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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

Cooperative Destiny

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13);

and “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

I’m going to give you the first degree. Wait! What? Okay, my first degree. My first college degree, or rather certificate was in Early Childhood Education. I changed it from my initial major in Child Development and Family Relations. It was easy to switch over to a different emphasis because so many of the classes were the same. My motives were the same.

From the start, I wanted to have a family one day and to be the best mother I could possibly be. I believed in the maxim: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”; which I understood to mean, “mothers ultimately have the greatest power in the world because they influence the way their children develop and the things they do when they grow up.”[1] At that time, I was still L.D.S. (Mormon) and we were reminded often, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”[2]

By the end of my course work, I was considering teaching as a career, in case I didn’t marry, or until I did. My motive was still to have positive influence in the world through our children. But something changed my mind about becoming a teacher. What was it?

It was learning about the National Education Association (N.E.A.), teachers’ unions, and tenure. It all seemed a little rigged and a lot controlling. I couldn’t picture my free spirit doing well, let alone doing its best, under these constraints.

Skip forward a few years... I was married, and Bruce and I had our first baby. It was then, a friend gave me an article on homeschooling. WOW! I’d never heard of such a thing before. It seemed like the perfect fit for me! It combined parenting and teaching—a way to possibly have a deep, lasting, positive influence in the lives of each of the children God might give us. (We both wanted to have a lot of children.) After reviewing this article and doing a little research, I talked with Bruce, my husband, about it. He observed: “This would probably take money.” Something we didn’t have much of and probably wouldn’t for quite some time. But because it seemed like a calling straight from God to me, we agreed to pray about it. We asked our Father in Heaven to affirm or re-route this desire of mine.

One or two days later—totally out of the blue—we received a check for over four hundred dollars, was a lot of money to us at the time. It came from an insurance company we’d never heard of, on a policy (for me) we knew nothing about that had expired. It showed us three important things (really four): God hears our prayers and cares, we had our affirmation from Him to go forward with homeschooling, and He would provide!

God was not hindered by our circumstances. He used our circumstances to show us He is aware of us and is there for us, even, especially, in the details.

He’s also used my circumstances as part of His “curriculum” to teach and form me away from my natural selfishness, gradually into being a more thoughtful, considerate, merciful, compassionate, respectful, just, and responsible person—more like Him—than I ever would have been on my own. (Though He’s still got a lot of work and training to do.) I try to remember this when I have to wait for something or someone, or I run into a “delay,” or am confronted with a “sudden” or “last-minute” change of plans or needs, or other such happenings. It’s not just an accident or “fate.” God’s giving me an opportunity.

Over the years I’ve come to realize, truly, I couldn’t have produced or replicated the work God’s been doing in me, and yet His work has been far from an exercise in passive inaction on my part.

One thing that’s been required of me is willingness to participate in His curriculum—whether I perceived it as being easy or difficult. “Surrender,” “submission,” and “obedience” are words and concepts people shy away from these days (and always), generally without understanding them rightly in connection with God. But they are essential in what I’ll call, “Cooperative Destiny.”

I still need to show up for “class” each day, trusting my good Teacher, with an open mind, and a willing, teachable spirit. This is a lot harder than it sounds! It requires doing life one day, one moment, at a time. It requires I let go of my desire to be in control of and plan my own life. I must be willing to give up my own expectations and wishes that don’t line up with God’s (for something far, far better!). I must sometimes be willing to relinquish my hold on the things I’m familiar and comfortable with. I have to stop relying on my own understanding and lean into God—into His word, promises, will, and ways. Occasionally, I need to be willing to leave places and people I love or adopt places and people I never would have. Always, I must at least be willing to do these kinds of things. Very often, God has to help me with the wherewithal. But if something is of Him, He always provides the way or means.

Also, on my part, this requires that I ask God for whatever I want to know, need help with, or don’t understand. I have to start where I am (in all honesty) and bring my concerns or requests to the Lord in prayer, acknowledging God as God and myself as very human and totally dependent on Him. (Think, for example, spiritual inspiration: appropriate wisdom, sound guidance, pure insight... as well as physical inspiration: every breath of perfectly mixed gases in the air that one breathes, and one’s ideally designed respiratory system...)

Prayer is simply the act of communicating (in words, thoughts, and heart) with God and listening for His response (which sometimes requires waiting and patience, but not always). Prayer isn’t real unless it’s honest. God already knows what’s in my mind and heart. He’s the only One who does (and who still loves me despite all He knows about me). When I don’t pray, I don’t receive answers from God, or I don’t notice God’s answers. Prayer is the heart of how He builds my trust in Him and His relationship with me. It’s the main way He teaches me, and I see what a good, good Teacher He is.

There are other voices besides God’s: the people I spend time with, the community and culture of which I’m a part, the unseen spirits of the dead and demons or evil spirits (set on harm and destruction). Any or all of these can also have great influence on me—as I allow. How does a person come to recognize God’s voice among so many?

Another important part of willing participation in God’s curriculum is digging into the Textbook—the Bible (God’s Word) to learn the truth about God and His character. To learn the meaning of the terms, phrases, context, and everything else in there. To learn through God’s Spirit—who inspired the words about God and His heart or will—so I can understand His Word rightly—as He intended. To learn about people and spirits in opposition to God as well. This means I need to approach the Bible with a prayer for help to understand it rightly, with a humble, teachable, honest heart.

Too many people who claim to know Jesus or God demonstrate they don’t really know Him or His voice (myself included sometimes), because of picking and choosing what they want to hear, instead of seeking to know what He means by what He has said and done. Often conversely, people (creating excuses) pick apart and criticize the Bible, judging it and the messengers through whom God spoke. Evaluating it by their own understanding and values and those of their culture or community—independent of God.

The truth is, God will judge each person by His Word, which He’s so faithfully preserved and given to humankind. The only way anyone can recognize God’s voice is by hearing or reading it—on a regular, daily basis, over and over again—and through prayer.

Spending time sincerely, prayerfully hearing or reading and studying the Bible (His Word) is the surest way to learn about God and His heart. Doing this part of my “homework” for “class” entails putting myself in a place where God can speak to me, when I’ll be listening.

Once I become aware of, or am reminded of, God’s heart, it changes my own heart toward other people or situations, and it spurs me to action that’s pleasing to Him in the “classroom” (the world). This action might entail repentance, in other words, turning from wrongdoing to do what’s right (God’s will). It might spur me to be better about doing my own part in the “classroom,” to love and praying for “classmates,” or to helping my “classmates” (other human beings) in the ways God’s shown or given me the ability and strength to do or be for them. All these are activities which put everyone ahead.

For example, doing my work or duties at home and in my community, well, is an important first step in being a good “student.” It helps me to stop seeing myself as an individual exception and become a contributor to the whole. Serving or ministering God’s love and encouragement to other people (with His Help) reminds me of and gives me more of His love, intent, and esteem for each individual. It stretches me and causes me to learn and grow beyond what I thought I could ever do or be.

Something else that’s helpful is spending time with dedicated “classmates”— people who are also seeking to be faithful in learning about and following God. Their examples, witnesses, and words about Him can provide unique insights and support I’d otherwise miss. Fellowship with other believers is important. Getting together with other believers one on one, in small groups, and in large gatherings (church or conferences) can all be opportunities for learning more of God, who He is and some of what He has done and made, including all of creation and the re-creation of each one of us.

Even “recess” or “breaks” have increased my appreciation for my Teacher as Creator and as the wisest, most beautiful and glorious Being anywhere. The world and everything in it and surrounding it—living or inanimate, enormous or minute, complex or “simple”—which He created—speak of His endless, awesome wisdom and power. All creation speaks without words through its interconnectedness, unique complexity, order, exactitude, and just by being and continuing to exist materially in time and space.

God has shown me that everything and everyone in the world each have something of Him in them and can teach me about Him if I keep my eyes and ears open and seek discernment from Him. Everything has a law in which it functions best. Same with everyone. God’s laws.

I’m pretty certain participation—or lack of engagement—in these ways and others on my part in response to all God has provided will ultimately decide my destiny—whether and how I complete my course. This might sound like a works-based approach, but truly it’s a way that is wholly dependent on God and what He did through Jesus so I could believe Him, be forgiven my sins, and have His Spirit to teach and guide me in the first place. Without Him, I wouldn’t have the most excellent Teacher or be an enrolled student. (This is different than trusting in myself and what I might imagine—on my own—to be good or to be of God that isn’t of God.) It’s not an “either - or” proposition; rather it’s “both – and.” Faith in God and action based on inspiration, provision, and strength from God, both bringing completion (salvation from eternal death and hell) through Jesus.

You may have observed, as I have, that on earth, only human beings have choice to act other than by instinct or their common nature. Choice brings with it the potential for total depravity and destruction or for a creation of beauty and wonder beyond description. The difference in the end result or destiny depends on one’s cooperation with God. Each person has her or his own nature to rely on or contend with. When a person chooses (even choosing to do nothing), it’s either towards harm and destruction, or towards potential good and glorious ends.

It all depends on who one steps out with—who one believes and follows—humans, demons, or God.

Lord, increase my willingness to participate with You in Your curriculum for me. Lead me closer to Yourself and Your heart. Help me learn, grow, and serve You (by serving others) in the current circumstances You’ve allotted to me. Give me listening ears and eyes that see and hear You in prayer. Help me get the most out of the Textbook You’ve provided. Provoke and strengthen me to become the person You mean for me to become and to do the works You’ve created me to do for others. Let me gather and bring good through fellowship with others and all you’ve created and re-created. Encourage and empower me by Your Holy Spirit, through the finished work of Jesus, His perfect life, sacrificial death (on a cross), and bodily resurrection. Give me the wisdom and strength to participate willingly and well in Your plan for me and for those around me this day. One God-inspired step, one day at a time.

“Only let each person lead the life or walk in the way that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor. 7:17a).


[1] [2] The following article on the attribution of this quote gives good background and was super interesting to me. Did the L.D.S. “prophet” David O McKay borrow from Christianity without giving credit? Either way, he ended up having more extensive influence with it than the possible author, J.E. McCulloch. See:


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