If you have a child, you either have experienced the joys of potty training, or will soon do so. I’ve heard of many different methods used by many different people for the purposes of potty training, but none as popular as the famous sticker chart. You know how it works. A potty on the toilet equals a sticker on the chart. Great efforts are put into making the chart look just right. The perfect stickers are selected. The aim is to make the sight of those sticky rewards so irresistible that your child can’t even look at them without running to the potty chair in an attempt to earn that first, second, third, fourth, fifth one, etc. That would be the ultimate goal, however as you may well know, that is not always the reality. As parents of young toddlers who have spent their entire lives in diapers, you may be met with some resistance. Some children fear the toilet, certain that a single flush will send them spiraling down the drain into the vast unknown or perhaps that a creature of some mysterious origin will come up from the sewers and snatch them. Some children are not at all interested in the toilet. Wearing a portable potty on their body is certainly more convenient. Some children are simply not ready. They may sit on the toilet, wanting to go potty, but they just don’t have the ability to make it happen yet. They desire to do it. They sit with determined smiles on their faces. They talk the big toddler talk, but still it does not happen. They believe they can do it. They believe a sticker is as good as theirs, but they just haven’t grasped the concept of what going potty on the toilet really requires. Of course, we encourage that child and tell them they can do it. We are proud of them for even trying. They are proud of themselves too. They can almost feel that beautiful sticker in their chubby little fingers. They can almost see it on their brightly labeled potty charts. They truly believe you when you tell them that they will be in big kid underwear soon. Still, all the belief in the world, doesn’t get a sticker on the chart. There is a certain amount of action that is required for them to earn that first coveted sticker. That only makes sense, of course. Most parents don’t give out potty training rewards to their children simply for believing when they are told they can do it. We are all about action. You do something, you get rewarded for it. You accomplish something, you get recognized. You win, you get applause. You arrive, you get respect. We love to reward the work.
Well, we have a Father in heaven who is very pleased with our good work as well. He loves it when we jump in and take action and accomplish and DO and work and complete. However, God never wants us to get too confident in our own abilities. He never wants us to get to the point of thinking that the good works we do cause us to earn our way into His good graces. He doesn’t ever want us think that somehow we can put ourselves in good standing with him simply by doing. God is about so much more than that, and in some ways, I guess you could say, he is about so much less.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
So yes, there is a good work that God has for each of us to do, but if we are walking with him, then even our good works are the result of his grace. Everything we do he has prepared for us and empowered us to accomplish. What about when there is a gargantuan job that we feel like God is calling us to, and we know we could never be up to the task? Take your cue from that potty training toddler who looks at Mommy and Daddy and believes that they will some day be in big kid underwear, even if they aren’t there yet. THEY may not get a sticker for their good faith, but God is exceedingly more generous with his rewards than we are.
Do you remember the story of Abram? Abram was 75 years old when he first received the promise that God would make him into a great nation. In other words, Abram would have descendants… a child. Besides the fact that Abram was already quite advanced in age, there was an even bigger roadblock in his way. His wife, Sarai, was barren. Well, about ten years passed and Abram still had not been given a child. His wife was now in her mid seventies and as barren as ever. Let’s face it, at this point most of us would have some serious doubts. Well, it turns out Abram was not much different than you and me. Genesis chapter 15 verses 1 through 3 says,
the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Talk about throwing God’s promise back in His face. “You have given me no children.” Wow! Now maybe that was Abram’s less than subtle way of reminding God that He had apparently broken His promise. Maybe he thought that the Almighty God had somehow forgotten His promise and he was just trying to nudge His memory. Maybe Abram had completely given up hope that the promise would ever be fulfilled. Maybe he was hoping his statement would move God to action. Regardless of what Abram’s reasoning was, God was not threatened. He could accomplish his purposes. Genesis 15:4-6 tells us this.
Then the word of the Lord came to him [Abram]: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Well, God sure told him! At that point Abram could have done what many of us do when we are faced with a promise that seems too good to be true or too difficult for us to accomplish. He could have doubted that the promise would ever come to fruition. After all, it had already been ten years. Let’s face it, God’s plan was entirely, completely, and absolutely impossible for Abram to fulfill. Hear what I said there. It was impossible for ABRAM to fulfill. Abram knew that. He knew who he was. He knew his limitations. He knew that God’s plan was impossible… for him. He knew a whole lot of other things too. Abram knew who his God was. He knew that his God had NO limitations, and he knew his God could accomplish all kinds of impossible things. This next verse shows us one way that God is so very different from us. When our little ones comes to us excited about the prospect of wearing big kid underwear or earning their very first stickers, we smile and encourage them all the more. “You can do it!” we say. Then, AFTER they’ve indeed done it, they will earn that precious reward. God doesn’t operate like that. Many times God purposely asks things of us that are impossible, because He wants us to know that we CAN’T do it. We will never earn that sticker by doing the work that God asks. It’s too big for us. SO HOW DO WE GET OUR STICKER!? It’s almost too easy. It’s definitely easier to earn our reward than it is for the toddler trying to grasp potty training. Genesis 15:6 lays it out for us.
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
BIG sticker for Abram! And not just a sticker that says, “Well done” or “Good job” or even “Great” or “A plus.” No! God pulled out his reward sheet filled with stickers and he took off the biggest, shiniest sticker he could find and planted it right on the front of Abram’s robe. “Righteous!” Wow! now that’s a reward. The perfect, flawless, holy God of the entire universe calls Abram “RIGHTEOUS” not because of anything Abram does either. He didn’t work for it in the traditional sense. He didn’t accomplish some mighty task or achieve some lofty goal. He simply trusted that God could do the work in him that he said he would do. He believed God for the impossible in his life, not because of who he was, but because of who God is. How inappropriate for him to claim that promise as his own. How presumptuous of him to think that God would use him to accomplish His almighty purpose. How foolhardy, that he would dare to believe that impossible thing for his life. And yet he did, and he earned a mighty fine reward.
After that day, God’s promise was not fulfilled immediately. That 10 year period of waiting turned into about 25 years. During that time, Abram and Sarai decided to take matters into their own hands. On his wife’s prompting, Abram took Sarai’s handmaiden as his wife and had a child with her. However, that was not the child of the promise. Abram was just trying to help God out, but it turns out that God REALLY doesn’t need our help. No sticker for Abram! God had a very specific plan of His own, and he desired that Abram followed HIS plan HIS way. So what was God’s way? Well, he told Abram that he would not only have a child in his old age, but that he would have that child with his wife Sarai in her old age in her state of barrenness. Finally, when Abram was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to him one more time. He told him that in about 1 year his child would finally be with him. Abram would be 100 years old and Sarai, in her nineties. On the day God reminded him of his promise for the last time, God also changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means, “father of many.” After waiting for almost 25 years, Abraham could have looked at the name God gave him and chosen to keep his old name, because it made sense. It would not make him a laughing stalk. It suited him, but “father of many?” As far as anyone could tell, Abraham was still Abram in every sense of the word, but he decided to cling to that promise of God, no matter how long in coming it was, no matter how foolish it seemed, and he believed. HE WAS ABRAHAM!
What about me? What about you? What promise has God made to you? Maybe it’s a promise that feels so big and so impossible that you find yourself doubting that God even spoke to you at all. Why would God do something so incredible in your life? Even if you are confident that God really did speak that promise into your life, how can you possibly accomplish what you need to accomplish in order to achieve that goal? How can you possibly DO what needs to be done in order to arrive at such an unachievable victory? As we learn from Abraham’s story, the things that God asks of us are often too big for us to accomplish. He doesn’t like to make things easy for us, because if things are too easy we are the types of creatures who like to busy ourselves trying to get where we need to get in order to do what we need to do in order to become what we need to become. God doesn’t want any of that. There’s no sticker rewards in his sticker book that say, “You did it!” or “You’re a star!” or “You’re awesome!” That’s because the rewards God gives usually have very little to do with us. God sets us apart. God calls us. God works in us. God changes us. God prepares us. God equips us. God uses us. Notice that when it comes to God working in our lives, HE is the one that is doing all the hard work. So what is it that God is calling us to do? Oh yes, we need to walk in obedience. We need to strive to be more like him. We need to align ourselves with God’s will and keep in step with what he is doing, but even those are things that God gives us the power to do. So what do we need to do? Take a lesson from Abraham. Sometimes the very first step in fulfilling the promises that God has given us for our lives is simply believing, simply trusting, and simply having faith in God to accomplish the impossible dream that He has put in our hearts. It may take some time, but we mustn’t let doubt steal our dream. When we keep the faith, we can be sure that God is right there waiting to give us our reward, “righteous!” just like Abraham! God doesn’t expect too much from us, but he does ask that we expect too much from him. And just in case we decide to get big heads, and shine our “righteous” stickers up really brightly for everyone to notice, remember that without God increasing our faith, we would be filled with doubt and unbelief. There is truly nothing that we can do for the kingdom in our own strength, but in the same token there is nothing that our lack of strength can keep God from doing through us. So hold on to that impossible promise, because the God who made a nation through an old man and a barren woman is able to fulfill his promises in us as well. Nothing is too big, too difficult, or too impossible for my God, and he will use the lowliest and meekest of vessels to accomplish his work! Any stickers that we earn along the way really belong to God anyway.
Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
So don’t give up on God’s plan for you. His word is true, and his rewards are unlike any other. No toilet training required!