A popular worship song, entitled Make Room encourages believers to surrender, to sacrifice their own interests in the interest of the kingdom. The chorus contains these words:
And I’ll make room for you
To do whatever you want to
Do whatever you want to.
Make Room © Community Music, 2021
So many times, as believers we may be striving to glorify God and to build His kingdom. We often are consciously working for the things of heaven to come into our daily lives, and through us to others. These are noble tasks, carried out in the best interest of others, in the hope that unbelievers may know God and experience His blessings. All these are efforts which are carried out with the best of intentions.
Getting in God’s Way
Yet through our own efforts we may be getting the way of God Himself. While devoting our energies to the pursuit of His kingdom, we may be undoing the work He wants in people’s lives by our very efforts. In this way believers must be reminded to make room, that is, to get out of God’s way while He works.
It is a fine balance to be sure. It is a mistake to say: “I don’t want to get in God’s way so I am not going to work in my community, or care for the poor, or share the Gospel because God will find a way to do His work.” This, of course, is fatalism and goes against the Scriptures as well. To do nothing in order to not be in God’s way is a fallacy. So we are called to strive, to care, and to share while finding a way to allow God to do His work. We cooperate with Him rather than vice versa.
Make Room in your House
Saint Augustine put it this way:
“Desire the friendship of Christ without fear. He wishes to be entertained at thy house; make room for Him. What is, make room for Him? Love not thyself, love Him. If thou love thyself, thou shuttest the door against Him.”
Commentary on Psalm 132.
Here he is putting making room for God in the context of not desiring to own many things, or to be wealthy. In that sense the believer may be coveting and in so doing loving themselves too much. Rather our love should be for God and for others, and our sacrifice should be in the interest of building God’s kingdom.
Yet even as we spoke above, at times the believer may actually be striving for the right things, for the things of God, and in so doing actually getting in God’s way. In this way Agustine’s analogy of a home and fellowshipping together with Christ remains apropos. Just as a married couple works together to achieve the same goals for their family, so we can work together with God when we invite Him into our home.
Just as members of a family work toward the same goals, so the analogy in Scripture is one of co-workers, striving as a team to accomplish some project. Watching a team of construction workers is indicative of the way we can work with God and make room for him at the same time. If the person hauling materials works side by side with the person putting a wall together, they both accomplish the same goal, but stay out of each other’s way while they each accomplish part of the overall task.
The example from Paul
The Apostle Paul speaks of this working together, both with our fellow believers and with God to accomplish His will for the world.
In 1 Corinthians 3.5-9 he states: “After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.” (NLT)
Here the imagery of being God’s workers shows that we must work in this world. We cannot sit idly by, waiting for God to accomplish His will. We have to work, often with others, to build the kingdom. Yet if we are striving toward the wrong goals, or putting our energy into the wrong efforts, God is actually not glorified in that work. We must work with Him and make room for Him to direct us and do his will.
Paul also references a specific team with which he was engaged in working. He says to the Thessalonians: “We sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ.” (1 Thes 3.2 NLT) Here he uses what may be the greatest compliment to describe a fellow believer: God’s co-worker. This image of working together with God to build His kingdom reminds us to make room for Him, to not get in His way even as we hope for God to build His kingdom on earth.
How to strike this balance though? How to strive to accomplish God’s works, to truly desire His kingdom, to share the Gospel and care for others without making it all our own efforts? How to be God’s co-worker without taking over the whole project?
Finding a Balance
Saint Anselm, the 11th century mystic and scholastic, describes the balance that we must attain.
“Now to the love of God there appertain two things: devotion in heart and devotion in act. And act consists in the practical exercise of virtues, whilst the heart’s devotion revels in the taste of spiritual sweetness. The exercise of virtues has its praise in a fixed rule of life, in fasts, in vigils, in labour, in reading, in prayer, in silence, in poverty, and the rest; whereas affective devotion is nourished by salutary meditation.”
Here we see the responsibility of the believer to live out the Christian virtues, an act which becomes a lifestyle modeled on Christlike behavior. Additionally, the Christian must devote themselves to those acts of devotion which bring one’s spirit and soul into alignment with Christ’s. In fact, our deeds are exercises out of the love which Christ builds in our hearts through mediation on Him. So, the fasts, the vigils, and the labor are balanced by, in fact enabled by, the reading, the prayer, the silence, and all the rest.
God does the Work
Finally, we have to remember that no amount of striving on our part actually accomplishes anything that God has not already set in motion. He is the architect of this life and we can work together with Him to accomplish His purposes, but we can never work by ourselves to bring about the salvation of souls or the sanctified virtues in the life of another.
Here again Anselm provides for us an example, this time in prayer.
“Father…work in us now, both to will and to do what pleases you. Since we are weak and can do no good thing by ourselves, grant us your grace and heavenly blessing, that is whatever work we engage we may do all to your honour and glory.”
St. Anselm’s Prayer for Holy Week.
So even as we cannot merely sit by, believing God to accomplish His will, we also cannot assume that our striving will accomplish God’s will in and of themselves. He calls us to certain works, to always live Christian virtues, and to work toward specific tasks which He sets in our lives. We must be responsive to hear His voice so that we know our efforts are committed to those enterprises which He desires.
And we can know that God will be responsive when we seek Him, when our heart desires to make room for Him, both in our own lives, and in our efforts to accomplish His will. Anselm teaches the believer to devote themselves to God, in order that we may work toward the best and right works He desires for us. With St. Anselm we conclude with this prayer for our lives, as we work for God, work with God, and make room for Him always to work in all things.
O Lord my God.
Teach my heart this day
where and how to find you.
You have made me and re-made me,
and you have bestowed on me
all the good things I possess,
and still I do not know you.
I have not yet done
that for which I was made.
Teach me to seek you,
for I cannot seek you
unless you teach me,
or find you
unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you in my desire;
let me desire you in my seeking.
Let me find you by loving you;
let me love you when I find you.
St. Anselm: The Prayer, Oh Lord my God