It was late in the afternoon when they arrived at the outskirts of the crowded city. Their sandaled feet were dusty and swollen from long days walking through a thankless wilderness. The young couple glanced about searching for a place to enquire for lodging. Unfamiliar sounds and foreign tongues added to their disorientation. A restless baby cried hungry for milk while his mother rummaged through their hastily packed belongings. The anxious expression on their weary faces hinted at their concerns: How long would they be here for? When would they return to their homeland?
I imagine the small talk as the weary travelers were introduced:
“Greetings! You’ve come a long way. Where are you from?”
“From our home in the land of Israel.”
“Whose family are you of?”
“The tribe of Judah.”
“And what brings you here to Egypt?”
Have you ever wondered about the locals’ reaction to Mary and Joseph’s story? One mysterious dream led them to completely relocate to a foreign country. If this young couple had never given attention to a divinely-inspired dream, we would not be celebrating Christmas the way we do today. But in the Greco-Roman world of the first century, it wasn’t unusual for gods to speak in dreams. This was nothing particularly out of the ordinary.
You don’t need to be a Christian to have good life. Plenty of my friends live a great life without God. They are well educated, hold successful jobs and live in beautiful homes. For the most part they enjoy happy and contented lives even with a few bumps along the way.
In our Western world, it’s not difficult to have a good life. There are common-sense decisions we can make, self-help books to read and plenty of resources to make use of. We are blessed in this country with prosperity and opportunity. Even with a bad start, you can turn things around if you work hard and make some good choices.
But God has a very different life for those who choose to follow him. It’s a good life but it’s far from an ordinary life.
Listen for God’s Voice
Abraham was living what you might call the good life nearly four millennia ago. His life was prosperous and successful, and in his time could be described as ‘normal’. That is until God spoke to him… Genesis 12:1-3 tells us that God saw a different future for Abraham. He promised Abraham would be blessed, have a new home in a land of great significance and become the father of a great nation.
When I first started my church in Melbourne, God said that the season would last three years. At first I thought it wasn’t God. Surely he wouldn’t say such a thing! Why would God tell me the week I started that soon I would be leaving??
God is a future thinking God. He knows the end from the beginning; “from ancient times what is to come…” (Isaiah 46:10). His plans are sovereign, detailed and stunningly strategic and he loves to make them known to us.
We were promised this. When Jesus returned to heaven, he sent his Holy Spirit so that we would see the world through his eyes. We would be able to prophesy and have dreams and visions (Acts 2:17). We would see glimpses of the future and he would tell us; “great and unsearchable things we don’t know” (Jeremiah 33:3). This is the privilege of every New Covenant Christian… the honour of personally knowing a supernatural God – and it’s a wonderful blessing.
But in sharing his heart for our futures, God takes a risk. Can we be trusted with that kind of foreknowledge? It’s not always easy.
Knowing about the future leadership of my church meant keeping my mouth shut and using wisdom in conversations with others. It meant exercising great discipline to keep my heart living in the present.
Last week I had the opportunity to be interviewed on the “Sunday Night” program of ABC Radio. Our topic was the theology of faith and experience in the Pentecostal Churches, but we covered much more than that. (You can listen to the full program here). One caller rang in to share his perspective: “From what I know of Pentecostal churches, you’re supposed to check your intellect in at the door if you’ve got one… (But you all sound fairly reasonable people…)”
The other panelists and I laughed hard… Glad we came across as being ‘reasonable’! But in some ways his comments are not surprising. Apart from the somewhat distorted image Pentecostal churches have in our Australian media, his comments reflect a bit of a tension some see between faith and reason; between rationalism and the supernatural.
The modern Pentecostal church started as a working class movement with a hunger to see First Century miracles repeated in their day. It was almost a reaction against highly educated leaders who had rationalized supernatural phenomena away reducing them to metaphors and myths. Miracle stories were seen to be important for teaching and perhaps confirmation of Jesus’ divinity back then, but certainly not to be taken seriously as a pattern of what God could and should do today.
There are two stories being written over our lives. The story everyone sees and the story only you and God see.
The story that everyone sees is the one that is written on bios and resumes. It’s the one we tell at parties and interviews. She planted a church, worked in missions, has a Masters level qualification, speaks in churches around the world…
But there is another story. One that is equally dramatic, but far more hidden. One that is rarely told on stages or recorded on public memos. One that is usually only whispered in quiet moments, revealed in tucked away café corners and sometimes never told – even to ourselves.
Yet it is the one that matters most.
It’s the story of our dreams, our fears and our unspoken struggles. The internal journey of our thoughts and prayers. A plot line that is often more difficult to write, but which defines who we are and all that we do. If we ignore it, it will soon write its own story… and ultimately it will be the story that everybody sees.
It was the story beneath Joseph’s life that really mattered. His rollercoaster ride of failure and promotion from slave to Prime Minister would make headlines, but it was the internal drama of faith and loyalty that wrote the final climax.