Obviously, God is omnipotent (all-powerful), and can do anything He wants. But it’s also true that sometimes He elects to act through agents — even human ones. As great and powerful as the gospel is, it is often carried and dispersed through “earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7) — as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “as though God were entreating through us…” (though I believe he was specifically referring to inspired apostles in this passage).
I know that when I or other brethren pray for God to act in ways “that only You can”, we recognize and are petitioning for Him to assist in ways that we can’t. But on such occasions, I also wonder if I’ve done or will do what I could in the matter. Jesus refused to rebuke and in fact praised the woman who anointed Him with “an alabaster vial of costly perfume of pure nard” by saying, “She has done a good deed to Me … She has done what she could…” (cp. Mark 14:6, 8). I, therefore, many times wonder, when asking God to perform “what only You can do”, if I have done what I could toward the same ends? Or, am I just wanting God to “take over” in a way that somehow excuses me from doing what I could but haven’t … or won’t do?
The Bible is filled with accounts of God acting through people — ordinary people of faith doing extraordinary things. Consider a few examples:
- Barnabas led and encouraged (Acts 4:36-37). At a time when God’s people were suffering physical hardships, Barnabas led by example when he sold property and “brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” to help care for needy saints (v. 37). But Barnabas didn’t just do good things, he also said good things — encouraging things; so much so that he was given the name Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement” (v. 36). When we ask God to encourage someone “in ways that only You can”, have we done what we could to encourage them? Typically, I haven’t.
- Titus comforted the depressed (2 Corinthians 7:6). The verse specifically says, “But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus”. God provided the comfort, but He did so through Titus. What did Titus actually do? He traveled to Corinth to find out about the brethren, and then returned and reported to Paul and his companions. He simply provided needed and desired information. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to “comfort the depressed” — information. If we don’t have it, go get it and bring it to those who need it. God comforted, but He did so through Titus. Have we asked God to comfort “in ways that only You can” while not doing our part? I have.
- Tabitha/Dorcas continuously abounded with deeds of kindness and charity (Acts 9:36-39). The text doesn’t specify how poor the city of Joppa may have been at the time, but when Tabitha died, “all the widows” came “weeping” and “showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them” (v. 39). Neither does the text provide information regarding how rich or poor Tabitha was. But what is obvious from what it does say is that she continuously abounded with “deeds of kindness and charity” — she did what she could to meet others’ needs. When we pray for God to provide “in ways that only You can”, are we providing in ways that we can? I haven’t always done so.
It’s often said that “God works in mysterious ways”. This is undoubtedly true. But many of “the ways” in which God works aren’t so mysterious at all. They’re just people of faith like you and me doing what they can — and I need to be more like them. How about you?
Philip C. Strong