When I was a kid we had one of those old metal swing-sets with the slide on one end and a couple of chain swings. I don't remember why, but we got rid of it and my dad decided to build us a new one. He came up with a plan and then went out and bought a host of 4x4's and began putting it together. He allowed me to help him, putting bolts where he told me to and placing pieces together the way he showed me. But when I got tired or didn't know what to do next, my dad kept going. I helped. I had a part in it. But ultimately, my dad was responsible for putting that swing-set together.
That story is a great illustration of how life functions when God is at work in our lives. God calls us to participate. God gives us a task to fulfill and a role to play. But ultimately the completion of the work isn't dependent on us. When we get too tired or don't know what to do next, when we don't understand the plan or can't see beyond our human frailties, God is the one who puts everything together for us.
Nehemiah understood this concept. In Nehemiah chapter 3, we are given a detailed list of everyone who worked to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem and Nehemiah himself was instrumental in rallying the people to accomplish the task. But when the wall was completed in just 52 days, Nehemiah didn't toot his own horn and brag about how effective a leader he was. Nehemiah didn't lay all of the credit for the work at the feet of the people who had labored (although they certainly deserved some credit for being part of it). But Nehemiah pointed to the wall's quick completion and then relayed how it looked to everyone else. "When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God." (Nehemiah 6:16, NLT).
God allows us to be part of the work God does in the world around us. God gives us tasks and roles. But the work of God is intended to be something so far beyond us that people immediately give credit to God when they see it completed. We are supposed to be a part of it. We are supposed to work as hard as we can to fulfill the tasks and roles God has given us. But ultimately, when our strength fails, God is the one who completes the task. God is the one who keeps his work marching through the world when we can't go any farther and don't know what to do next. We get to be part of the task, and we should understand both the great responsibility and great privilege come with that participation. But God is the one who will finish the task, just like my father was the one who actually built that swing-set.
Knowing that the work depends on God and won't fail because of us should fill us with both relief and gratitude. We get to be part of the work, reconciling the world to God. We should give everything we have to the work. But when our strength fails, the work itself does not fail. God is still at work and will bring it to completion.
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