Sometimes it’s difficult to know how much of life depends on what God does, and how much depends on what we do.
Suppose we’re applying for a new position at work. Is our job simply just to pray, trusting that God will do everything necessary to grant us success? Or do our formal qualifications, employment history and interview skills influence the outcome?
Or what about when it comes to something seemingly more spiritual like starting a new church. Are there satanic forces at play? Does our ability to lead make any difference? Or is prayer all that really mattes?
Just as some of us can mistakenly believe that prayer doesn’t make a difference, there’s a danger for others of us to mistakenly believe that prayer is all that really matters.
THERE ARE OTHER FACTORS AT PLAY
According to the Bible, there seems to be up to four different factors at play in any given situation. These are…
1. God (and his angels)
2. Satan (and his demons)
Understanding how these all work together is complicated, but the following framework might be of help…
One possible way to try and make sense of all of this is to imagine the world like a giant high school classroom where…
> The teacher represents God.
> The students represent humans.
> The class bullies represent Satan and his demons.
The student’s success in the classroom is heavily affected by their individual performance. Regardless of what they believe about the origins of the classroom, or how much they like the teacher, the same principles of success apply to each of them.
This is why unbelievers can still be very successful. It’s not just about prayer. It’s not just about what God does on our behalf. God has designed the world in such a way so that wisdom, skill and work ethic all play a very significant role in our success…
> Wisdom Matters
“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you… Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you” (Proverbs 4:6-8).
> Skill Matters
“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings” (Proverbs 22:29). “If the axe is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success” (Ecclesiastes 10:10).
> Work Ethic Matters
“How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:9-11).
RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHERS
The student’s success in the classroom is also very much affected by their relationship with other students. If they are willing to treat others well, they are much more likely to make friends and find ways to help each other.
In the Bible we see this played out over and over again. David would never have survived if it was not for Jonathan. Paul would never have been accepted by the Christians he once persecuted if it was not for Barnabas.
When Jesus sent His disciples out on mission, He intentionally sent them out in twos. When Paul and Barnabas were on mission and decided to go their separate ways, they didn’t just head off alone. Barnabas took John-Mark with him while Paul recruited Titus.
Those who succeed the most are those help each other succeed.
> Working with Others Matters
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
In the classroom, we find the teacher giving guidance to the students in a number of different ways…
Firstly, the teacher takes the initiative to give general instructions to all students. These instructions are for our good. And sometimes the teacher will reward those who follow them and discipline those who don’t.
Secondly, the teacher sometimes takes the initiative to give specific instructions to individual students. Sometimes they will just reinforce what’s already been said. Other times they will give the student further instructions not given to the rest of the class.
Thirdly, at any time that the student feels like they need further guidance, they can simply put their hand up and ask the teacher for more instruction.
This is why Christians need to listen to what the Bible says, be open to specific instructions that God might have for their life, and at times seek God for further guidance.
> The Bible Matters
“Whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:25).
> Being open to Specific Guidance Matters
“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city’. So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God” (Acts 18:9-11).
> Asking for Specific Guidance Matters
“David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?’ he asked. The Lord said, ‘Go up.’ David asked, ‘Where shall I go?’ ‘To Hebron’ the Lord answered” (2 Samuel 2:1).
THE ACTIVITY OF GOD
The teacher’s role in the classroom is by far the most powerful. Their role isn’t just to give the students instructions, it’s also to do whatever they can to help the students succeed. The teacher does this in a number of ways…
Firstly, the teacher often roams the class and looks to help the students who are working. Sometimes they will take the initiative to sit down with the student and do some of the work for them. Sometimes they will orchestrate circumstances to give the student more chance of success. Sometimes they will help them succeed by giving them opportunities to go further.
Secondly, the teacher will respond to any student who raises their hand and calls out for help. And the more often a student asks for help, the more they will receive help.
This is why it is so important for Christians to constantly be seeking first the kingdom of God, whilst at the same time be praying for God to work on their behalf.
> Seeking First God’s Kingdom Matters
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
> Asking God to Work on our Behalf Matters
“You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).
In the classroom, we also find that there are bullies who seem determined to do everything they can to destroy the student’s lives. And although the teacher may at times interfere and stop the bully from attacking before they make their move, it is much more common for the teacher to act once the student cries out for help.
This is why the Bible says that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). It goes onto say that Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). And that he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Satan has far more power and is far more involved than many Christians realize. He and his demons have the power to…
1. HINDER GOD’S WORK
“For we wanted to come to you-certainly I, Paul, did, again and again-but Satan blocked our way” (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
2. LIE & DECEIVE
“I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
3. DESTROY & KILL
“A messenger came to Job and said… ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!'” (Job 1:9-19).
This is why Christians must engage in spiritual warfare…
> Resisting the Devil Matters
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
> Praying against Satanic Opposition Matters
“After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer'” (Mark 9:28-29).