I’ve been listening to an audio edition of Church History in Plain Language on my commute for the last couple of weeks (it’s a long book). A few days back, I was listening to the events of the Catholic Reformation,[1. The response to the Protestant Reformation.] and specifically the founding of the Jesuits, the society of monks formed by Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius caught my attention, in part because of his evangelistic zeal and devout spiritualism. He cared about communion with God, about the pursuit of holiness, and the spreading the Roman Catholic faith.
But for all his zeal, he struck me as hopeless, largely because his vision of the Christian life is empty. “Pray as though everything depended on God alone” he advised. “But act as though it depended on you alone whether you will be saved.”
We’ve heard different versions of this co-opted with an evangelical spin, but the point remains the same: despite the call to prayer, it’s all up to you. Sola bootstrappa, y’all.
But the Scriptures call us to something better. To pray and to act as though everything depends on God. Because it does. When God called the Israelites to take the Promised Land, it was he that would fight for them (see Deuteronomy 31:8). Before David struck down Goliath, he declared that “The Lord will hand you over to me” (1 Samuel 17:46). When Paul called the Philippians to obey and work out their own salvation, it was with the knowledge that God was at work within them “both to will and to work according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). I could list more examples, like 2 Chronicles 20:17, Deuteronomy 20:4, and Isaiah 41:10, but I think you get the idea.
The Lord is not absent in our working. We don’t get prayed up and then go do everything out of our own effort. We work, yes. We struggle, yes. We strive, yes, especially in the context of growing in our faith. Becoming more like Jesus, growing in holiness, takes work. But in all our work, God is before us, in us, and working through us. That’s the point of what Kevin DeYoung once described as “grace-driven, Spirit-empowered, faith-fueled work.”
So maybe a better piece of advice would be to pray as though everything depended on God alone, and act as though it depended on God, too. Because it does. And work like that will be completed. You can count on it.