potential for abuse. Yet Jesus didn’t surround these statements with limitations or warnings. It’s as though God knows we might misuse what he gives us but chooses to give it anyway so we can learn to use it appropriately.
The Father intends for us to learn to use the authority he gave us and the spiritual laws and principles he created. What is not so clear, however, is that our spiritual maturity governs how God allows us to learn this. If a believer is spiritually immature, God is more likely to stress the importance of step-by-step, detailed instructions for everything he is to do. As that believer matures — gets to know God better, understands how he operates, recognizes spiritual laws and principles, and proves himself more trustworthy — God can give him more latitude.
Paul wrote to a church of believers who were growing in faith and love and were persevering in persecutions and trials. To those believers, he wrote that he prayed God’s power would fulfill every good purpose of theirs and every act prompted by their faith (2 Th 1:11). Is that for every believer or only the recipients of that letter? Notice that spiritual growth is a factor: growing in faith and love, persevering in difficulties. God’s primary emphasis is on our growing into his image, not on making our lives on earth more pleasant. If you are growing in faith and love and you are persevering in whatever difficulties you face, you can expect God to fulfill every good purpose you have and every act prompted by your faith.
Most Christians turn to God whenever they need help of some kind, but otherwise take care of things themselves. This is equivalent to treating God as an assistant, a vending machine or genie in a bottle. Working with God is a radical concept for most of us and will require some effort. Like so much in the New Testament, doing things God’s way requires us to completely change the way we think.
Try thinking of God as someone beside you all day, someone you can talk with anytime. When something enjoyable happens, mentally express your appreciation to him — “Thank you, that was nice.” Ask him questions and wait for him to respond — “Wow, I didn’t see that coming. What should I do now?”
You’ll discover that God responds in a variety of ways. A spontaneous thought may pop into your mind as a word, a sentence or more. You may have what we call a gut feeling, an impression or hunch, which are very typical ways for God to respond. Someone else may say something to you that answers the question you asked God, or you may read a very relevant scripture in the Bible. Being aware of God’s presence involves anticipating interaction with him and recognizing the ways he communicates with you.
These responses can be very subjective so you’ll need to assess what you “hear.” Scripture is the absolute standard, because God will never ever violate his Word, so the first test to apply is whether what you heard conforms to scripture. God is always true to his nature, so you can expect everything he says to be compatible with his nature. Also, you can expect to have a sense of peace even if your mind is troubled.
It’s impossible to have an effective relationship without two-way communication, so developing your skills for communicating with God is important.
Developing a God-awareness and learning to communicate with him will take some time, so patiently work on this and expect to see very gradual change. The biggest problem will be changing the way you think, because you’ve been thinking like the world all your life and it takes time and effort to reprogram your thinking. But it’s possible and it’s essential, and the result will be unbelievable!
We serve the Lord God Almighty, the omniscient and omnipotent God who rules the spiritual realm and will eventually include our physical realm in his kingdom. He really doesn’t need our help. Yet he created us to reign with him, because he wants to share all that he has and is and does with us. He loves us that much.
Meanwhile, he wants us to learn how to work with him in our daily lives. This is our training phase in which we learn who he is, how he operates and what he wants to do. It’s an incredible honor and opportunity, and we would be wise to become proficient at working with Almighty God.