Thursday, June 19, 2008

Operating in a Vacuum

Even as a rerun, the TV show ER captures my interest like few others do. The other day the character Peter Benton was assisting in pediatric surgery with another surgeon he was trying to impress. As they worked, Peter inquired about one of his residents who had also worked with this pediatric surgeon. She assured him the resident was doing excellent work. Peter agreed, and remarked on the resident’s ability to interact well with people. Knowing his tendency to only criticize, the pediatric surgeon encouraged Peter to tell the resident what he had just shared with her. “Tell him what he is doing right,” she urged. “It is too easy to get discouraged in a vacuum.”

What wise words. It is easy to get discouraged in a vacuum. We all crave positive feedback. We doubt our work or abilities without constant confirmation. It is a part of human nature. While I was in seminary, we often shared our grades on papers and exams with each other. Our need for confirmation drove us to make public what really should have remained a private matter.

For a writer, the need for confirmation is only rarely met. We toil over an article, send it off, and then the wait begins. More often than not, eventually a terse form letter is the response we get, informing us that our article “does not need their editorial needs at that time.” Most discouraging of all is the process of trying to publish a book. My manuscript has been rejected 14 times, and every one of them made me doubt my ability to write. Desperate for encouragement, I find myself clinging to anything positive a publisher has to say about my work. Yes, it is easy to get discouraged in a vacuum.

Yet when we know the Lord, this perceived vacuum does not really exist. Believers do not operate in a vacuum.

When the Israelites stood poised to enter the Promised Land after forty years in the desert, Moses once again reiterated the promises of God. Moses assured them that the victory would be theirs, because God would be the One fighting their battles for them. “Be strong and courageous,” Moses urged the people. “Do not be afraid or tremble at [the enemy], for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” God had called them to do this overwhelming thing. But He did not send them in with a pat on the back and a “good luck”. He went ahead of them, with them, and behind them. Their success would be because of Him. They were not operating in a vacuum.

Jacob left his home in fear for his life. He had deceived his father into giving him the blessing that was due his older brother, Esau. Esau was furious at what had been taken from him, and he planned to kill Jacob once their old, ailing father had died. Many years had passed since Jacob had made his escape, and now God was directing him to return home. “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you,” God assured him. Jacob would not have to operate in a vacuum.

Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery. I can’t imagine the heartache that Joseph struggled with as he served in Potiphar’s household. But Joseph was not operating in a vacuum. Genesis 39:3 tells us “his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand.”

Account after account in Scripture reiterates the same truth over and over again: God will faithfully remain with us and will enable us to fulfill our calling. We do not operate in a vacuum. He expects us to go in His strength, with His guidance. He will prepare the way for us.

So what is our part in all this? To be faithful to Him. We must dwell in His presence, and we must trust in His goodness. When He calls, we must boldly step out in faith, because He is faithful. Our confidence cannot rest in our own ability, but in Him. We do not go alone. We do not operate in a vacuum.


Dave said...

"While I was in seminary..."


Certain people would always want to know grades, but I never saw the point. I guess I had enough competition against myself. Hope you are having a great summer!

Anonymous said...

I was always in competition with myself, but we really didn't share our grades too much. A couple of classmates asked for guidance on a couple of papers, but nobody got too nosy.
Anyway, just dropped by to say I got my ears on and signed up for Dogwood Digest. Going to FWD it to my friend in NJ. Have a good one and see you Sunday!


Linda said...

Hmmm. Not sure about the example of the Israelites entering the Promised Land. We glibly read "they wandered in the desert for forty years" as if it took as little time to live it as it took us to say it. But I'd say forty years is a pretty good approximation of something that might feel a lot like a vacuum--when it's not feeling like a vendetta.

Just a comment.