Projects and Promises

“God, if You don’t want to control everything I do, and I can’t control what You do, then what is our relationship good for, anyway?”

Controlling God.
I was pondering how my prayers don’t really tend to impact too much what God does. That after I prayed that the cold would stop. (I woke up this morning to a day that never pulled its way above freezing.) It occurred to me that a lot of my prayers seem to go unanswered. So many have come true, though.

Imagine. “Prayer coming true.” What a phrase. It’s almost like a wish. I used to know kids who would start their prayers with “I hope…” instead of “I ask…”. I tried to explain that they were using the wrong format; you don’t tell God you hope He does something; you ask Him to do it. But maybe that makes the disappointment easier to handle – you told God you hoped He’d do something, but He doesn’t.

Instead of asking God straight-up, we tell Him how we hope things will turn out. That way He’s not obligated to accept or reject our requests, and us with them. ‘Cause let’s be honest, we all have at least one thing we asked for that God answered no. Suffice it to say, our prayers don’t control God.

God Controlling Us.
With that thought about not being able to control God with my prayers came another one: God doesn’t control me. If He did, I would be a robot. All my teenage dreams about God magically taking the steering wheel of my life would have come true. If only God would take the wheel, I used to pray.But He never did override my free will.

To be honest, He rarely even ordered me around. The closest I ever got to a call was when I asked, “God, could I work at Jumonville?” and He replied. And even that wasn’t a command. It was an invitation, something I could have walked away from if I decided I wanted to continue to live the empty life I was living. So often, I asked God for specific instructions… and though my human father would have given them to me (“Pray and ask God. Clean your room. Read a Christian biography”), and would have been thrilled if I had asked Him, my heavenly Father never really handed out specific orders of what I was supposed to do.

The most specific orders I’ve gotten are by triangulation: God said to help the poor, and there’s a homeless man walking the streets in the cold. He’s never looking over my shoulder to make sure I”m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, either. It’s almost like He wants me to be free. Suffice it to say, God does not seem very interested in ordering me about and telling me exactly what to do in all circumstances.

Back to the Beginning.
Those thoughts found me praying on my walk to class, “God, if You don’t want to control everything I do, and I can’t control what You do, then what is our relationship good for, anyway?” It’s strange. and sickeningly revealing. It tells me about both God and myself.

It says that I expect that any kind of relationship to authority is supposed to be about either manipulating the authority figure into giving you what you want them to give you, or about following their orders. But God, in refusing to either be manipulated or look over my shoulder, refusing to control me or be controlled, tells me that there’s something wrong with my notions. That there’s more to authority relationships than I understand.

Teach me, God.

When God shows up in the Bible, he often either hands out orders or gifts. He renders justice, makes things right. He delivers from death.

Abraham and Sarah got a baby they’d given up hoping for.  Abram got a commission to Go West, Young Man. A promise, and a project.

Noah got blueprints on how to save himself and all life on earth. A project and a promise.

Joseph got a dream of grandeur and a pit filled with a couple decades of enslavement: A project, and a promise.

God found Jacob by the rocks and gave Him a promise, but gave him nothing in the projects department. I guess God figured Jake had enough projects of His own to keep him busy for a good long time.

Moses got His promise and project together at the burning bush.

Joshua accepted the project and got the promise. Caleb believed the promise and lived long enough to accept the project that was promised.

Rahab took the project in exchange for a promise from God’s people.

Barak didn’t believe the promise Deborah brought him, so she went with him on the project.

Ehud simply saw a project that needed done, and got it done without a promise.

Gideon wouldn’t have gotten off his butt to do the project without the promise.

Samson prayed for a promise so he could complete the project.

Ruth hoped God’s promised blessings would find her too if she went with Naomi. And as it happened, Boaz never saw her as a project, just a promise.

Hannah offered a promise in exchange for a promise. God, always one for making deals, said yes.

God gave Samuel a promise and a project at the same time.

David wasn’t so lucky. His promise and project were the same, and promises can seem shaky when you’re running for your life.

Esther took the project she feared destiny had given her, without so much as anything that even looked like a promise.

Job got neither a promise nor a project.

Tobit took the project in hopes of the promise.

Jonah rejected the project because he didn’t like the promise.

For Mary, the promise was itself the project.

For Peter on the stormy sea, the project was His idea. The promise was Jesus’ invitation.

The promise to the centurion was to see Jesus, the promise was that his servant would be healed. The project was to go home and find it true.

For Philip on the desert road, the project wasn’t clear until the promise was fulfilled.

Paul’s promise was grace, and his project was sharing it.

It’s funny how the stories make things clearer.

A Word After
Stories always help clear things up. It’s funny… there were no two stories exactly alike. It’s also funny because I think as Christians we tend to think that Paul’s promise and project is the only one that any Christian ever gets. And it’s easy to understand where we would get this misconception, because we’re taught from Sunday School up about the great commission and the Romans road. We forget that God has done so many other things, saved so many people in so many different ways, and been at work in the world. God is so original and unique and creative in the way He works in everyone’s lives. He has no cookie-cutter kids.

So that leaves us back at the question we started with: “God, if You don’t want to control everything I do, and I can’t control what You do, then what is our relationship good for, anyway?” Except that now, the question barely seems relevant to the subject matter. God will not be controlled. Jesus came to bring us life, and life abundant. Jacob’s promise came without a project. Some stories found characters without projects or promises changing the world, like David stumbling onto Goliath.

Purpose is a pipe dream.
Live with your eyes, heart, arms, and mouth wide open.
Jesus is hiding in plain sight everywhere.
It’s hide and seek.

You’re it.

About David M. Schell





2 responses to “Projects and Promises”

  1. jayebird40 Avatar

    LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Good insights there, King David. (Ha-ha! At first I misspelled that as Godd insights, and it’s that, too!) You’re catching on to freedom and authority and love and grace – good stuff!!!!!!
    Loved the promise/project comparison – lots of work went into that, and very clever. 🙂

  2. DaveSchell Avatar

    Thanks! …Then I probably shouldn’t tell you that the promise / project comparison was actually… pretty easy. I just ran down the list of Bible characters I knew along with their stories haha. Love ya!

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