The Son can nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees the Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. John 5:19
Before leaving the States, Larry told us to pack some old shoes for our soggy hike through Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem. (Google it for info and photos of the ancient tunnel. Pay particular attention to how narrow and dark it looks in the pictures!) King Hezekiah ordered the tunnel to be dug underneath Jerusalem almost 3000 years ago to get water into the City incognito, so that their enemies wouldn’t be able to cut off their supply. In addition to Google and Wikipedia, you can read about it in 2 Chronicles 32 and 2 Kings 20. It’s about 6 football fields long, sometimes just a few feet wide, and often no more than 6 ½ feet high. Having been through the tunnel several times before, Larry assured us it was “relatively safe” for the non-claustrophobic. (If you suffer from a fear of small, dark, and wet spaces you might opt to do some shopping in the Old City on the day your tour group heads for the tunnel.)
Our guide was a diminutive Palestinian man named, Ahmed, who collected the usual number of shekels from each of us, and led us into the dark, chilling shaft in the rock below Jerusalem. It’s not that there are lots of ways to get lost. As I recall, since Hezekiah’s “engineers” were working with surveying equipment, which was decidedly non-electronic, there was only one offshoot in the tunnel, which leads to a dead end. But I wasn’t taking any chances; I stayed as close as I could to Ahmed, non-English-speaking or not; especially since he was the guy with the flashlight! Sometimes he would get a bit ahead of us, and I could feel the person (we were single file) behind me pushing me along to get closer to the only one who knew where we were going. The depth of the water and the width of the tunnel fluctuate, again due to the primitive tools of its original diggers. It’s quite an eerie feeling wading in water that you can’t see, sometimes ankle, and sometimes thigh deep. The water, I was told later, could, at a moment’s notice, rise to overhead in a flash flood! I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time!
We did eventually emerge jubilantly into the sunlight at the Pool of Siloam, not at all worse for wear, and anxious to tell the tale to our friends at home of the adventure that no man had embarked on for thousands of years (except for the hundreds of thousands of other tourists in the last century or two). I felt like giving Ahmed, Larry, and pretty much everyone in Jerusalem a hug and a high-five when triumphantly we conquered the millenniums-old underground channel!
There’s pretty much no way in the whole world that I would have ever done it without Ahmed. He knew how to get in, how to get through, and most importantly how to get out of the tunnel. He had the necessary knowledge of the way to go, the water-flow patterns, and where to speed and slow the pace of his shivering followers. In short, for that day this little man was our Holy Spirit. We stepped where he stepped right after he stepped there and avoided the places he avoided. His flashlight was our single ray of hope that our guide was still there, and hadn’t abandoned us in the darkness under the Holy City. When we couldn’t actually see the beam itself, we were encouraged to see a faint glimmer of it on the stone walls ahead; and we forged in that direction.
I think that walking with God is kind of like this; it’s a moment-by-moment thing. He sometimes walks in the shadows and bids us there with him. His light, though brilliant within him, is often obscured and dim to us. The places he takes us are nothing less than an “adventure.” Following in his footsteps is an “Extreme Sport” (an activity which has a high level of inherent danger).
Just in case they hadn’t heard the first couple of dozen times, just before leaving for his return trip to heaven, Jesus told his disciples, “You must follow me!” (John 21:22) He modeled it by going where the Father told him to go and then he challenged his followers to go on similar journeys.
He said he could only do “what he sees the Father doing,” and to my mind this means at least four things:
Firstly, that God is active; he’s doing things. Two verses earlier he said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” God is not static – waiting for something to happen before he springs to action. He’s “always” doing what he is compelled from within himself to do.
Secondly, when Jesus says that he can only do what he sees the Father doing, it means to me not only that God is busy, but that Jesus could see what he was busy doing. God is active and his actions were somehow “visible” to his Son. Maybe he said this in order to suggest that God’s activities are also “visible” to us as we try to stay in tune with him and with his Spirit. Then if we can “see” some of what the Father is doing, it’s not just to satisfy our curiosity, but so that we can do with him whatever he’s doing.
Thirdly, when he says, “I can only do what I see him doing,” he’s suggesting that if God isn’t doing a particular thing, he can’t do it either. He couldn’t just forge ahead on his own and make stuff up. He wasn’t capable of doing anything that he wanted. He did only what the Father was doing – nothing more and nothing less. If that’s the case with Jesus, how much more are you and I incapable of doing even good things without God’s help? If he can only do what he sees his Father already doing, then we certainly can do no more than that!
Fourthly, it seems pretty clear that God is looking for people to join him in what he’s doing. It’s a partnership. He wants us to see what he’s doing and do it with him. We’re supposed to work together in collaboration with him. He doesn’t join us in our endeavors so much as we join him in his; and when we do, we’re doing the things for which we were crafted.
Because of this, when I encounter a human need, a problem, an opportunity; the question I often ask is, “What are you up to here? What is it that you’re doing? Am I supposed to join you in this, and if so, what does joining you in this particular case look like?”
Obviously, God is not asking us to join him in all of his endeavors. He’s doing stuff all around the world, and he’s got friends everywhere seeing him work and seeking how they can work with him. Even Jesus (when he was on earth as a man) couldn’t get personally involved in every one of his Father’s causes. He had to limit his efforts to what he saw the Father doing in front of him (so to speak). He had to distinguish between what the Father was doing in general and those things he was asking Jesus to do with him. We have to do the same sort of differentiating between all the things that God cares about and what he’s asking us to do along with him in partnership. Because we see God active somewhere or in some way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re supposed to pack up and go there. We still need to determine whether or not he’s asking us to have some part in this particular “project” of his.
Set aside some time today (before you forget all about this!) and ask him to show you what he’s doing and how you can join him in it.