Take Every Task Captive Today (Marshall Segal)
The most dangerous thing about tomorrow is the temptation to forget God, to live and talk and act as if God doesn’t exist. It’s the greatest danger any day: to live our daily lives — our daily habits, daily work, daily relationships — overestimating ourselves and overlooking God.
We know God exists, but we just lose track of him — sometimes for a day, or a month, or longer. It can feel like forgetting to check our favorite website or social stream. We’re glad he’s there when we have time, but he doesn’t seem especially relevant to what we’re up against today at home or tomorrow at work.
How could we — weak, sinful, and redeemed men and women — forget an all-knowing, all-powerful God? Well, because for many of us life feels relatively safe and predictable, not fragile and desperate. The needy know to look for help. Meanwhile, “Those who are well have no need of a physician” (Mark 2:17). Predictable days with predictable outcomes and predictable consequences numb us to the unceasing and unstoppable power of God underneath all our tasks and every result.
Life is filled with seemingly predictable results:
We eat the next meal, and we won’t be hungry for a few hours.
We do the laundry, and we’ll have clean clothes for the week.
We generate and submit that report on time, and the boss signs the check.
We pay our bills, and the lights and cable stay on for another month.
We eat well and exercise regularly, and we generally feel healthy.
So why pray about food or laundry or another Friday deadline?
Most of us are prompted to pray when we don’t know what’s coming:
We pray when someone we love is sick, and we don’t know what’s wrong.
We pray when things aren’t going well at work, and cuts are coming soon.
We pray when the car breaks down and blows up our monthly budget.
We pray when chores pile up and overwhelm us at home.
We pray when we feel fragile and desperate.
We run to God when we feel helpless or confused or out of control.
That’s why we forget God in our daily routines: We forget just how fragile, desperate, and dependent we are all of the time for everything. Like wicked Damascus or Cush or Egypt, “[We] have forgotten the God of [our] salvation and have not remembered the Rock of [our] refuge” (Isaiah 17:10).
The Discipline of Futility
The context of their forgetting God, like many of ours, was predictable productivity and prosperity. God blessed the work of their hands, and they ate the fruit, resting in the comfort and security productivity seemed to bring them. And in the process of planting and sowing, reaping and eating, they forgot the one who works and sustains all things (including each of them and every crop they planted).
Therefore, God brought a swift, destructive, and painful reminder to Damascus,
You have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and sow the vine-branch of a stranger, though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow, yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain. (Isaiah 17:10–11)
Plants that produced fruit year after year came up empty. Vines that blossomed without fail failed to sprout. The ever predictable harvest surprised all of Damascus with sudden disobedient infertility. God disrupted the predictable to remind rebellious and proud people that he was in control and that he intended every work, every result, and every routine to return to him in faith and worship, and not to the workers through self-reliance and independence.
In the same way, Egyptian fishermen had depended on the Nile, a massive, predictable source of fish (Isaiah 19:5–8). It was the primary and vital industry of the area. And suddenly the water begins drying up, and the nets come back empty. They showed up day after day knowing what to expect, where their food would come from, and now they’re empty-handed, hungry, and distraught.
Building Babel in Our Routine
Don’t believe this is a problem today? Try setting aside time in the middle of your day to pray or call other believers at your workplace to pray with you at the same time once a week. Watch how the tyranny of work makes that fifteen or thirty minutes feel burdensome, unnecessary, or inefficient. We build and build, fold and fold, work and work, without any sense of who’s in charge or what’s really happening. We quietly, even routinely, build our personal Babel, each task just another block in our own Jenga tower.
John Piper says, “When we don’t want to stop working and pray, we are drunk with American productivity.” He based that thought on 1 Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7). For the sake of our prayers, we must be sober — that is, not drunk. When we postpone, avoid, or put off prayer, we’re inebriated with a sense of our own strength, gifts, and output. “I don’t have time to pray today.” To the sober, this is insanity.
Pray for the Predictable
God struck the Syrians, the Egyptians, and even his own chosen people to shake them and remind them of his presence, his power, and his mercy. They were relying on the predictable results of their own work, instead of looking to God to move. The fruit, the vegetables, the fish, all the products of their labor were meant to produce faith and joy in God. Instead, they replaced God and yielded pride, the readily available currency of rebellion and godlessness. So God punished them.
But he did so in love:
And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them. (Isaiah 19:22)
God spoiled Syria’s soil and dried up the Nile — he ravaged their industries, their to-do lists — so that he could come and heal them when they finally turned to him in faith. As soon as they surrendered and submitted themselves to him, his mercy blossomed in the gardens of death and his love flowed to them like a river wide and strong.
Pray for God’s help and strength in your predictable tasks today. Don’t assume everything will happen like yesterday, or last Thursday, or last September, or last year. God’s grace and mercy are new this morning for every task and routine, whether new or old, familiar or unfamiliar — if you’ll ask him for it (Matthew 7:7–8). Serve in the strength and time and talents that he supplies (1 Peter 4:11), because the work ahead of you is God’s, given to you for his glory.