Do you remember sitting in school, probably during some boring subject like English (sorry teachers), staring at your book or out the window or even at the front of the room but not really paying attention? You know what always happens when you do that? You get called on to answer a question that you didn’t even hear. You rack your brain trying to come up with the question from the foggy recesses of your subconscious memory as you stare dazed and confused at the teacher’s expectant face as an awkward silence builds in the room and you plead silently for the teacher to move on to someone else. Unfortunately, this is often the same reaction in churches when there is a call for testimonies of what God is doing in our lives. Even if we know it’s coming, like a fifth-Sunday service, many people are still caught off guard with nothing to say. They sit in the awkward silence just waiting, hoping someone else will say something. Or they struggle to think of something they can say that will sound good and get them off the hook. The early Corinthian church had many issues when it comes to their gatherings, including what they emphasized, who they respected, what they allowed in the form of sinful lifestyles, and many more issues. However, there is one small phrase in 1 Corinthians 14 that has always caught my eyes. It is in the midst of a passage where Paul once again is correcting something, but even in this correction I see a glimmer of something fantastic that I wish we had more of in our churches today.
1 Corinthians 14:26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (ESV)In the context, Paul is calling them to gather together in an orderly manner to avoid a crazy, confusing gathering. However, I think it’s interesting that Paul notes that everyone is coming to this meeting ready to share something. Some have songs to sing; some have lessons to teach; some have better understanding of Scripture to share and more. When the early church gathered, it was a joyous time and people were bursting at the seams to talk about what God was doing and to praise Him! Does this verse describe you when you come to the gathering? Does it describe you when you get together with other families of believers or when you meet each other one-on-one? Are you continually bursting to share what God is doing in your life or is it like pulling teeth for you to come up with something to share? You may be thinking, “Well, God hasn’t really been doing much lately” or “I’m just in a dry spot spiritually” or “I’m reading my Bible but just don’t get much out of it” or some other reason why it seems God isn’t working in your life. If you have those thoughts, I want to remind you of a couple of verses from Philippians:
Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV) Philippians 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (ESV)If you are a follower of Christ, God has already begun a good work in you and Scripture tells us that He is always working in us to change our will and our actions to match His desire for us until Christ’s return, when we will be raised to glory. However, if we are not willingly participating in God’s work, we are much less aware of the things that He is doing in our lives and the lives of those around us. In order to regain our perspective and see God’s hand at work, we need to remind ourselves of how He works and ensure that we are engaging in His process. I want to quickly look at three ways that God works in our lives both individually, in small groups and even during our gatherings.
Bible Study & MeditationThis seems like the most obvious way that God works in our lives. We know the value of public preaching as a way to learn from Scripture and grow in our understanding of God and see where we need to change. However, I’m really more focused on our personal study and meditation.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)Paul reminded Timothy that Scripture is the main way that God uses to show us what is right, what is wrong, how to get right and how to stay right. It is the Word of God that the Holy Spirit uses to make us more like Christ. But are you actively engaged in this process? I don’t simply mean reading the Bible, but rather studying it, digging into it. Are you spending time thinking about what Scripture says or do you just read a chapter or follow a reading plan and assume you will grow? True study of Scripture takes time and work and meditation, however, when we engage in what God desires, we will see Him work to teach us more about Himself, about ourselves and about His will for us.
PrayerJust as Bible study seems like a no-brainer, prayer is probably something you would have come up with as well. However, I want you to evaluate your prayer life as a whole, not just the way you pray or what you pray for. For the sake of space, I won’t quote the whole passage, but look at what James says:
James 5:15–16 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (ESV)I believe this idea of praying in faith is praying with the expectation that God is going to do something. Now, I don’t believe that this is a promise that if we really believe what we pray, it will happen. That doesn’t line up with other Scriptures about praying within the will of God. However, I do believe that when we pray, we should expect God to do something. It may be that God answers the prayer as we have asked. It may be that God makes us wait or that God answers it in a way we don’t understand or want. But I wonder, do we really ask expecting an answer? I know I’m guilty of saying things like, “Lord, if you will, do this thing that we desire.” But in reality, I’m not expecting to hear or see that He does anything. If we’re not looking for the answer, we may miss it entirely. However, if we are expecting an answer, we will see the answer when God makes it clear. If we are expecting an answer we will be more apt to continue praying for whatever it is that we are praying for. This is true not only when we pray for ourselves, but when we pray for others as well. How often do we commit to pray for one another but don’t pray more than once? If we are expecting to see God work, we will pray more; we will ask for updates; we will encourage one another and grow together as we see God move.
TrialsOne final way God works in our lives is through trials. No-one likes these because they are painful. They can be hard to understand why God is allowing us to go through them. They can cause us to turn our backs to Him and sulk in the corner as we try to make it through on our own. Yet, God allows these trials many times specifically to work in our lives as He promised to do.
James 1:2–4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (ESV) 1 Peter 1:6–7 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (ESV)These two verses give us a glimpse into why God allows these hard times in our lives. James tells us that He is doing so to produce a stronger faith, to make us more and more complete. Peter tells us that He does this to test our faith and prove that it is genuine. You may be going through a trial right now, or perhaps you’ve been through one recently and you just don’t understand why God is allowing these things in your life. Even looking back, you may not be able to see why God allowed those things. If we are not engaging in the trials that God brings us through with a desire and thirst to have our faith increased, then we are missing out on what God is trying to do. Are you simply trying to get out of the trial or are you seeking to endure it with steadfast faith? God has promised that He will work and is working in our lives. If we are willing to engage in His process of Scriptural study, expectant prayer and faithfulness through trials, we will see God’s hand molding and shaping us to become more like Christ. When we see it, we will be just like that early Corinthian church, full of people anxiously waiting their turn to share with the body what God is doing instead of waiting through the awkward silence for the next song to be sung. Can you imagine that testimony service?!