Cooperating with God
God is at work and will complete what He has started
The Bible clearly states that it is “… God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure… [and] He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion… (Phil. 2:13, 1:6). If we take these passages at face value they seem to clearly state that God is at work in us and the work He is doing, He will bring to completion. However, most people would agree that we have freewill to choose what we allow or not. Can God do all that He sets out to do if we choose to resist Him in His efforts? Can our freewill hinder God in His work, and if so, to what extent?
At first glance, this seems like a problem, when in fact it is not. When God looks at us, he sees the potential transformation He can accomplish within the limits of our willingness to cooperate. This being the case, He accomplishes everything that is possible within those limits.
Some time ago I bought my wife a new stone for her wedding band. I went to the jewelry store where I met the man who actually cut the diamond that I was to purchase. He brought out the diamond in which I had shown interest and gave me a magnifying glass to examine it. This glass allowed me to see the intricate cuts he had made (it also allowed me to find it in the band’s setting since it was so small.)
The person who cuts and shapes precious stones is called a lapidarist. God is like a lapidarist examining an uncut diamond before he starts his work. The diamond in its entirety has some intrinsic worth, but the way he cuts and shapes it will determine its final value. Not all uncut diamonds have the same potential. The size, density, strengths, and weaknesses of the gem limit what the craftsman is able to do. However, as a master lapidarist, he is able to cut and shape the gem so its fullest potential is realized. When he has finished his work, he will have brought out all the value the diamond originally offered.
God does the same. He recognizes that our free will limits the outcome of His work, but as the master lapidarist, He will bring out the greatest value possible within the context of what we have chosen to give him. To the degree we cooperate with him in the work He is doing, the value of it increases. It is not that we help him do anything, since He is the one doing the cutting, but we can hinder what is available for Him to shape and form.
Nonetheless, God will accomplish all that He has predetermined to accomplish—within the limitations of the uncut diamond—and nothing will be missed or undone. We can withhold what we could have given Him, but we cannot hinder what God will accomplish with what we give into His hands. When He is finished, we will reflect the light of His glory like a magnificently cut and polished diamond. However, the degree of reflection coming from the finished work will be determined by what we gave Him to work with.
As in the first analogy with the diamond, that of a master artist, we are the canvas provided for the creation of his masterpiece. When the master painter has completed his painting, it will be displayed as a masterpiece, regardless of the size of the canvas. A masterpiece is not determined by its size or the medium, but rather by the work of the one who painted it. The more canvas we provide God to work with, the greater the eternal benefit. However, no matter how small a canvas we offer God to work with, the outcome will still be a masterpiece.
Insight from Whistler’s Mother
The well-known American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) painted many large, full-sized paintings. One in particular is known as Whistler’s Mother. What is less known about him is how many of his paintings would fit in the palm of your hand. He painted more than 140 very small works of art, and each is considered to be a masterpiece possessing great value. Most importantly, each one bears his signature.
When we walk into heaven’s art gallery, we will see ourselves as God has known us from the beginning, displayed as His glorious handiwork. The Apostle Paul said, “… I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). We will each be recognized as a divine work of art, each a masterpiece in our own right, and each one bearing God’s signature. Some will be larger than others, but all will be perfect and complete. God will “perfect” us to the greatest possible potential, within the limits we place on Him, according to the extent of our willing cooperation.
When we realize this, it should increase our motivation to cooperate more fully with God in this process of transformation. Some people spend their entire lives fighting against the very process through which He works. Life’s crises and troubles are seldom viewed as instruments in the artisan’s hand. Too often they are just seen as something to get through. However, our eternal benefit will increase only to the degree that we cooperate and participate with Him in these experiences. And God knows how to overcome any reluctance we have to cooperate with Him in this process. Although He will not violate our will, he may send “a great wind and a huge fish” to help get our attention and move us in the right direction. Remember Jonah!
Even more important is the fact that when we resist His handiwork, we are making an eternal decision. When He allows (or brings) difficulty to come our way and we reject the opportunity for refinement, we lose this moment and cannot ever reproduce it. We are only allotted a specific measure of time to cooperate with what God is doing. If we deny or discount the lie-based emotions we feel in the moment and distract ourselves from it through some temporal means, we forfeit the benefit God afforded us for all eternity. We are allotted only so much time to get only so much of the work completed.
It is vital that we choose to “… humble [ourselves] under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt [us] at the proper time” (1 Pet. 5:6) God has a plan and is doing a work that He will complete. However, the size of the canvas is up to us.