I was recently listening to a preacher whose name I’ve now forgotten, and he was talking about his ministry in Papua New Guinea a few years ago. One principal of his ministry with the local youth that he touched on which really challenged me was that he didn’t teach the young people he was ministering to something new, until they’d demonstrated that they could put the last lesson into practice. He would actually tell them to come back the next week with evidence that they have applied the bible’s teachings to their lives.
Now I don’t know about you, but some of the stuff Jesus preached was pretty difficult to put into practice without seriously rocking some boats. But he continually told people that people who hear his word and put it into practice are blessed and are basically the kind of people that he’s looking for as followers.
So I’m a follower of Jesus, why don’t I go home after every Sunday sermon and map out ways that I’m going to put those new teachings into practice in my life that week?
I think about all the amazing words that we are encouraged with at church, and all the times that we are told that feeding the hungry, releasing the oppressed, praying for those who are persecuted or who are in pain, and reaching out to the lost in real tangible ways, are supposed to be things that are part of our everyday existence. Imagine if everyone in the church today put these things into practice and actually, literally lived it like the bible instructed. How many people would we offend?! It’d be great! We’d pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done”, and it would actually happen! I’m not just talking about giving regularly in tithes and offerings at church every Sunday or going home and writing in your prayer journal when you say you’ll pray for people (although both of these things are great to do and I encourage both). I was challenged with the thought that God doesn’t give the next instruction until we’ve taken the first step and obeyed the first thing he said. If you’ve been saying that you want to hear more of God’s voice and you find yourself feeling envious of those who seem to hear from God regularly (you know the type, the happy-clappy, let-me-pray-for-that-ailment, hallelujah-praise-the-Lawd guy), then you should look at what those people are already doing; I find that in most cases, they hear God’s voice really clearly because they’re obeying the instructions they’ve already been given and they’re waiting for the next one.
God is speaking to everyone, whether it is to say that he loves them, or whether it is to pray for someone in particular, or to do something really specific like pass on a gift to a person that they have never spoken to before. And I’ve realised that when I listen to that voice and respond to it, however scary or difficult at first, two things happen: firstly, it always seems to work out perfectly – more perfectly than it would’ve worked out if I’d chosen the logical option – and I find myself on this high of adrenaline and giddy excitement where I’m high-fiving Jesus and clicking my heels as I go on my merry way, and secondly, I hear more instructions! It really works! Try it.
Beware, this challenge isn’t for the on-the-fence Christian. But then again, back in Jesus’ day there was no such thing as an on-the-fence Christian, at least not the way Jesus saw things. I’m not saying I’m anywhere near where I’d like to be in terms of my obedience to God’s voice and how I’m living my life. I know there’s a lot (a lot) of room to improve. (A lot, I’m not even kidding here.) But God has been challenging me with this for the past two weeks now, and yesterday when a lady approached me stammering desperate pleas for help, distraught about being evicted from her government housing because she had to leave to look after her nephew on short notice, I apologised and said I didn’t know a great deal about housing and I couldn’t really help her out with finding bank statements. As I was walking off to get my lunch with the $20 I had just withdrawn from the ATM in hand, the Holy Spirit urged me to buy this homeless lady lunch. I had to turn around and walk back to her while she was still fumbling with the ATM in an unsuccessful attempt to find some evidence of her bank statements so she could appeal her eviction, and with my heart in my throat, I asked if I could buy her something from the takeaway I was about to buy my lunch from. She hesitated at first but eventually she relented and we sat together in the food court. I found out that her name was Tania, that she’s 29 years old, that she doesn’t know how to use chopsticks except for the ones that are joined at the top, she likes the show Modern Family and dislikes her freckles. I saw a picture of her beautiful daughter, who has her father’s hair and a kind heart for helping people. I heard about the troubles she has had with government housing in the past few months and years, and she told me which youth and welfare services she didn’t like in the area in her experience over the years. She told me about her health issues and how she’ll need surgery, and how all of this is affecting what she can and can’t eat. On the verge of tears she told me it was unlikely Housing NSW would consider her plea for reconsideration without her bank statements and she might have to sleep in the gutter tonight, but she quickly changed the subject back to something a little more light-hearted before she went any further into the subject. My only regret from the whole thing was that I couldn’t gather the courage to ask to pray with her, because I knew I would cry. I’m really kicking myself for not doing it, because I wasn’t sure where she would find shelter that evening. So there you go, folks, Eleshia only half-did the challenge, and although she still felt pretty elated after returning from that lunch break, she’s got a long way to go too. This stuff scares me and although I’m pretty outgoing, when it comes to prayer and sharing heart-to-heart stuff, I freeze up! I think God knows that, but you know what? The amount of love I felt God pouring out on both of us while I sat there in the food court told me that it didn’t matter, because he sees us trying.
I hope this encourages you. I’m going to keep trying to be obedient, which is quite a challenge and I’ve got a feeling this is just the start of the absurd things God will get me to do. But I wanted to share, because I’m sure if enough people actually put this stuff into practice, we’d change the world in a year.
If you’re reading this, I’m praying for you.