Can we receive strategy from God to succeed in our workplace calling? Can we expect God to be involved in the daily strategy of our work lives? Where is the line between my hard work and God's involvement?
These kinds of questions plagued me in my Christian walk. It is one of the great paradoxes in the scriptures. As I began to study the relationship between Egypt, which represents slavery and bondage, and the Promised Land, which represents freedom and inheritance, I saw a great paradox.
On the one hand, God tells us that our jobs are not the primary source of our income and livelihood. When we believe this we have made our jobs an idol. God is the source of provision for each of us. Our jobs are merely one aspect of the method He brings provision to each of us. Our jobs are to be viewed as a Holy calling from God in which we are seeking to obey the Lord. It is from obedience that we receive from God. Please don't miss this. It is from obedience that we receive provision to fulfill the calling for which God has called us to. When we view our jobs as anything other than a calling, we have allowed that job to become an idol that is being served to generate income for ourselves. This makes us a slave to that job.
When a person begins a life of obedience they begin to understand the difference between living in Egypt, versus living in the Promised Land. They learn that their obedience is the key to provision, not sweat and toil. Let's look at a few scriptures that support this concept.
"Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat-- for he grants sleep to those he loves" (Ps 127:1-2).
You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God (Deut 8:17-9:1).
"Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD" (Isa 31:1).
"His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love" (Ps 147:10-11).
Receiving the Wrong Way
Can we receive something God never intended for us to receive? You bet you can! This too is a profound truth. In 1996 I went through an incredible crisis in which I lost significant amounts of money and 80% of my business. One day a mentor sat across from me a lunch and said these words: "God never gave you that property. You got that property out of sweat and toil and manipulation. He will not let you keep that property." My mentor was describing a 13-acre estate I had purchased a few years earlier. It was to be our dream home in the country. It had 3,000 feet of horse fencing, a riding rink, a two story barn and a wonderful building lot ready for our dream home. He made this statement when I was in the midst of these business problems. I thought he had real nerve making a statement like that. After all, I worked hard. I was honest. I "earned" my income to purchase this property through honest toil in my work. About a year later I lost that property.
To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him'" (John 3:27-29).
The disciples asked John if he was the messiah. His answer reveals more than an answer to the primary question; it also gives us a principle for living. God gives us our calling. God gives us the fruit from our calling. It we seek to gain fruit He never intended for us to have, we have manipulated an outcome that is not born from the fruit of our labor. It can be produced from sweat and toil, versus obedience. Can you see the fine line between these two concepts? I had gained my property out of sweat and toil. It was honest sweat and toil, but it was not born out of obedience in my workplace calling.
Moses Forces Water from the Rock
Moses received from the Lord in the wrong way when he was leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them" (Num 20:11-12).
God told Moses to speak to the rock. Moses, out of frustration and anger, struck the rock. This displeased the Lord and the consequence of his disobedience kept him from entering the Promised Land. It is interesting to notice that Moses used his staff, which represented his calling as a shepherd that God transformed it into a spiritual symbol which had great power. Moses used his staff inappropriately. You and I can use our workplace calling - our skills and our abilities - to wrongly influence an outcome.
Abraham and Sarah
Abraham and Sarah also used their manipulation to force an outcome. They had gone beyond the child-bearing years. They knew God had promised them a son. They figured God had missed something. So, they decided Abraham needed to lie with their maidservant in order to produce a son. The result? Ishmael. We have been living with this conflict (Arabs and Jews) ever since. Later, God gave them supernaturally the promised son through Isaac.
I can recount many times when I have sweated and toiled for an outcome. However, over the last few years the Lord has been teaching me how to receive from my obedience to Him. This has been an exciting revelation.
One example of receiving the right way was when I felt I was to publish my TGIF devotionals as a book. Throughout my journey the Lord has brought intercessors into my path who would often tell me, "You are called to write." My answer was often, "OK, but how do I make a living doing that?"
For about a year I sought to get my devotionals published. It became a true sweat and toil issue for me. One day Angie, out of frustration, asked me if I had finished writing the book. I said, "No, I have about sixty more messages to write." "When you finish writing the book, God will give you a publisher," she said in frustration.
Finally, after having no success in trying to "make it happen" I was talking to a Christian publisher about another business situation. During the course of our conversation they asked me about my work. They got more and more interested. They asked that we meet in Atlanta in a few months. The day came and we met. After talking with them they got so excited they offered to give me a contract right there. That happened to be the day I wrote number 365 of the daily messages! I had just completed the book. I had to confess that Angie was now a prophet!
A similar thing happened when a subscriber called me to ask for counsel on a matter. When we finished discussing his problem he told me he was an acquisitions manager for a major bookstore chain and asked if I would be willing to write some books for their stores. I was amazed. It was the largest chain in America. This is how three other books got published.
Yet another similar situation happened when an Asian publisher reviewed my work and asked to publish me for the Asian market. What is interesting about all of these cases is I never sent one proposal to any of them. God opened these doors "without my help."
When Angie and I purchased our home a few years ago I thought we had found the perfect house for us. It was a great location on a golf course. It did not matter to me that it was on a golf course but when we looked at it I loved it. It had some things that needed to be done to it but we both immediately loved it. A few weeks into the negotiation Angie says she does not have a peace about the house. She does not know why. She simply does not have a peace.
Meanwhile the sellers drop the price more than $20,000 and now the house looks like a great deal, even though we would have to invest some money to make some changes and complete the basement. We were now at a point of having to finalize the purchase. "I still don't have a peace about it," said Angie. Well, I can tell you I really wanted that house. However, I also knew that we had to be in total agreement. So, after praying and discussing the matter, Angie still did not have peace. So, as difficult as it was, I released the contract. I have realized that having agreement with our spouses is the most important thing in a major purchase like a house. I was very disappointed, but felt I did the right thing.
The very next week the owner of the golf course called me who was a close friend and said a lady's husband had just died and she was planning to move. She had a very nice home on the golf course and wondered if I wanted to take a look at it. I told him I would like to do so and looked at the house that Saturday. I entered the home and greeted the woman who was in much grief as she had just lost her husband only days earlier. I offered to pray for her and she allowed me to do so.
The following day I brought Angie to see the home. She fell in love with it. We made an offer and moved in a few months later. In the process of getting the know the woman owner of the house I was able to lead her to Christ and the home ultimately cost us $50,000 less than the other house would have cost.
This was a great lesson to me on how to receive from God in the right way.
Examples of Receiving
There are other examples in the scriptures of those who received from God plans or provision for their calling. For example,
David - Received plans for the temple - 1 Chronicles 28:12 David received a strategy to defeat the Philistines. - 2 Sam. 5:24
Peter - Was told by Jesus to cast his line on the other side of the boat - he caught 157 fish.
Jacob - Received a dream to allow him to fund his family business and leave the employment of Laban. - Genesis 31:11-13
Joseph - Received a dream and the interpretation, which allowed him to become the ruler of Egypt under Pharaoh.
Moses - Was told the way to get water for the people was to speak to the rock. - Exodus 17:6
Noah - God gave him specific dimensions of the ark to build.- Gen 6:14-17
Daniel - Received the interpretation of the king's dream that saved the life of another person and advanced his career.
George Washington Carver - Developed 300 marketable products from the peanut and 100 from the sweet potato as a result of spending time with God early each morning. He asked God, "Why did you make the peanut?"
Arthur Guinness - Arthur Guinness lived at the turn of the century in Ireland. He was concerned about the spread of alcoholism in his nation. He asked God to do something about it. God told him to start a beer company. "Give them something good for them." He began Guinness Beer which became the national beer. However, unlike beer today, it was a great deal of iron content and was virtually impossible to get drunk from because it was so filling due to the iron.
So where's The Balance?
As a business man I struggled with the balance between the concept of using my skill and ability for the glory of God versus forcing an outcome. "Where is the balance?" I thought. I asked my mentor. He gave me an interesting answer. "You almost have to withhold your natural gifting to insure God is in it." This was a profound truth. So how does this play out practically?
I now knock on doors, but I don't force them to open. I wait longer before I move on a project. I wait for confirmation for key decisions. I gain insights from others to determine my motives are right. All of this adds up to allowing God to show me projects are from His hand and not from my flesh. It is a real paradigm shift from the way I operated before.
Entering Our Promised Land
Have you ever received something that you did not really deserve? Have you ever been given a gift that blessed you greatly? This is the principle of receiving from obedience. When we receive from obedience we sometimes receive more than what we should and sometimes less than what we think we need. It is dependent upon what God thinks we need.
"So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant" (Joshua 24:12-13)
Friend, God wants to lead you into your Promised Land. It requires obedience and trust. May you receive from God all He wants to entrust to you. I like what Ed Silvoso says in his book, Anointed for Business: "Work will be worship, as it was in the Garden, and God will come down in the cool of the day to discuss the day's events with them."