In 1885, the World Series of Mule Team Competition was held in Chicago, Illinois. The winning team of mules was able to pull 9,000 pounds. The second-place team pulled slightly less. Someone came up with the idea of hitching both the first and second teams to a load to see how much they could pull together.
It was assumed that the two teams would pull a little more than the total combined weight. However, instead of pulling only a little more than 18,000 pounds, together the teams pulled 30,000 pounds!
A young foreman named Ed Stiles, working the borax deposits in Death Valley, California, took this concept of multiple mule teams and applied it to the arduous task of hauling the loads of borax out of the extreme environment of the California desert.
Stiles noticed that a team of 12 mules was hauling loads twice the size that eight mules could have. This set him to thinking and experimenting. The maximum benefit seemed to be a 20-mule team, which ended up pulling 10 tons—about half the capacity of a modern railroad freight car. The Pacific Coast Borax Company later used this image of a 20-mule team in marketing their borax as a cleaning agent.
This concept of teams working together came to be known as synergy. Synergy is defined by Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary as the working together of two things to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects. In other words, one and one equals three! It comes from the Greek synergia, which means joint work and cooperative action.
This synergy is all around us in metal alloys, combining drugs for greater effect, the combination of muscles in our bodies (opposing sets of muscles to maintain balance, etc.) and even in the animal world. Think of the birds in Africa that clean parasites off of larger animals, receiving protection in return.
What can we learn from this topic of synergy? First and foremost is that we can accomplish more with God than without Him. We can be better Christians within the body than without. We can serve each other in a variety of ways, each accomplishing more in service to others than we can if we only care for ourselves. A husband and wife working as a cooperative team can accomplish more as a family than as separate individuals.
God's Word usually talks about this concept of synergy under the heading of "love." How are we showing love and, by extension, practicing synergy?
Remember the example of the 20-mule team—we can do more together and with God than we can on our own.