God is impossibly slow.
Ask anyone who’s ever received a promise from God and they’ll tell you… He is rubber-band-stretching, nails-scraping-on-the-chalkboard, agonising slow.
Think of Abraham, who journeyed twenty years through plaguing doubt and fear waiting for his natural-born son. Or Joseph, who rode a roller-coaster journey of contradictions for over fifteen years before his promotion into leadership. And of course, the Jews who waited through centuries of false starts for their Messiah to arrive. Christmas – the time when promises were fulfilled – took a lot longer than expected. Then when it did finally come, it looked a lot different than imagined.
There’s a pattern here.
I still remember the first time I received a significant promise from God. He spoke of things he had planned for me. Blessings he had carefully chosen and prepared. Gifts that would fill my heart with joy.
So I waited, and I waited. Eyes peeled, wondering, expecting… like the child counting down the days to see what lay beneath the tree.
Today? Tomorrow? Next week?
It’s now twenty years later and we’re still not fully there yet. “Christmas” has taken a lot longer than I expected.
There’s empathy now with the grey-haired Simeon and the prophetess Anna, who lingered day after day in the temple, longing to see the Christ manifest (Luke 2:25-38). There’s understanding of the old-time prophets who “searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances” for the prophecies to be fulfilled (1 Peter 1:10,11). There’s appreciation for Mary who “treasured the things God had spoken in her heart” and wondered how they would unfold (Luke 2:19).
How do we know the will of God for our lives? It’s a question that is often hotly debated with one side emphasising the need for God’s direct guidance for our decisions and the other emphasising human free will (Listen to: Is God’s will a Narrow Path or a 6-Lane Freeway?).
In this podcast, John Peachey from the Mornings show at Rhema New Zealand and I take a different tack. We explore this commonly asked question by drawing on the story told in Jessica Kelley’s book Lord Willing. Against the backdrop of her dying 4 year old son’s battle with brain cancer, Jessica challenges the popular idea that God has some sort of master plan where he ordains and controls every decision. In this view, God’s plan did not include her son Henry’s cancer, nor did he even “allow” it. As Jessica so vividly communicates, Jesus came to give abundant life, not to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), so he could never be to blame for her son’s tragic death. God’s sovereignty does not mean he is a controlling micro-manager (Read: What We Mean When we Say God is in Control?), nor he is never to blame for the evil in the world.
Jessica’s conclusions about the nature of God’s sovereignty, the presence of evil and the dynamic of human autonomy help us to better understand how to navigate God’s will in our own lives. If we believe in the so-called ‘blueprint view’, God will always get the blame, ‘everything happens for a reason’ and there is little room for free will. In this way of thinking, we will be paralysed until we hear God’s voice and we will approach decisions with a fear of getting it wrong. But if we understand our world to be a powerful interplay of God’s intervention with the fallenness of humanity, we can be better equipped to navigate the ‘will of God’ in our lives.
One of the reasons we struggle to hear God speak is that we don’t recognise it when he does. God may well have spoken, but we didn’t notice it.
This it seems, is not a new problem: “Why do you complain to him that he responds to no one’s words?” the ancients asked – “For God does speak—now one way, now another—though no one perceives it.” (Job 33:13-15)
The issue has never been that God is mute. By his very nature, he is a communicator. It’s us that has the problem. We are the ones who don’t notice his messages, and one of the key reasons for our lack of perception is because we’re not aware of how he communicates. In this blogpost, we will look at three ways God speaks.
A Masterful Communicator
As any good speaker knows, communication is never one dimensional. In our everyday interactions, we use a whole raft of cues to get our message across. The words we say, the tone of our voice and the expressions on our face all play a role in sending information. Indeed the recently developed science of body language tells us that communication is far more subtle and complex than we had ever realised.
In the same way, God speaks to us using multiple forms. He is a masterful communicator who crafts his messages in ways that embrace the whole person. He may speak in simple terms – a lone word, a black and white sketch, or he may speak in more colourful, three dimensional ways that draw on all the senses. Communication may be straightforward and direct, calling for immediate action or it may be detailed and multi-levelled, requiring time and reflection to understand.
I’m just back from my Spring European tour, this trip spending most of my time in Germany with a day or two in Prague, Switzerland and Rome. One of the joys of visiting Europe every year is learning new things about about the stories and events that have shaped our world. Here’s eight things I learnt on my latest trip, plus a video clip with some of the ministry highlights (watch here)!
1. Relations between Protestants and Catholics have not always been as peaceful as they are today. During the Reformation period in the Czech Republic, conflict was partly resolved by one religious group throwing the other out of the window from a very tall tower. There’s even a term for it: “defenestration”.
So today if you go to a party in the Czech Republic you may be warned not to stand near the window! (Photo: The Old Square in Prague where the first defenestration occurred in 1419. 21 council leaders were thrown from the window of the tower opposite.)
2. God can use anything to lead someone to him – even an American Indian rain-dance.
It was a privilege to meet the pastor of ICF Prague who shared his testimony with us. How does a person find God when they live in a country under communist control, they don’t know any Christians and Bibles are forbidden? Daniel Skokan shared his fascinating testimony with us as well as some of the challenges of building a church in one of the most atheistic countries of the world.
It’s been 15 years since the terrorist attacks on the United States on the morning of September 11, 2001. This story – perhaps one you haven’t heard – reminds us that even on our worst days, generosity has the power to open up our world.
It was Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 and the passengers of Delta Flight 15 were told they would be diverting from Atlanta because of a simple instrument problem. Their new destination was to be Gander, a small town in Newfoundland Canada. As 52 other aircraft joined them one by one on the tarmac, there was no denying the fact that the captain had lied to keep them calm. While the world reeled with the images of tumbling office towers, the frightened passengers huddled overnight in the cabin wondering what would happen next.
Caring for the Plane People
The next day all 10,500 disoriented passengers disembarked and 10,400 unsuspecting townspeople lurched into action. Within hours volunteers of all ages gathered to care for the ‘plane people’ as they came to be called. Buses arrived in convoy to ferry the passengers to their temporary homes. High schools, meeting halls and lodges were converted to mass lodging areas. Food was prepared by the residents, local restaurants provided free meals and bakeries worked tirelessly to provide enough fresh bread. Every need was thoughtfully considered and meticulously provided for; medical attention for the sick and pregnant, entry to the laundromats for fresh clothes; even day-excursions on cruises across the lake or hikes in the forest.