EARLY ONE TUESDAY MORNING [The Wondrous Ways of God]

Bed, Bedroom, Blanket, Books, Cover

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An old hymn reads, ‘Once heaven seemed a far-off place, Till Jesus showed His smiling face; Now it’s begun within my soul… Oh, hallelujah, yes, ’tis heav’n, ‘Tis heaven to know my sins forgiv’n; On land or sea, what matters where? – Where Jesus is, ’tis heaven there!’ [1] Well, a tiny bit of heaven visited me one recent Tuesday morning between 2.30 and 6.30 am. Normally wild horses wouldn’t move me at that hour. The prospect of a good cup of coffee helped the resurrection process. The Lord seemed to drop 4 words into my mind in those wee hours, fairly unusual for an earthling like me. I jotted them down and shared them with Melanie over breakfast. The 4 words are distinct yet share a common thread, summed up by Isaiah’s words to God’s errant people plus minus 2,600 (?) years ago: Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…” (Is. 55:7-9). ‘The wondrous ways of God’ indeed!

The first word was ‘SMALL.’

  • My mind leaped to Zechariah’s post-exilic words to Zerubbabel, part of a small company of Jews allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. God reminds this little remnant,“‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground… the hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it… Who despises the day of small things?'”  
  • My mind jumped to Jesus’ words concerning his ekklesia on earth, “‘I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them'” (Mt. 18:19-20). For the past 13 years my wife and I have been facilitating small house-fellowships with great joy. They’re comprised of ragamuffin believers of all ages, cultures and backgrounds [2]. You see, truth seems to flourish in a smaller, relational atmosphere. A South African friend of mine, Tobie, recently wrote a gem about ‘The Wisdom of the Little People:’ ‘I foresee a return to the wisdom of the little people, emboldened and enlivened by the presence of Christ in their midst, when they meet in twos and threes or more. I see a hunger for truth that is true in the moment of relational encounter, never contrary to one jot or tittle from Scripture, but always as the pouring forth of that life that breathed out Scripture in the first place. And I see a disenchantment with the formulations of the super-apostles and religious ideologues and denomination-makers, the manna of yesteryear, the searching and categorizing of the Scriptures apart from Christ’s presence in our midst’ (cf. Jer. 31:33-34). I told Tobie I would consider it my highest privilege on earth to be numbered among so rich a remnant! [3]

The second word was ‘STEADFAST.’

  • Individual disciples and simple churches are called to steadfastly continue in the life of Christ, i.e. loving God and our neighbour as ourselves. Dallas Willard often spoke of ‘a long obedience in the same direction.’ Paul addresses the Corinthian believers along similar lines: ‘So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless’ (1 Cor. 15:58) (note the preceding v. 57’s ‘But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ!’). ‘Enthusiastically’ literally means ‘in God.’ Yes, we ‘labour’ in our service for God, yet we do so in the life and energy of Christ himself, who endured the Cross and received his reward (Heb. 12:1b-4).
  • It’s steadfastness in the ‘small things’ that counts. To quote the celebrated Helen Keller, ‘I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.’

The third word was ‘SUBMISSION.’

  • Following Jesus is essentially about character (Dallas Willard). That magnificent Early Church hymn quoted in Philippians points to Christ’s ‘self-emptying’ for our sake. It is prefaced by ‘Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too’ (Phil. 2:3-5). In some mysterious way Christ gave up his divine privileges, taking the humble position of a slave to serve others (v. 6-7) and to set an example for all who dare follow in his footsteps!
  • Having served as a denominational pastor for 38 years, I can assure you that many pastors are tempted to yield to the sense of power, influence and self-importance their ministries offer them. They need to win the argument, have the final word, listen but not hear, etc. Recently God challenged me again to make peace with dying in obscurity if necessary.

The fourth word was ‘SILENCE.’

  • Following Queen Jezebel’s threats, the hitherto brave prophet Elijah flees in fear to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:1-7). There Yahweh appears to him. Elijah feels forsaken by God despite his ‘zeal for Israel’ (v. 9b-10). God encounters him on the mountain: not via hurricane or earthquake or fire but ‘a gentle whisper’ (v. 11-12). In our noisy world, silence is critical to hearing God’s voice, both as individuals and communities. Often we’re too busy ‘serving the church’ to hear him, too caught up with the voices in our heads, too busy talking to hear him speak (how we love our own voices!), not really hearing what he says, etc. I remember as yesterday the release I felt on leaving my final denominational pastorate with all its laws, demands, machinery and maintenance. My view since is that most pastors are so busy sermon-preparing, preaching, visiting, organizing and keeping the factory going that there’s hardly time to hear the Spirit’s gentle whisper. One mega-church pastor in our city confessed that it took about 160 people working flat-out over the weekend to make a morning service ‘happen.’ Folk in the pews (from the latter, may the good Lord deliver us) haven’t digested the last sermon before they’re bombarded by the next sermon or Bible study or seminar or discipleship program. One of our enthusiastic house church participants recently confided with us over dinner the sheer exhilaration, amid the many demands of life, of his inner sanctum with God in the early hours of the morning when all is quiet!

And so dawn broke that Tuesday. The day went by. But I believe those 4 key-words regarding God’s wondrous ways with us will live on, in some hearts at least, for a good while… please pray with me that they do!

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[1] Charles Butler, pub. 1898. [many believers still think of heaven as ‘up there,’ when heaven actually came down to stay in Jesus (Jn. 1:14). Of course we still look forward to God’s ‘heaven on earth’ come in perfection!]

[2] I have in a small way witnessed and studied the exploding under-ground house church movement in China. More recently news has broken of the exploding Church in Iran, North Africa and parts of India. Praise God!

[3] Tobie van der Westhuizen blogs under naturalchurch. Worth following!