Serendipity, or Hard Work?

You’ve probably never heard of Dr. Stanley Stookey, but I’m certain you’ve eaten out of his dishes.  Dr. Stookey was involved in chemical research at Corning, and during one experiment he accidentally baked a plate of photosensitive glass to a temperature of 1,600 degrees – much hotter than he intended.  When he opened the furnace he expected to find a puddle of molten glass, but instead the plate was intact.  His second accident was dropping the glass plate, which bounced instead of shattering.

Further testing showed that the glass could be superheated and then plunged into ice water without breaking.  “The Corning chemist’s botched experiment had created a material harder than carbon steel, lighter than aluminum, and almost nine times stronger than plate glass … Pyroceram made it into home kitchens – as Corningware” (Cooperative Living, 2/20, p. 22).

There’s no telling how many discoveries in world history can be attributed to serendipity; i.e., dumb luck.  Serendipity is “finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”  We love stories of finding a rare painting in an attic (last fall a painting by Cimabue sold for almost $27 million; it had been hanging in the kitchen of an elderly French woman); happening upon a celebrity in an unexpected place; a job offer that comes out of the blue just when you find out your old job is ending.

Such events are intriguing due to the sheer surprise element, but they also hold out hope that we might be blessed without putting forth effort.  But here’s the rub:  not that many things that happen to us are serendipitous.  Our blessings usually result from hard work or purposed effort.  Even spiritual riches and achievement that originate in God’s grace are often tied to our strenuous input.

Tribulation.  When Paul and Barnabas circled back to the southern Galatian churches they had recently started, they “exhorted them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’” (Ac 14:22).  This was not long after Paul had been stoned in Lystra and dragged out of the city.  A faith that is not strongly grounded will not endure the lifelong commitment that God expects of His people.  No one will get to heaven without battle scars.

Diligence.  There are a number of references to this quality in the NT, one of which is 2 Peter:  “giving all diligence add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brother kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.  For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:5-8).  Vine says of this word (Gk. spoude):  “earnestness, zeal, or sometimes the haste accompanying this.”  Thayer adds:  “earnestness in accomplishing, promoting or striving after anything.”  Peter says this earnest zeal is necessary in maturing spiritually.  It isn’t going to happen magically by attending worship, associating with godly people or casual reading of Scripture.  It is only by intense focus that we will attain spiritual growth.

Striving.  Vine says of agonizomai (note the idea of “agony”), “metaphorically, to contend perseveringly against opposition and temptation.”  Jesus uses this word of our journey to heaven:  “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many … will seek to enter and will not be able” (Lk 13:24).  The rejected ones thought they were acceptable merely because “we ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets” (13:26).  But it takes more than a casual association to be right with the Lord.  The word is also translated “fight”:  “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called …” (1 Tim 6:12).  

As we’ve said before, no one is going to trip over the threshold of heaven and accidentally fall in.  Heaven is not a serendipitous outcome but the result of deliberate purpose that touches every aspect of life.