There’s a danger that, while being well-meaning, we can get in the way of what God is doing (August 30)
“You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” Jer. 15:18b
“Never, Lord,” Peter said. “This shall never happen to You!” Matt. 16:22
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right… Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath… “ Romans 12:17, 19
Here are three verses from the August 30 readings, illustrating three aspects of how our limited human perspective can cause us to misunderstand or even obstruct what God is going.
It is all too easy to let our human nature and short-term viewpoint get in the way of what God wants to do. He has a higher purpose and longer timescale (eternal!) which is difficult for us to grasp. So before we act, the question is always: “What is God doing here?”
Peter is the classic example. He was all ready to stand in Jesus’ way to stop Him for heading for Jerusalem. He had heard Jesus explain how He would “suffer many things”. That was enough for Peter. He wasn’t about to let that happen.
But Jesus was part of a much greater and far more extended purpose — a purpose that offers us forgiveness of sin and new life in Him, 2,000 years later.
Jesus knew He had to suffer those things… for us! He knew it would go all the way, on an evil tide of malicious accusations and false witness (what did the Ten Commandments say about false witness?) which would put Him, horribly beaten and exposed, on a Roman cross to die slowly… for us. This most costly of all sacrifices was God’s plan to secure our salvation — and Peter’s outburst was well-intentioned but misplaced. What is God doing here?
In the first story of this Sunday’s readings (Jeremiah 15:15-21) the prophet cries out: “Lord, You understand; remember me… avenge me…”. It is as if he had been reflecting on Psalm 26 which begins: “Vindicate me, Lord… I have trusted… and have not faltered.”
But the prophet did falter, and his legendary trust of God through all the reproach and physical abuse he took for his faithfulness, started to wobble. He speaks of his pain, and the worse consequences if he does not keep receiving God fresh word of truth. He is not sure whether he is hearing God or not. The penalty for not hearing and being denounced as a false prophet, do not bear thinking about. What is God doing here?
The Lord turns him around and gives him a new authority and commission. He turns Jeremiah’s focus from “Remember me” to “I will restore you… this people will not overcome you, for I am with you”.
And later on, Jesus had to do some turning around of His lead disciple. Peter, ‘the rock’, had made a show of preventing Jesus coming to harm. So this solid, dependable person, who would carry so much responsibility at Pentecost and immediately afterwards — this is what God is doing here — with a vital role of establishing the early church, born into persecution, was acting as a loose “stumbling block” rock rather than a secure rock at that moment.
So do we, when we act on common sense without spiritual discernment. What is common sense? What is sensible — from a human perspective. It protects man’s interest well enough, but our call is to be sensitive to the Lord’s interests. Recognising that His ways are higher, we ask, “What is God doing here?”
Paul takes this thought further. Writing to Christians in status-conscious Rome, he says: “Love must be sincere. Practise hospitality… Be willing to associate with people of low position.”
Rome was a cosmopolitan, multicultural society. It was rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, state functionaries, business owners, workers, bond servants. Some of these would have been Christian slaves. In a church setting, they mixed fairly freely with Christian slave owners. Many slaves were valued for their skills and well-treated, and in many situations they could earn their freedom, but there was still a sharp division. Rome society was quite a mixture, but a more stratified, divided mixture than we would see. It’s a very challenging picture.
God’s plan was to dismantle the man-created barriers, and it still is. In the 1800s it was common for church seating to be allocated for a fee — a pew rent. More important people like estate owners would have a permanent family place, a bit more private, like a box. Those ‘in service’ would be free to attend on Sunday evening but generally labouring people would find space in the gallery with ‘the quality’ enjoying more comfortable pews below. Paul’s words would be a challenge to those customs then.
In our day, the more prophetically-gifted people might have as vision for what God wants to do in a congregation. They might be picking up a sense of the reaching-out mission of the church, and changes needed to make it more open and friendly to those not ‘part of the club’. Like Jeremiah, we often give those people a hard time and see them as a threat. But what is God doing here? We might be the people who lead or manage things in the congregation. But if that sense of managing shifts from stewarding and serving, to an ungodly, self-protecting control, we can so easily, like Peter, be the stumbling block preventing the new thing that God is doing — and opposing the gospel. And if new people start coming to services or meetings, almost by definition they will be different and will change the dynamic somewhat. They will be unfamiliar with all the unwritten rules and the religious conventions. They may sit where you usually sit.. and dress and act differently. But before you judge, ask quietly and prayerfully, “God, what are You doing here?”
We all get in the way of God’s plan at times. We know all about our preferences, but we don’t give a lot of thought to His. And His way of shaking things up a bit doesn’t fit well with our emotional need for predictability and security. But He is God, and the church is His church just as we are His people, the sheep of His pasture. He’s ready to tell us, ready to involve us, ready to grow us a bit more if we will just ask the question: “God, what are You doing here?”