Transformation: God Completing the Work He Started
Some Things that Only the Lord Can Do.
I (Ed Smith) spent many years seeking to help people with emotional pain by giving them my take on the truth. I prayed with them, read Scripture to them, counseled them, provided them with books and recordings, and gave them step-by-step action plans to apply to their lives. I encouraged them, encouraged them, and encouraged them, yet these people remained in emotional pain. Although I did see some slow and gradual improvements, I never witnessed any genuine and lasting transformation. Now I understand that only the Holy Spirit can accomplish this. When I say this, I am not trying to detract from any help others may provide to people through different means. I am simply saying there are some things which only the Lord can do.
It wasn’t until I realized my inadequacy to bring about true and lasting change in people that I began to see miracles occur. I knew I could teach people the truth, encourage them to try to live by it, and offer ongoing support. However, only the Holy Spirit could bring about genuine transformation in the heart. This doesn’t reduce the importance of biblical instruction or the other things I did, but it does suggest there is a time and place for both. Today I see them as complementary: the Lord Himself brings about transformation and lasting peace, and I am privileged to provide biblical instruction when it is needed.
Spiritual performance is not spiritual maturity.
God uses many different forms of ministry to complete His work in His Church. Transformation Prayer Ministry is just one of these. However, there is no effort, work, or discipline we can engage in that will ever achieve the spiritual maturity God intends for us, apart from His experiential work in us. Christian growth and maturity is not a “you and me, God” endeavor, but rather it is one of submitting ourselves to the work only God can complete in us.
It does require much effort to choose to submit to what He’s doing, but submission is our only assignment. He will do the inner work of sanctification and refinement. He will bring about the mind renewal that will transform us.
TPM is a systematized prayer model by which we can position ourselves for God to accomplish what only He can accomplish: “…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
At times, we can hinder what God wants to do in us, but when we better understand what He is doing and how He is doing it, we can cooperate with Him more effectively. TPM provides a means for accomplishing this. God works to bring about our growth and maturity within the context of our free will. But having free will allows us the choice of resisting Him, hindering Him from doing all that might otherwise be possible.
Our ability to limit God may seem incompatible with a verse such as, “… He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6 ESV). This seems to suggest I cannot limit what God is doing, that He will complete the good work in me whether I like it or not, and that my resistance will be futile since God always finishes what He starts. It’s true that He will complete the work He began in us, but our resistance does limit what He is able to accomplish. Let me use an illustration to explain.
God is like a master artist creating a masterpiece. He will complete his masterpiece, and when He is finished, nothing will be left undone. What He completes will be the totality of His master design. However, the size and shape of the finished work is determined by the medium that is placed on the easel. This is the part we play. We determine what and how much God has to work with. If He is given much, He will accomplish much. If He is given little, He will still accomplish all that is possible with what has been given. His final work will not be incomplete, but it will be a fully finished work based upon what He was given to work with.
This reality should motivate our hearts to become very focused upon freedom and choose to take advantage of every opportunity to cooperate with Him in His work. Too often we miss the daily opportunities to have our lies replaced with His truth because we relegate our difficulties to just having a “bad day,” blaming what we feel on others or our particular life difficulty, or suppressing what we feel with some form of mental distraction. Even the slightest twinge of minor irritation, subtle stress, or anxiety is an exposure of our lie-based belief. These daily experiences are opportunities lost if we do not submit to His handiwork as they arise.
How Can God Accomplish Everything He Intended If I Can Hinder what He is Doing?
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. This is like a lapidarist (a person who cuts and polishes diamonds) 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, 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 we provide God to work with, the greater the eternal benefit.
Whistler’s Mother and God’s Intention Fulfilled
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 (see picture at top of page). 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!