Monthly Archives: April 2009

Working Together Works If .

Blind Faith (No. 18, 2009(

Think of your computer as a community of applications working together. Each program has unique capabilities to perform a defined set of tasks. When the different programs fulfill their own purposes and share the computer’s resources (memory, processors, ports and peripherals), work can be done efficiently and often creatively.

I am not very proficient either as a software technician or as a computer hardware engineer. My experience is entirely with PC computers, with no exposure at all to the Mac family. Readers who are more advanced geeks may assail my understanding of computers and object to my community metaphor, but I will stick with it for now.

When I am writing these devotionals, I usually depend on a diverse community of computer programs to work well together. Having 5 or 6 applications open as I write is the usual case. I have a Bible program with 14 translations, of which I may have 6-8 running in order to select the one I find emphasizing its message best for the theme of the devotional. Internet Explorer is always there, often with several tabs open for verifying facts, consulting Bible translations I can access only online, or for checking a dictionary or thesaurus. Word is running, of course, for doing the actual writing. Outlook is up for distributing the finished product. For my work, I also have Window-Eyes, the screen reading program that reads it all to me. When they all work nicely together, life is lovely.

Lately, all has not been sweetness and light in Computer World. The community inside my desktop has been acting boorishly toward one another. The conflict appears to have begun when I changed Internet service providers. The new service came – as most do – with an installation CD. Running the set-up for e-mail and Internet access also loaded 5 or 6 new programs onto my computer. Apparently, they were the rabble rousers! The programs seem to run in the background, monitoring the performance of other applications and suggesting from time to time how the others can do their jobs better. All this background clutter and intermittent tips and reports appear to consume huge quantities of the computer’s resources. Tasks that I was accustomed to taking a second or two might take minutes, if they were accomplished at all. Simply typing along often caused the computer to stop talking to me, and the application in which I was working to freeze up. Clicking to open an e-mail message or to go to a web link sometimes exited Outlook or Internet Explorer. It seemed like programs were vying for superiority, each demanding that its operations should have priority over anything else that was running. The community, itself, was in chaos, and it became more and more frustrating for me to have anything to do with it. Several times, I just had to turn away from the desktop community, since my laptop community was far more congenial to one another and to me.

Failure to work together in the computer community might help us to evaluate how people work together in communities like the church. I imagine the community inside my computer populated with a variety of gifted applications, each with a valuable gift to employ to accomplish many complex tasks. When each does its own work and shares resources with other programs running simultaneously, the results can be productive. Let one or more program begin to insist on its top billing, or to begin interfering with other programs doing their work, and little work gets done. Do these scenarios sound familiar to anything you have seen among a community of believers who are charged with doing the Lord’s work?

One of the clearest Bible passages giving principles of how followers of Christ should work together is Romans 12. After Paul has written 11 chapters of exquisite theological explication, telling all that God has done for us in Jesus, he turns to some practical instructions for God’s people to live together in community and to share in God’s work of salvation.

Because God has given me a special gift, I have something to say to everyone among you. Do not think you are better than you are. You must decide what you really are by the amount of faith God has given you. {4} Each one of us has a body with many parts, and these parts all have different uses. {5} In the same way, we are many, but in Christ we are all one body. Each one is a part of that body, and each part belongs to all the other parts. {6} We all have different gifts, each of which came because of the grace God gave us….

9} Your love must be real. Hate what is evil, and hold on to what is good. {10} Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves…. {16} Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Do not think how smart you are…. {18} Do your best to live in peace with everyone. (Romans 12:3-6, 9-10, 16, 18 NCV)

For the sake of quoting the passage more succinctly, I left out several verses in which Paul calls on believers to do specific tasks for which they have been entrusted with spiritual gifts. The fact is everyone has a different set of God-given gifts that are designed for accomplishing God’s work. If people with differing gifts work amicably together, the task of sharing God’s grace with each other and with the surrounding world can be accomplished. It is often remarkable what God can do through us when we do our own work and share together, rather than claiming superiority over others and trying to tell them better ways to do the work for which they were created.

Even followers of Jesus fall into the trap of clamoring for top billing in serving the Lord. When we find someone else doing something that we are sure can be done better another way (or by me!), we tend to rush in and try to take charge, often consuming limited resources of time and energy in simply having our own way, not in doing God’s work. Instead, surprisingly positive results might be gained by affirming the other person’s willingness to serve God and the community, and perhaps asking if we can help in any way. We can then get our work for the Lord done, allow the others to add their unique contribution, and praise God together for the wonderful gifts we have enjoyed using and the work of sharing the grace of Christ we have accomplished.

My computer community has experienced genuine revival, and all seem to be working together smoothly again. Followers of Jesus have no tech support or other remedy for contentious functioning except to do as Paul counsels, and especially as Jesus said: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV)

That is far too much to ask of a computer program, but it is the exact essence of living as a truly committed follower of Jesus.

J. Edward Culpepper, Ph.D.