Are you the Pipe or the Pump

Are you working for God or is God working through you?

By Fred Smith

I led a lay retreat for a few hundred men in the mountains near Fresno, California. The retreat began on a Friday night and ended Sunday noon; I was the only speaker. That fact came as a surprise when I arrived to speak. Late Sunday afternoon while on a plane returning to Dallas, I wondered how I could feel so normal after such a strenuous weekend. Generally I am either higher than a kite or lower than a snake's belt buckle. Instead, I felt like I had just finished a day's work at the office. From that experience I learned that with God's presence permeating the meetings, He was the source; I was only the spokesman. In other words, God was the pump, and I was the pipe. The pipe never gets tired. When I attempt to be the pump as well as the pipe, that takes more than I have. When I try to substitute my power for God's, I become powerless, dissatisfied, even frantic and defeated.


A few years back, Mary Alice and I were listening to a series of sermons by a well-known young minister who has since left the ministry. When she asked what I thought of him, I told her that I greatly admired his technical ability, his research, his eloquence and delivery, but I never sensed in his sermons spiritual power. I felt he was spiritually impotent. I wanted to feel the presence of the Spirit, but I never did. Oftentimes men can appear to do God's work but in man's way. Sadly, there are great works of ministry that are built on men who use their abundant human power. But they don't stand the test of time. And they don't have the power… their pipe is dry. Almost predictably, this young pastor later divorced his wife and left the ministry- not from lack of talent, for he was greatly gifted, but from lack of spiritual power. The apostle Paul said, "I came not in excellence of words but in power." And the power was not his, but His.


The secret is expressed in Jim May's book, In His Place, in which he asks the question, "Are you working for God or is He working through you?" Too few are the times when I fully realize that God is using me, that what I am doing is His working through me rather than my working for Him. The joy of being the pipe is the effortless flow of His Spirit.


Those who become Christian celebrities must be careful that they don't cross over the line from realizing that God is using them to thinking they are being recognized by God for their great potential contribution. We are not to be volunteers, choosing our service for God, but dedicates, allowing God to select our service. When God selects, He sends power. When we volunteer, we keep control, even while attempting worthwhile work.


Seventeenth-century spirituality writer Michael Molinos warned, The sermons and messages of men who have a great deal of learning and information but who lack an experiential knowledge of the internal things of the Spirit—such men can make up many stories, give elegant descriptions, acute discourses, elaborate theses, and yet regardless of how much it seems to be grounded in the Scripture, what these men give us does not contain the word of God. It is but the words of men adulterated with false gold. Such men actually corrupt Christians, feeding them with wind and with vanity. As a result both the teacher and the one taught remain empty of their God.