Letting go of the idea that “we’ve got to do it all”


In N.T. Wright’s commentary on John 21:1-14, which I’m preaching on tomorrow, he notices that Jesus already has fish on the grill (see v. 9) as the disciples are bringing their miraculous catch of 153 fish to him.

But then there comes an interesting little exchange. Jesus is already cooking fish and bread on the charcoal fire. He doesn’t need their catch. He is well capable of looking after himself (though what ‘needs’ his risen body now has are past our comprehension). John, describing this scene, isn’t wasting words. He isn’t filling in time. John never pads out stories. He is telling us something, something about working under Jesus’ direction, something about the relation of our work to his.

How dreadfully easy it is for Christian workers to get the impression that we’ve got to do it all. God, we imagine, is waiting passively for us to get on with things. If we don’t organize it, it won’t happen. If we don’t tell people the good news, they won’t hear it. If we don’t change the world, it won’t be changed. ‘He has no hands but our hands’, we are sometimes told.

What a load of rubbish. Whose hands made the sun rise this morning? Whose breath guided us to think, and pray, and love, and hope? Who is the Lord of the world, anyway? We may be given the holy spirit to enable us to work for Jesus; but the holy breath is not independent of the master who breathes it out, of the sovereign God, the creator. Neither the institutional church nor its individual members can upstage him. Jesus welcomes Peter’s catch. He asks him to bring some of it. But he doesn’t, in that sense, need it.[1]

This is a helpful insight to me, a pastor, who often feels as if the weight of the world—or at least that tiny portion of the world within a few miles’ radius of my church—is on my shoulders.

1. N.T. Wright, John for Everyone, Part Two (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 159-60.

5 thoughts on “Letting go of the idea that “we’ve got to do it all””

  1. This is a very interesting topic. I am underwhelmed by the “let go and let God” teaching. At the same time, we have to recognize that, “Without me, you could do nothing.” So, I think we have to contribute something, but count on God to make that into an “increase.”

    A picture I came up with is that of a midget standing before a ten-foot sheer wall, with no way to get to the other side. Along comes Shaq, who lifts him up. Now he can get over, but, what? He still has to do the scampering over. So, without Shaq, he could do nothing. But even with Shaq, he still must do something. (Substitute God.)

    Peter was given “the keys to the Kingdom.” Whatever he loosed on earth would be loosed in Heaven. Also, “Go, ye.” Simultaneously, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest, that he will send laborers.”

    Sometime, or more than once, I have heard the expression, “Put feet to your prayers.” God directs and empowers, yet he chooses to use us to accomplish his ends. I recall Mordecai’s words to Esther. “If salvation does not come through you, it will come from somewhere else. But you and your house will perish. But who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for just such a time as this.”

    So, I guess the old adage is helpful: “Pray as though it was all up to God. Work as though it all depended on you.”

    1. The next paragraph of his commentary begins with him saying, “Of course we are to work hard…” It’s a question of emphasis.

  2. I think an answer can be found in the story of the Talents. The Master expects us to use the talents we have to increase His kingdom. Some will bring much to the final accounting, and some will bring less. But, all should be able to say “I did my best”, so that He can say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

    1. Excellent reference and point, Grant. Although we of course give God honor and praise for the many things He does, I rather think He is looking at or for what WE do.

      1. Oh for sure! It’s all for the glory of God.

        That’s why we exist; “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”.

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