Everyone Can Do Something

You may have heard the saying, “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” This was certainly true of the Hebrews who had returned to Jerusalem from exile and were led by Nehemiah to rebuild the broken walls.

The entire third chapter of Nehemiah lists family after family and details which section of the wall each family worked on. When it became apparent that the people needed to be vigilant against military threats while they did the work, they divided up responsibilities and worked twice as hard.

Nehemiah says, “I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.  When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: ‘Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.’”

No individual family in Israel could have rebuilt the wall or protected the city in the meantime. It was only possible because so many individuals stepped up and did their part. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Sometimes, like Elijah when he despaired before God that he had failed as a prophet, we feel like we have to do everything ourselves or face utter failure. The truth is that if we each do what we are individually capable of, God’s kingdom can thrive and grow.

At other times, we may feel that whatever we can personally contribute to the kingdom is so insignificant that it is essentially worthless. We must be reminded of what Jesus said about a poor widow who gave two small coins to the Lord: ‘Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.’”

The job of Elijah was not to singlehandedly restore God’s nation to righteousness all on his own. He simply had to be faithful and do his part, and God would raise up 7,000 others to help him. The job of the poor widow was not to climb the corporate ladder and give large sums of money each year to charity. She simply had to live her own life and use her own resources in a way that glorified God.

No single person who reads this article can fix the whole world or do all of the work in the kingdom. But each of us can live our lives in a way that makes the world a better place. We can use our lives as votes for justice, righteousness, and truth. We can treat others the way that we would want to be treated.

In the parable of the talents, the man with only one talent did not get in trouble because he only had one talent. He got in trouble because he did not use it.

Maybe you are good at talking to strangers and acquaintances about God, or conducting Bible studies. Maybe you have a gift for speaking the truth in love and holding your brothers and sisters accountable when they stray. Maybe you are good at preaching or teaching, or at encouraging others with smiles, kind words, food, cards, visits, or phone calls. Maybe you have a passion for acts of service and charity. Maybe you can give a lot of money.

Maybe some days you do not feel like you are good at any of those things. Sometimes we can be our own worst critics. But what God asks of us, and what He asked of the families mentioned in Nehemiah, and what He asked of Elijah, and of the poor widow with the two little coins, is that we just do what we can. If we all do that, great things will happen.

Elijah’s Discouragement

The Bible introduces us to the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17, and we are immediately left with the impression that he is a bold and powerful man of God. The story begins with Elijah declaring to the king of Israel, “surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”

Elijah’s following actions include raising up a widow’s son from a terminal illness, mocking 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah as they stand by in embarrassment, calling down fire from heaven on an altar to the true God, and personally slaying the prophets of Baal who flee when public opinion turns against them.

There is not much that could be considered a sign of weakness in Elijah through these impressive events. He seems larger than life. But then things change suddenly.

“Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.’ And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.’” (1 Kings 19:1-4)

It seems like Elijah had held it together as long as he could. He had tried to stand strong and turn the people to God in a country that had completely gone astray. But he saw no fruit from his efforts, and he saw no one to help him, and he saw no reason to go on. He just wanted to die.

Thus Elijah journeyed forty days into the wilderness to seek God’s answer to this situation. God’s answer must have been so reassuring. He tells Elijah to go and anoint Hazael and Jehu as new kings and Elisha as a new prophet to carry on his work when he is gone.

“…It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:15-18)

Elijah may have felt like all of his efforts had been for nothing, and that death was preferable to more of his worthless, lonely striving. But that was not the truth of the situation. He was doing an important work in a very difficult time for Israel, and there were others, who he had not considered or perhaps had never even met, who were ready to work alongside him and take over when his time really was finished. Though Elijah had said in verse 14, “I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away,” there were actually 7,000 others who were also faithful to God.

Do not be discouraged when your genuine efforts seem unfruitful. It could be that, like Elijah, you are doing an important work simply by carrying on the tradition that many others, who you may never have even met, will carry on.

The Spiritual Realities of Day to Day Life

The prophecy of Malachi is presented as a conversation between God and His people. In this conversation, God makes several statements and several accusations that the people are skeptical of, leading them to ask the following questions in their unbelief:

  • How have you loved us?
  • How have we despised your name?
  • How have we polluted you?
  • Why does He not regard our offering?
  • How have we wearied Him?
  • How shall we return?
  • How have we robbed you?
  • What have we spoken against you?

These questions are spoken in an incredulous tone, as though the people have no idea what God is talking about. God’s responses to their resentful questions revealed that all kinds of circumstances in their daily lives had a spiritual significance that they have not considered.

  • Though they were unaware of it, their prosperity and their invitation to be God’s special people was a manifestation of His love for them.
  • Though they do not think of it in such a way, their casual practice of giving God their leftovers rather than their best was really an insult on their part towards God.
  • Their sinful lifestyles and selfish decisions were separating them from God with consequences that they would not have imagined.
  • Their attitude of envying the wicked and considering righteous living as burdensome was a wearying accusation that they were bringing to God.

And yet the people saw none of this in their daily lives: God’s love, their disrespect, the spiritual damage that resulted from their foolishness, etc. The spiritual realities of life were lost on them.

Do we recognize the spiritual significance of the happenings in out lives? Do we consider every good thing to be a gift from Him, or is it merely “good luck” when we prosper? Are our sins perceived as private matters with no long term consequences, or do we recognize the damaging ripple effects they can have on our lives and the lives of those around us?

2 Kings 6:17 says “Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

Could it be that our lives are full of “horses and chariots of fire” and many other wonders that are only recognized by those who are spiritual?

God conveys both His love and His discipline to us day by day, whether we take the time to listen or not, and we convey either insults or gratitude to Him in return, whether we do so intentionally or without a second thought. God would have us to open our eyes to those realities.

God Acknowledges Our Suffering

To be human means to be capable of suffering.

Those who have experienced chronic pain, clinical depression, or serious illnesses of any sort are all too familiar with this fact. In many cases, the sufferer is surrounded by individuals who are not so familiar with suffering and whose best advice seems just about useless if not upsetting.

The scriptures don’t offer magical incantations or curt advice. The Bible does, however, acknowledge the situation. If you’re like me, you appreciate it when your sacrifices or difficulties are at least acknowledged rather than undermined or ignored.

God acknowledges that people suffer bitterly.

Elijah prayed earnestly to God that he might die right then and there. (1st Kings 19:3-5)

David drenched his pillow with tears as he cried at night. (Psalm 6:6-7)

Job spends the entire 26 verses of Job chapter 3 cursing the day he was born. He asks:

“Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me
and breasts that I might be nursed?
For now I would be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep and at rest.”

God could have left these accounts out of His word if He had wanted to ignore the reality of our pain.

God’s word also acknowledges that cheap advice is frustrating and doesn’t work. The book of Job contains almost 30 chapters of Job’s friends providing useless and accusatory suggestions instead of gently supporting him. At the end of the book, Job’s friends are asking him to pray for them because of their foolishness.

Paul, whose suffering included numerous severe beatings, lashings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and physical ailments (2 Corinthians 11:23-29, Galatians 4:13) did not offer any cute little pieces of advice, but he did give us some hope to hold onto:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Corinthians 8:18)

Crown of Thorns