InterVarsity staff, like all Christians, travel on a road bordered by two different ideas concerning productivity. The two sides are often presented as opposites. Or they each are presented alone as the right way. When senior vice president Jim Lundgren gave the final charge to InterVarsity’s 2011 class of new staff last month, he brought together the two sides. He spoke from 2 Timothy.
On one side is total dependence on the power of God, and on the other side are personal discipline, diligence and self-denial. In writing to Timothy, Paul speaks to the young leader about both. He reminds Timothy that whatever ability he has is a gift given to him, and he names the gift: a spirit of power and love. He talks about relying on the power of God. Paul is clear that Timothy’s calling is not based on his works, but rather on God’s purposes. Paul expresses his own confidence in God and points out that before time began, God was already at work on our behalf.
At the same time, Paul exhorts Timothy to work, using the images of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. The success of each involves their skill and effort. Soldiers need to regularly put the mission’s objective ahead of their personal comfort. Regardless of how genetically gifted an athlete may be, he or she needs to work out regularly to win the race. The farmer needs to do the dirty, sweaty work of tilling the garden for fruit to grow to its full potential.
If while traveling on the road we become distracted in either direction, we veer off course. Fervently asking for God to intervene in supernatural ways can be a denial of the miraculous brain and muscle God has already provided. But overconfidence in our own ability to save others or solve our own problems is called idolatry in the Bible. To imagine either side of the road as a deep and dangerous ditch is to replace the excitement of the journey with anxiety not befitting the joy of walking with Jesus.
Total dependence on God and disciplined personal effort are more like the two rails on which a train rides. We crash without a profound reliance on both. I’m glad Jim included both in his charge to new staff; they’ll need both to journey where God wants them (and us) to go.
Scott Wilson is the Communications Director and Associate Director of Advancement for InterVarsity.