Thursday, January 24, 2013

Trying to Do It Alone

We learn at an early age the value of teamwork and being with others.

There is something about the American mystique, the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality, that’s stuck with us. Pilgrims setting off for a strange, unseen land, uncertain what they would encounter. Pioneers heading westward to explore uncharted territory. Visionary inventors toiling in solitude, pursuing innovative ideas. We take pride in our independent spirit.

But the reality is, to succeed in life we really can’t do it alone. Just as a healthy body is made up of organs working in concert with each other, a successful life is the byproduct of the skills, talents and contributions of many people.

During the years I served as a magazine editor, when each new issue came out I marveled. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” was never truer than when examining each freshly printed edition. It had been the result of writers, editors, graphic designers, editorial assistants and the team that brainstormed titles and artwork for each article. As a friend of mine often said, “Not one of us is as smart as all of us combined.”

During the election, President Obama rankled many small business owners when he made the ill-advised comment, “You didn’t build this.” In one respect he was right – without government services and resources, businesses couldn’t function properly. But the people that owned the businesses were the ones that lay awake at night agonizing over issues such as meeting payroll, deciding what risks to take, wondering how to attract more customers, etc.

Yet, even with such entrepreneurial zeal, any successful business has been built upon the shoulders of many gifted, hard-working individuals – employees as well as employers.

Currently I’m helping an individual write an account of rising from the wreckage of a troubled childhood. Through determination and hard work, he’s built a successful career. But he didn’t get there alone. Many people entered his life at different times, making helpful gestures or providing timely opportunities. He was wise enough to take advantage of each, and he’s hoping his life story will encourage others in rising above their adverse circumstances.

Even in the spiritual realm the “I can do it all by myself” mindset seems to have prevailed. When the motion picture, “God Is My Co-Pilot,” came out in 1945, it became a motto for decades to follow, even on bumper stickers. In other words, “God, I’ve got this – but stay close in case I need you, OK?”

The so-called “Christian life” is often perceived as a singular pursuit, trying to be good and doing good things for God. Experience has taught me, however, there is nothing we can do for God. Rather, He desires to do things through us. That’s why Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Nowhere in the Scriptures does it endorse a “lone ranger” approach to spirituality. Instead, they teach us to recognize our insufficiency apart from the transforming power of Christ and support from other believers.

This reliance on Christ is clearly expressed in Ephesians 2:8-10, which states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

We can’t do it alone – but with Christ, the sky’s the limit.

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