The only thing that we can ever do is take the next step.
I once worked with an author who said, “God told me I’m going to sell 100,000 books by the end of the year.” His book wasn’t even released by the end of the year. The timeline of the prophecy shifted to “in the first quarter after release,” but that didn’t happen either.
God has rarely ever told me how things will end. I think that’s consistent with the experience of other mature Christians that I know. I don’t think it’s about the big finish. God seems to be most concerned with helping us take the next step.
There’s no carrot. God doesn’t love us more if we do a good job, we’re no more saved.
There’s no stick. God doesn’t punish us when we deviate from His will for us.
God isn’t asking for our obedience because of some great reward or some great punishment. Because it’s not about Him.
As humans, we use punishments and rewards when we’re trying to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do.
My kids do chores. It’s important to me that they do the chores because if they don’t…I have to do it. The dog needs walked, the yard needs mowed, the chickens need water. If my kids don’t do it, the buck stops here.
So the chores work on a system of incentives and punishments. If they do their chore without complaining or needing to be reminded, they get rewarded. If they don’t do it at all, they get punished. If they have a bad attitude, but do it anyway, nothing happens.
I have really good kids, so most weeks it costs me about $10 to have all the stuff done.
I use this system because I want my kids to learn discipline and responsibility. But if I’m being honest, the chore system is mostly about me. I think it’s reasonable for the kids to help me (I feed, clothe, and shelter them, after all) and it’s so nice not to have to do the little stuff. In a way, I use the system to manipulate my children so I can get what I want.
That’s not how God operates.
God asked me to train writers. But if I don’t do it, he doesn’t have to come and do it himself. Even if he did, God is infinite, and it doesn’t cost Him anything.
God doesn’t ask me to train writers exclusively for my own fulfillment, either.
I think He asks me to do it for US. He and I together. This is a unique and special way that He made me to work alongside of Him. To learn from Him, to trust Him, to be in his bosom.
There are these other times that my kids work alongside of me. Not because they have to, not for any reward. Just to be near me. Just to see what I’m up to—to participate in whatever I’m doing. I love those times, even when the job takes a little longer with their “help.”
The author that was motivated by the false promise of great success failed because he didn’t have any stomach for the small steps between zero and 100,000. He couldn’t understand that you get to 100,000 sales four books at a time. After his book release, he stopped showing up to the marketing events we had set up for him. He literally just ghosted it.
The irony is that it was one of the best books I’ve ever produced. He could have actually done it.
He invented his own carrot and then shoved it into the mouth of God. He was so focused on the great reward that he failed to find God in the small steps.
I’ve done the same thing at times in my life. I’ve had some grand romantic vision of how things will turn out. I think sometimes God uses those dreams to pull us in the right direction. Vision itself isn’t always unhealthy, just so we’re not putting our own human ideas on God’s shoulders.
Ezekiel was a smart man. In chapter 37 of his book, God took Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones and he asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel said something really smart. He said, “O Lord God, you know.”
Of course Ezekiel knew that God could make the bones live. Ezekiel knew as well as you and I do that God can do anything.
But Ezekiel didn’t get caught up in the grand spectacle of what could be, instead he deferred back to the Lord. And the Lord was faithful—leading Ezekiel step-by-step, a few words at a time, in what He should do next.
Could God lead you to sell 100,000 books? Could that be the way he plans to use you? Sure it could. God can do whatever He wants.
But the best response when those grand visions pop up is usually to say, “O Lord God, you know,” and then apply ourselves to the next small step.
How will it all end? Not important. Who cares? What even is the end?
In the present, we can leave the end to God. We can be faithful and obedient, and we can take the next small step.
One small step at a time. I’ve seen it in my own life and in the lives of others. God is faithful to lead us, usually not in big giant leaps, but in one obedient action after another.