As church planters or disciple-makers we may too readily think our job is all about problem solving—there are plenty of problems to be solved. While Scripture is the foundation for all, we often find ourselves studying theology, apologetics, business strategy, sociology, psychology, politics, and historical movements. We seek to gain knowledge from the prolific theologians who have gone before us. And we search for fresh insights from current leaders who might be described as dynamic, catalytic, or innovative. We must stay familiar with the shifting statistics and demographics of our particular context to be faithful missionaries. We may also feel compelled to stay relevant by following the ever-changing hot topics and headlines. That’s already a lot, but we still have to contextualize all of it based on our familiarity with our region, our city, our church, and our neighborhood. Then we must not forget appropriate nuance in everything we communicate; because otherwise, the job can quickly shift from abstract problem solving to emotionally charged conflict management. 

With a clearly articulated vision, we may finally create a strategy to address the problems we set out to solve. Of course, we also need to remain loyal to the values that define us and the stated mission of our church. Then, we set goals to lead us and develop metrics to determine if our problem solving plan is effective. It’s worth mentioning that this process often reveals a new list of issues discovered along the way that we hadn’t initially considered. Moreover, there are still people to pastor, events to coordinate, and decisions to make outside of any singular problem to solve. If this all seems a bit overwhelming, that’s because it is. Perhaps, that’s because strategizing to solve problems is the wrong place to begin. 

First, plan to rest in Jesus. 

I should mention I deeply value research and content. I enjoy thinking deeply and brainstorming with others. If problem solving were a spiritual gift, I’d say I have it. I also regularly participate in the developmental process described above in my own church planting efforts and in coaching others. However, I think we often get so caught up in the good work of strategizing that we restlessly labor to build in vain (Psalm 127:1-2). The work is not worth doing unless we first surrender everything to the Lord. Too easily we dream of achieving great things and quickly become preoccupied with reaching beyond our human limits with haughty eyes and anxious hearts, but we ought to rest in the arms of the Lord like a child (Psalm 131:1-2). I don’t believe there is a limit to the ways or frequency we ought to pause and surrender ourselves. Not dependent on our strategizing but in all our ways we’re trusting ourselves to Him (Prov. 3:6). Before each step we take, in every word we speak, with each inhale and exhale we breathe—surrender.  

One of the most thoughtful and brilliant minds in history was the African church father Augustine of Hippo. After searching society to gain wisdom and satisfaction in his adolescence, he came to know the goodness of God and penned this confession to the Lord, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” This simple yet profound poetic insight comes with the weighty revelation that all of humanity is on an insatiable quest for something more than what we have. We anxiously toil searching for rest, some with noble cause, but nothing satisfies apart from resting in God. We may work, but we must rest in the finished work of Jesus.

Saved by grace to work by grace.  

There is a fleeting sweetness to the thought of resting in the Lord when we anxiously anticipate returning to work. Indeed, there is work to be done, and it is ours to do, but we need not be restless (Matt. 11:28-30). The great sage Dallas Willard wrote “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” Such a clarifying thought. Our rest is by the grace of God, but this is not a pass to be lazy or complacent. However, without wisdom this idea may be weaponized to shame us into productivity when we actually need to first rest in grace. It’s not meant to be an encouragement to restlessly grind until we burn out; rather, all of our effort arises from the grace in which we rest. Our efforts are in reverence for how the Spirit of God is working in and through us (Phil. 2:12-13). 

Surely we believe this in quiet mornings when all is well, but as soon as we’re faced with a problem to solve, our autonomous search for solutions kicks in. We typically only care to consider options within our control and comprehension. But no matter our circumstance, the secret is to remember we can do all things through the strength we gain in Jesus (Phil 4:12-13). We think too big of ourselves if we think we can solve all the problems apart from surrender to the Spirit of God. But we think too small of ourselves if we don’t set out to participate in the impossible work of reconciliation having been filled and empowered by the Spirit to do so.

So do we rest or do we work? Yes. 

Rest in Jesus. Work in Jesus. These thoughts are not opposed to one another. Rather, we discover our working is transformed once we surrender to the Lord. We labor and strive with His energy (Col. 1:29). The life we now live, we live in Him (Gal. 2:20). We love the Lord with all the strength we put towards all we do (Mark 12:30). Our thinking and planning is renewed by His Spirit as we give our lives to Him (Rom. 12:1-2). Our application of the knowledge gained is no longer fueled by selfish ambition, but we gain wisdom from above to do the work that is pleasing to Him (James 3:13-18). 

We may be church planters and disciple-makers, but the prerequisite is not the skill of an entrepreneur; it is taking up our cross daily in surrender to Jesus. May we put to death any quest to gain the world through our strategizing, and instead, discover a life worth living and a work worth doing in surrender to Jesus (Luke 9:23-25). 

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