I stood in the cold, drizzling rain during the darkest part of the night and watched the weary travelers struggle to make decisions. As their facilitator, I watched and waited with questions running through my head. What did God want to accomplish through this late night hike in the rain? Was there something more I needed to do or say to bring about some kind of turning point for these students? I didn’t really have a good grasp of what the individuals within the group were struggling with. Was there something more I needed to do?
I burst out laughing as the string of questions illuminated a ludicrous, but common belief that has managed to plant itself in the many prayers, thoughts, and even the words I speak in my day-to-day life, as well as in ministry. Many of us may unknowingly be afflicted by this belief because it sneaks in and convinces us that God can’t do His work without us. It is the belief that I must be enough for the people, events, and ministry I engage on a regular basis. It is the belief that I must say or do something in order for God to really do the work He needs to do. It is the belief that I am vital to producing growth in others.
I enjoy reading the short stories of Frog and Toad. Their adventures and tales are often silly, and yet many have a profoundly deep application. In the story “The Garden,” Frog does some gardening, which leads Toad to want to plant his own garden. Once Toad plants his garden, he expects the seeds to start growing immediately. When they don’t, he starts to talk to the seeds saying, “Now seeds, start growing.” When nothing happens, he yells at the seeds, “START GROWING!” When this doesn’t work he seeks out the counsel of his friend, Frog, who tells him that what his seeds need most is for him to leave them alone for a few days and let the sun and rain do the work. But when Toad returns to his garden, he continues to fret over the fact that nothing is growing. So, he reads stories to his garden all night long in case the seeds are afraid of the dark. He sings songs, reads poems, and plays music until finally he is so tired that he falls asleep. Later when Toad wakes up, he notices the green sprouts growing in his garden and exclaims to his friend that it took a lot of very hard work to make his garden grow!
I can look at Toad and immediately see how futile his efforts are, and yet isn’t this often the way that I approach life, relationships, and ministry? I especially do it when I can’t see or discern exactly what God is doing or how He will use these circumstances or events to bring about what I think needs to take place. I spend a lot of time worrying that I haven’t done enough, wondering if there is something more I need to say or do to help those “seeds” grow. Some of this anxiety comes out of impatience, but more of it comes from the desire in me to have a role to play, to be a person that God uses in powerful ways to impact the lives of others. Truthfully, it is not wrong to desire for God to use me. But when my role in God’s work takes precedence over what He really is doing in the lives of others and fails to trust His process, I am living from the belief that I must be enough to meet everyone’s needs. I get caught up in doing work for God rather than doing God’s work.
In truth, only Jesus is enough to meet my needs and theirs. In Isaiah we receive the promise that “…He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land…You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11).
Isn’t it interesting that it wasn’t until Toad fell asleep that the seeds began to grow? Psalm 127:2 says “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.” When I find rest in trusting that God will meet the needs of the people I am ministering with and to, I have an opportunity to relinquish control and observe how He unfolds His process. Rather than trying to do more, I am free to simply be myself. I don’t need to have all of the answers; I can simply listen and cry out to God in prayer, asking Him to meet their needs. And, I can trust that He will answer. In most cases, what God ends up doing when I wait, listen, and pray is far more beautiful and intentionally cultivated than I could ever imagine or accomplish in my own efforts.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).