I received a circular email today from a church planter who has written several helpful books on house church. He used to be a high school teacher; now I think he writes for a living. His name is Frank Viola.
In the email he sent out today, Frank listed three failures in 2014. He had failed to work out three times a week, failed to lose inches off his waist, and failed to read four books by now.
Next, Frank listed “My Successes So Far.” He prefaced the list with this: “(I attribute all success to the Lord. So these are really “praise reports.”)”
I immediately lost interest in Frank’s successes as I tripped over the much larger question that was now begging for my attention: So let me get this straight. If Frank is right, then he must take full responsibility for his failures and no credit whatsoever for his successes?
Frank Viola is by no means the first Christian brother or sister I have heard say this sort of thing. Within the last year, I can safely say I have heard something quite similar from half-a-dozen of my Christian friends. Some of them will blurt out with great happiness a description of some wonderful thing they accomplished, but then very quickly catch themselves to say that of course they give the Lord full credit for it, taking none for themselves.
“Why not?” I feel compelled to ask.
I get it when it comes to failures; I’m quite happy to take credit for mine, all the multiple truckloads of them. But would God not want me to take any credit for success? Is there something in the mind or will of God that insists that I give him all credit for every good thing I accomplish while taking all the blame for my failures?
Doesn’t the parable of the talents suggest that even God commends us when we have done right (without first requiring us to give Him credit for it)? “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25.21).
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem giving God credit for the amazing grace that God has poured out on me and plenty of other people too. I can take no credit for saving myself, no credit for being forgiven of all my sins, and no credit for the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. But if God chooses to so manifest His grace in me, do I not have to agree to be so used? Do I not, as Paul put it in Romans 12, have to offer my body as a living sacrifice?
I don’t know. Maybe I am reacting against what I see as a false humility in those who must so quickly give God all the credit for the good while taking all the credit for the bad. I rather like what Job said to his wife: “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” That’s a tough statement and I think it says something about a relationship with God that has a few wrinkles and twists in it. As I think mine does, at least at times.
This is probably just something I have to work through. Some might say that my strong reaction to the professed humility of others suggests that I have a real problem with pride. Maybe so. But until God lets me see it I will continue to be as irritated by this as by a fingernail dragged across a chalkboard.