Last week I reflected on the fact that so many times in the Bible we are told that the people were amazed, astounded, left open-mouthed and open-eyed, stunned. Miracles, words of amazing authority or wisdom, and people’s character, or change of character, left people amazed. Should that still be true? Should people still be amazed by us? How can we leave people flabbergasted?
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul talks about worship services, and particularly the use of spiritual gifts in worship. In v.25 he talks about unbelievers in worship falling down and worshipping God, exclaiming “God is really among you.” What caused them to do that? People were prophesying. They were speaking words that God was giving them. The unbelievers heard these God-given words and they were convicted of sin and brought under judgement. They concluded that God was present.
It is easy to think that if we have drum kits and smoke machines and strobe lighting, people will be blown away by how amazing the church is but that is not what Paul says. There is nothing wrong with those things and they help reach a certain generation. Go for it. But there is a difference between attending church and concluding that you are at a rock concert and attending church and concluding that you are in the presence of God. Christians are amazing when the presence of God is visible in our lives.
Prophecy is a miracle. It is a supernatural God-thing. It is also, of course, an example of powerful words. But I think we can break those categories (miracles, words and character) down and see that there are all sorts of ways that we can be amazing.
What about amazing love?
John 13:34-35 34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
Apparently, there is a type of love that that is so extraordinary that people will conclude that those who love like this must be disciples of Jesus. There are people who are naturally very loving. But this love is different altogether. People don’t conclude that these people are loving; they conclude that they are Christians. This is a God-given type of love.
In society, you have ordinary people and they act in an ordinary way. It is unremarkable. Nobody is blown away by the normal. There are also good people who are extraordinary. And people admire them. But then there are those who love like Christ. Notice that Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. We are commanded to love like Christ. His love blew people away. He was known as the friend of sinner. He touched lepers and loved prostitutes and tax-collectors. It was mind-boggling love. And when His followers love like that – miraculously enabled by God to love like that – people are blown away and they conclude that this is a God-thing. These must be followers of Jesus.
You might have heard the quote that came out of the early church: Look how these Christians love one another. The love demonstrated by Christians astounded people. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t even exceptional and admirable. It was astounding.
Or, think about amazing forgiveness. Sometimes we hear, for example, stories of parents who have forgiven the murderer of their daughter. Sometimes they have even befriended the murderer. I heard this week, three of the young women victims of the USA gymnastics doctor, say, in their victim impact reports, that they want to forgive him. Jennifer Rood Bedford, while not minimising the evil of what had happened or the horrific impact on her, said, “Dr. Nassar, I want you to know that I pray for you… Please know my forgiveness towards you is sincere. Especially in the light… of the forgiveness that’s been granted to me, that I should be called a child of God… There is hope that transcends all understanding… You can choose to be a better man, and to be a different person… Seek Him [Jesus] and find that.”
Is forgiveness like that normal? No. Some of the women said they would never forgive him. Is it even what good people do? No, it is bigger than that. It is a God-thing. It is staggering. I encourage you to watch the statement of Rachael Denhollander who spoke of God’s wrath and judgement on Larry Nassar’s evil but pleaded with him to seek forgiveness – and she offered him her forgiveness.
We could list a whole lot of things in the Christian life that have the potential to be amazing.
- Forgiveness – Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
- Community – which is love for one another
- Compassion – love for those in need
We could add more but let us consider those ones. They are all big themes in the Bible. They are all what we are called to as disciples of Jesus Christ. They are all true of Jesus Himself. They are all characteristics of the Kingdom of God. This is what God’s Kingdom is like. Your Kingdom come.
We are called to be like Jesus. And any anyone who is, will be amazing.
There is a story that I like to tell so you have possibly heard it before. But I tell it because it is so simple. It is about a family who invited a young woman for a meal. Afterwards, she said she had been blown away because it was the first time she had sat down for a meal without everybody arguing. There is nothing profound about inviting someone for a meal but, if we have walked with Jesus, and we have been transformed by the Holy Spirit, what is natural for us, is amazing to others. Our discipleship – our following Jesus – has the potential to amaze.
If you look at that list, is there one aspect where you would love to be amazing. I am not suggesting it is limited to one but is there one? Would you like to stand out as being amazingly compassionate, or amazingly humble or have amazing power, or…?
How can you be? Last week, when we looked at the story of the healing of the lame man in the temple, I suggested that we are meant to be amazing and that ordinary Christians can be amazing but what made Peter and John amazing?
- They spent time with Jesus
- They were filled with the Holy Spirit
- They imitated Jesus
- They trusted God enough to be obedient
When you look at that list, is there a next step that God is calling you to? To be amazing, do you need more of God? Does He need more of you?
What if you have done all of those things and God doesn’t seem to have answered? We hear that God is doing incredible things in other parts of the world but He doesn’t seem to be doing those things in New Zealand. How can we be amazing if God is quiet?
READ 1 Samuel 3
Samuel was just a boy who, we are told, did not yet know the Lord. “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”. Samuel didn’t know God and lived in a time when God was essentially silent. He wasn’t used to God talking. And yet God spoke to him and God used him. Samuel became a mighty prophet. God spoke to him regularly and, through him, to the nation. God was in this. And God let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. Every word reached its target.
How did that happen? What can we learn from Samuel?
- Samuel was in the house of the Lord
Samuel could have said, “Blow this! What’s the point? God is not speaking. I’m going to go somewhere else.” But he didn’t. He lived and slept in the house of the Lord at Shiloh. 2:21 says that the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
It would be possible for us to be disenchanted and disappointed with God and to give up. But the lesson from Samuel is: no, stay in the presence of God. Keep praying; keep reading the scriptures; keep worshipping; keep faithfully serving, keep ministering before the Lord, like Samuel.
- Samuels’ spiritual ears were open
The implication is that Samuel wasn’t expecting to hear God. When it is rare you don’t expect it. Do we expect miracles? Was he eager to hear God? I don’t know. But when God spoke, Samuel heard. He didn’t recognise it or understand it but he heard it. He was sensitive to the things of God.
- Samuel was responsive to God
Again, he was not yet an expert. He didn’t understand what was happening. But he immediately responded.
- Samuel listened to the advice of his spiritual mentor
Eli wasn’t a great man of God but he was nevertheless the mentor God had given Samuel and Samuel was humble enough to listen to him and to take his advice. Do you have more mature Christians speaking into your life? Maybe there are people around who know much more about hearing the voice of God or about healing, say. Are we students of the things of God, learning from those who know?
- Samuel submitted himself to God
Eli gave good advice. And Samuel followed it. He asked God to speak and he submitted himself to whatever God would say. “I am your servant, and I am listening.”
If we pray for God to act, it is equally important that we have submitted ourselves to whatever God might do. We can say “Lord, speak” but we must also be willing to obey. We can say, “Lord, make me more like Jesus” but will we let God change us? We can say, “Lord, You promised that I would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on me” but are we willing to exercise the power of God?
If the answer is “yes”, we will be like Samuel.
- Samuel was obedient
God gave him a very severe judgement on the house of Eli, his mentor and priest! Would the young Samuel faithfully pass on what God had said? If he was going to be a prophet, this was a test of his willingness to speak God’s truth without fear of people. He passed the test.
Samuel’s example, for any time when we might be disappointed with God, is to remain faithful anyway. It takes us back to last week’s list. Keep spending time with Jesus. Don’t give up. Keep seeking the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Don’t ever think that you are wasting your time. Keep choosing to imitate Jesus. There isn’t a better way. Keep trusting God and keep being obedient to His every word.
That faithfulness, in itself, will be amazing. And who knows when God might, in response to your faithfulness, do something even more amazing through you?