For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
So, what have I learned about how God works over nearly six decades of ministry?
In two sentences, it’s this:
When God gets ready to do something great and lasting, He loves to a) start small, b) with ordinary people, c) using any methods He pleases, and d) taking HIs own good time about it.
Only people of faith will work with Him on this and still be there at the end to see what God has done and to behold His glory.
Two sentences that encompass a thousand things God has done and is doing.
It’s important to note that these principles are illustrated all through scripture.
FIRST, SOME SCRIPTURE FOR EACH POINT, THEN THE IMPLICATIONS FOR US…
- He loves to start small. That’s the parable of the mustard seed. Matthew 13:31-32. Zechariah asked, “Who has despised the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:10). And we have the memorable line from Jonathan, that “It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or by the many” (I Samuel 14:6). When God got ready to save the world, He sent a Baby.
- He loves to use ordinary people. That’s His choice of disciples, and it’s the makeup of the church at Corinth. I Corinthians 1:26. When God was thinking of a welcoming committee to greet His Son upon His arrival on earth, He chose a few shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem (Luke 2) and bypassed the theologians in Herod’s court (Matthew 2).
- He will use any method He pleases. That is the point of Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the Heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” The opening chapter of the New Testament makes this point in spades: The Lord’s genealogy includes a wide assortment of people, royalty and nobodies, godly and not-so-godly, rich and poor. Then, the second half of Matthew 1 has the Lord using angels, dreams, Virgin Birth, and Joseph who is given a key role but no speaking parts. God does whatever and however He pleases.
- He takes all the time He wishes. A thousand years, a moment–all the same to the One who lives above time and our space. That’s Second Peter 3:8. Back to that first chapter of Matthew, we read that the birth of Jesus was to fulfill a prophecy by Isaiah, given over 700 years earlier. That would be like a prophecy in the 1400’s coming true now. Surely, the expectations of most would have grown cold. But God is good to His promises, “not slack” as Peter puts it. I think about those shepherds of Bethlehem who were given the greatest privilege imaginable. I wonder if ten years later they talked and reminisced about the angels in the skies and the Family in the stable and wondered, “Whatever came of that?” No one had heard a thing. And twenty years later, did they meet and talk and wonder? And thirty years later. They surely must have wondered whether it was real. And then one day, they heard of a preacher in the desert wearing animal skins and eating locusts and honey and preaching the Kingdom of God.
God has His own ways and reasons for doing what He does. And He does not always tell us what He is doing or why. Only people of faith will hang in there with Him. Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) After all, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). “The righteous shall live by faith,” we are told four times in Scripture–Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38.
So, since God has His own ways and purposes, we would do well to take that into consideration. It’s not enough to know this is How He Works. The question is: What then shall we do?
THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS. It’s not enough to say or to know that “this is how God works.” We must then say, “So, what does this mean to us?” “How are we then to work and live and minister?”
- Since God loves to begin with the smallest of things–we must learn to be faithful in little things. A word here, a phone call, a note, a hasty remark, a tip for a waiter, an unguarded moment. “He who is faithful in that which is little is faithful also in that which is much” (Luke 16:10). Let us take care of small things.
- Since God loves to use ordinary people–we must be people of love. We must work at loving “little” people, you’ll pardon the expression. These are the people whom life tends to overlook–the outcast, the minority, the foreigner, the poor, the handicapped, the leper, all of whom are featured throughout Scripture as objects of God’s great love. True, there are no little people with God, but there are with man. We will be loving.
- Since God loves to use any method and there is no predicting how He will do anything, we must be flexible. Open to new things. Jesus gave us the lesson of the new wine in new wineskins. Old wineskins are dried out, hardened, stiff and unyielding. New wine is still fermenting, is expanding, bubbling, growing, and will burst the old stiff rigid wineskin. So new wine must be put in new wineskins. The point for God’s people is we must remain youthful in spirit, adaptable and flexible in methodology, and responsive to Him.
- Since God loves to take all the time He wishes and does not use our clock or our calendar, we must learn to be patient, to wait upon the Lord. Throughout Scripture we are called to wait upon the Lord.
THIS WILL GUIDE AND INFORM ALL OUR PLANS, OUR PROGRAMS, OUR MINISTRIES…
We must forever bear in mind that these four principles–smallness, ordinariness, methodologies, timing–go against man’s natural inclinations.
Instead of smallness, we like it big. I’ve known of churches to cancel prayer meetings because only a few showed up.
Instead of ordinary, we want celebrities. A prophet has honor, said the Lord, but not locally. The greater the distance, the greater the celebrity.
Instead of flexibility, we want God to use our approved methods. The denomination finds a program a church is doing and succeeding with, and soon makes that the approved plan for all the churches. It’s man’s way.
Instead of patience, we want it now. By sundown at least. I think of the disciples in the Upper Room who were waiting for the Promise of the Father, the filling of the Holy Spirit. So, while they waited, they decided to fill the vacancy in the twelve left by Judas. They decided on the qualifications, found only two who met the requirements, and prayed, “Lord, show us which one of these two,” and basically flipped a coin. Running ahead of God. We’ve been doing it ever since. It’s so hard to wait on the Lord.
To start small.
To go with ordinary people when others seem more qualified.
To abandon successful methods that worked last year all because our leader feels led by God to do it another way.
To wait on the Lord when we could be working now.
God help us.