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There are two levels at which God can bless a church.  At one level, God can bless the faithful efforts of the people: “Establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).  This is a great grace from the Lord.

At another level, God can do for the people what only he can do: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!” (Psalm 126:4).  The “streams in the Negeb” are a torrential flash flood, “the sudden unleash of God’s blessing” (VanGemeren).  This is a greater grace from the Lord.

So the Bible has these two categories: God blessing the work of our hands, and God taking the work into his own hands.

In his Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, Jonathan Edwards had to use words like “surprising” and “wonderful” and “extraordinary” and “remarkable” to describe what the Lord was doing.  For example:

“God has also seemed to have gone out of his usual way in the quickness of his work, and the swift progress his Spirit has made in his operations on the hearts of many.  It is wonderful that persons should be so suddenly and yet so greatly changed.  Many have been taken from a loose and careless way of living, and seized with strong convictions of their guilt and misery, and in a very little time ‘old things have passed away, and all things have become new with them’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

God's work has also appeared very extraordinary in the degrees of his influences; in the degrees both of awakening and conviction, and also in the degree of saving light, and love, and joy, that many have experienced.  It has also been very extraordinary in the extent of it, and its being so swiftly propagated from town to town. . . .

When God in so remarkable a manner took the work into his own hands, there was as much done in a day or two as at ordinary times, with all endeavors that men can use, and with such a blessing as we commonly have, is done in a year.”

John Smith, Harry Stout and Kenneth Minkema, editors, A Jonathan Edwards Reader (New Haven, 1995), pages 66-67.

I wonder why we rarely see this greater grace.  Are we crowding out any possibility of God taking the work into his own hands?  What would it look like to take some of the work out of our hands and deliberately put it into God’s hands?  What if our churches created space where we wait on God to do what only God can do?

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One thought on “When God took the work into his own hands”

  1. One of the beautiful things about God taking things into His own hands is that He does not need, nor is He waiting for, us to relinquish anything. If our efforts to control the ministry were somehow able to keep God from taking things into His own hands, then He would not be very strong. Taking preliminary steps to make ourselves a ripe target for revival seem to me to be misguided. The only prerequisite for revival is to be dead, and we got that one covered.

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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