Being a Baptist minister is a lovely thing. And I could fill a few dozen Messenger articles listing the reasons why I believe this. The Lord has blessed me in many different ways since my ordination. This month, I’d like to reflect on just one of these many blessings: hearing words of Godly wisdom.
For much of my working week, I have the privilege of being surrounded by men and women of the Faith. The influence of the Holy Spirit in their lives is evident. A casual question or query from me can often bring forth a Divine explanation. I’ve lost count of the number of times that a Christian friend has clarified something and I’ve quipped, “You’ll be hearing that in the sermon this Sunday!”
One such person is my friend Steve Rudge. When I first started as a minister at Norwich Central Baptist Church, he was a member of the congregation who became a partner in ministry and then the pastor of Wycliffe Baptist Church in Colchester. Steve and I were planning a Sunday service and we had a conversation that ran a little like this:
Me: “Isn’t it marvellous when a service really ‘works’: when God’s people really get a chance to worship Him, when there’s life changing ministry, when we hear from God, when we all love Him and each other more by the end of it?”
Steve: “Yes.” (To be fair, Steve probably said much more than that…)
Me: “Why can’t every service be like that? Why are some better than others? What do we get wrong?”
Steve: “In my experience, problems come when we focus on something God’s done, rather than God Himself. We have a great time in a particular service and think that we can simply copy the elements of one act of worship into another service and it’ll be great again. We miss the fact that it’s God who makes it great. We need to earnestly seek Him and His leading afresh every time.”
Should the Reverend Doctor Steve Rudge ever read this, I hope he’ll forgive my clumsy summary of his words. He probably put it far better than I’ve managed to remember. I hope, however, that the gist is clear: in all matters to do with service planning (indeed, with all matters to do with anything!) we should start with God, not with past experiences.
We humans seem to love to find patterns and routines in our day-to-day lives. Sometimes, this tendency can help us to work and live more efficiently, and keep us from danger. At other times, this tendency can cause us to rely on ourselves and ignore God’s marvellous habit of doing new exciting things. Take Samuel, for example: in 1 Samuel 16, we read that the Lord has asked him to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new king of Israel: “Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” So, Samuel goes and the Lord adds some crucial words to His message to Samuel: “I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” If you read this super chapter, you soon discover a moment when Samuel comes dangerously close to ignoring God’s instructions. He nearly anoints the wrong person. The last time that God asked Samuel to anoint someone, it was Saul – a man who was famously tall, head and shoulders above his peers. When Samuel sees Jesse’s son Eliab, he declares: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” Wrong! It was someone tall last time, Samuel, but this time it’s not going to be. God is doing something fresh and unexpected,
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
In these words, God shows us some of the many reasons we must always look to Him and not just to the patterns and routines that we’ve woven into our lives. Our powers of observation help us put our patterns and routines in place, and our powers of observation are seriously flawed. We don’t see deeply enough into things.
We often don’t get to the heart, the truth. But, when we turn to God, rely on God, seek God passionately, we can be sure that we seek the One Who knows the heart, knows the truth, is the Truth.
When we turn to God, we become the kind of men and women of the Faith who can respond to questions with Divine explanations. When we turn to God, we become the kind of men and women of the Faith who can plan a service that is a great blessing to all who attend.