It’s the beginning of firewood season for us. I know there are some people who are way ahead of us—they’ve already put up their winter’s supply. But the end of August is actually pretty good considering that our regular pattern consists of running around just before the snow flies trying to find some firewood dry enough to burn. The timing just worked out better this year. But the wood still has to be split before we can move to the next step.
Since we’re one of the last households in our family that still burns some wood to keep warm, we’ve become the caretakers of the log splitter. Unfortunately, after towing it around a little last year, the crack in the exhaust finally took its last step and the muffler broke off entirely. So this is where we were: we could just run the splitter without the muffler—a deafening option, or we could see about buying a new muffler assembly. Or, because I don’t really like spending money I don’t have to, we could try to fix the break. Fortunately, I know somebody who is pretty good with a welder.
Before my Dad went full-time into farming, he worked at Gate City Steel—a metal fabrication plant. So stitching metal back together is just normal stuff. Dad welds like most people send emails or put gas in the car—it’s no big thing. I found him in his shop, and showed him the two pieces of the broken muffler. “Yeah, I can fix that,” he says, and he takes the two pieces over to his welding bench, flips the switch on the welder and after clamping one broken piece into his vice, he lines the other up with it. Then, with a few pops and sparks, the muffler is back in working order. A couple swipes with the angle grinder to make sure the bolts will fit, and it’s done.
Afterward, he showed me a repair that someone else had made on an old tractor part—he said the metal was too thin to handle the heat of the weld, and it had burned holes in the part. Having tried to weld in the past, it looked a lot like what I might do—a fat mess of globs and splatters and holes. It’s why I don’t have a welder. Dad has this special combination that’s essential to make a repair like the one that I needed. He has the tools he needs—the welder was right there, set up and ready to go. And he has the skill necessary to operate the tools at hand. Having either one or the other is not enough. Skill and equipment both have to be present, but when they are, things that would be difficult otherwise are done with ease.
Being active in our faith is sort of like fixing that muffler. Following Jesus is never just doing one thing, it’s a combination of elements that have to come together. But when they do, God can work powerfully through us. If I had a welder, but lacked the experience and skill to use it, it’s not likely I’d be able to fix that muffler. If I had the skill, but didn’t have a welder, then I’d be in the same situation. Discipleship is like that—The Spirit equips us with the tools we need, and by faithfully following, we gain the skill we need to use what the Spirit has given us to its full potential. And that potential is amazing.
The phrase “synergy” alludes to the idea that bringing certain elements together can produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. In his multi-volume work Metaphysics, Aristotle talked about “…things which have several parts and in which the totality is not, as it were, a mere heap, but the whole is something besides the parts.” That “something besides” is hard to quantify, but there’s truth in this idea—a clock seems to be more than just a collection of gears and screws; an engine is more than pistons and crankshafts; a body is more than muscles, sinews, and bones. The church is more than an assembly of individuals. And a when a Christian embraces all the elements necessary to thrive, they can become something besides, something more, than just a collection of Christian traits.
At the end of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus alludes to this combination of elements. He talks about two builders—one who only has part of the necessary elements, and another who has all of what’s needed. The first hears but does not do, and the result is a catastrophic collapse. The second both hears the words of Jesus, and then is active in applying those words, and his house stands. Knowledge and application come together, in a synergistic relationship, to produce more than the sum of the parts. Christians who hear, but do not do, are like someone with a welder but no experience welding—burning holes and making a fat mess. But the Spirit can work powerfully in Christians who bring all the elements together—a knowledge of the will of God revealed in scripture, a willingness to apply that knowledge, and an actual “doing”—making use of the gifts and capacities given. And something miraculous happens when those all those elements come together in the presence of the Spirit. What was once broken is fixed.
Discipleship is a process, so it’s likely that there’s going to be some “less than” results before we gain the skills necessary to do the work we are called to. And, we will always depend on the Spirit—even when we’ve got it all together, we’re still too weak for the task on our own. For the Christian, this synergistic “greater than the sum of its parts” principle demands a close communion with God—God is the essential element. But we also bring something to the mix. We have the potential to contribute, and if we don’t put everything we can into creating the whole, then the whole will be less than it could be. Hearing is not enough—doing is also necessary. But isn’t it exciting to think about the potential when all the elements come together? Seemingly impossible things become normal, even easy. When we are faithful by offering all we can to God, then the whole really is greater than the parts.