Doing Nothing

We’ve all heard the humorous tale about the man stuck on a rooftop during a flood, asking God for help. Three rescue attempts are made to save him, but he declines every offer because he’s waiting for God to save him. Eventually, the floodwaters rise and the man drowns. When he arrives in heaven, he tells God “I had faith in you and you didn’t save me!” God points out that He made three attempts to save the man, but each offer was declined. What more could God do?

I’ve always enjoyed this story because it illustrates how God shows up in unexpected ways to help us. I was reminded of this recently when a friend called to share his bleak experience of finding a job during the worst economic recession in generations. He’d been laid off at a time when the US reported thirty three million people had filed for unemployment benefit. I listened sympathetically to the litany of crushing disappointments my friend had endured and the humiliation he suffered at being spurned for roles he’d once considered an anathema. It was clear he’d hit a new low.

As our conversation continued, my friend deliberated the consequences of doing nothing and letting God find him a job. At least it would put an end to the on-going misery of investing time and energy making applications, only to be met with rejection. After all, wasn’t the underlying message in “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10) about God stepping in where human effort failed? As much as I commiserated with my friend’s predicament, I feared doing nothing was simply abdicating responsibility. I urged him to persevere, promising that a breakthrough was inevitable. Unfortunately, my friend couldn’t be dissuaded and we finished the call on a disheartening note.

Later, I reflected on the conversation and realised how easy it is to encourage others to press on, when sitting comfortably in the security of employment. It wasn’t difficult to fall into a pit of despair when grim economic forecasts heightened anxiety, with each passing day. But, what jarred with me about my friend’s decision was that it ran counter to my beliefs about God. I fervently believe God wants us to face our fears so we can transcend them, rather than run away from them. Otherwise, we’re destined to keep repeating the same patterns.

Of course, there have been times in my life, when I too decided to do nothing, but only when guided by God. The difference in my approach was that my decision was founded on free choice, not resignation and despair because I no longer had the stomach for the fight. But did that make a difference? What if God didn’t care about the motives which led people to Him, and simply rejoiced at the knock on the door? Who was I to judge what mattered to God? Chagrined, I picked up the phone to call my friend and tell him that doing nothing wasn’t an abdication of responsibility. It was simply an act of faith.

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