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Working with What You Have…Whether It Works or Not

I starting dating my wife in high school and, shortly after we started dating, I also starting working on her father’s farm. I was the “poster boy” for unskilled labor. My role on the farm largely entailed picking up heavy items and moving them to another location, doing whatever demolition needed to be done, and employing brute force in other areas as needed. On the occasions when I was assigned a more skill-based task, it became painfully obvious that I was not a “farm kid.”

In one instance, my wife’s father asked me to back a wagon that was hooked to a tractor into the barn that was about 10 feet behind the wagon. After several failed attempts, the wagon was now about 20 feet from the bard…not exactly a success story. Not being the sort to give up, I decided to use the resources available to me to accomplish the task. I unhooked the wagon, picked up the rather heavy metal tongue, and pushed the wagon into the barn. An unorthodox way of completing the task…but you use what you’ve got to complete the job. I worked with what I had and succeeded.

I don’t believe that we have every resource to be successful at every task. While my story about the wagon might suggest that we do, I can tell you that there are a number of other stories I could have told where what I had in the tank just wasn’t going to cut it. The wagon story is deceptive to the extent that is links effort and success (and they aren’t always connected).

“If we just use the resources we have available, we will achieve and succeed.” I don’t believe that. I do, however, believe that working with what we have is always enough…perhaps not enough to succeed, but enough. We work with what we have whether it works or not because not using what God has given us denies God’s wisdom and suggests that he has somehow given us less than we need to accomplish the task he has given us.

Part of my problem throughout my career has been that I was discontent with what God had given me. I didn’t want to use what I had because it wasn’t big enough. I would have been happy to do something huge that required huge resources and resulted in a huge impact…but that’s not what God gave me.

I recently ran across the following quote from D.L. Moody: “There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things.” It seems to me that when we determine to embrace the resources God has given us in the places he has placed us, we will commit to doing the little things…to not overreaching what God desires us to do.

As Christians, we are a people who should care far less about outcomes than we do about process. Our goal is “to do little things” not because we believe they will lead to personal success. We “do little things” because we recognize that God has given us the little things to do. We do them because we believe deeply that God is benevolent, wise, and has a better agenda for our lives than we could ever write for ourselves. Doing little things may not lead us to fame or success, but that’s really not the point. The point is that we trust God even when it seems unlikely that we will get the outcome we want (or think we want). We work with what we have…with what we have been given…whether it works or not.

So…how do we get content with what works? I had the following thoughts:

  1. Recognize your own value and the value of others– The body metaphor that Paul uses to describe the church is important. Each member is unique and has a particular role and function. All members have value. We are supposed to support and reinforce one another…to benefit each other in reciprocal relationships. Practicing the radical act of reciprocity while respecting the God-given gifts and capacities of those whom God has placed reflects a regard for God’s wisdom and trust in God’s ongoing activities similar to that required in casting lots. Reciprocity is the fundamental means by which we honor God’s provision of difference within community. We acknowledge both what we and others offer the community as a wise act of divine ordering on which we cannot improve.
  2. Lose the messiah complex– You aren’t hear to save the world…so stop trying. As Christians, we are called from darkness to light. We are called to be faithful, not to be change-makers. Our role is to participate with God as he accomplishes his mission (the missio Dei), not to go on our own crusade.
  3. Just do it– In Atomic Habits, James Clear suggests that every action is a “vote” for the person we want to be. I think it is good advice. Its not a “fake it till you make it” strategy, but a recognition that often change comes through a series of disciplined choices over a long period of time. We have to choose to do the little things…to work with what we have been given…over and over again and allow God to prove himself wise, faithful, and gracious.
  • Working with what we have…whether it works or not offers a powerful means for individual Christians and for the church as a whole to demonstrate our faith. It doesn’t require strategy and may not even have a near-term, tangible impact, but following God isn’t always about the grandiose or miraculous. Often we find God within the mundane activities that bring us little notice, but can offer us a great deal of pleasure as we see God use the little things to achieve his purposes.
  • Be sure to check out my follow-up blog “Who You Are Can Be Enough.”

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