Acts 14:8-10 8 In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
Recently I read a brilliant article by Brian Harris (actually I think it was a sermon) on the question of guidance. It got me really thinking about how big the whole ‘guidance question’ has become in our time. Truly anxiety really is the dizziness of freedom. –Kierkegaard
The more freedom of choice we experience the more nervous we seem to get as we feel paralyzed by the mere possibility of choosing the wrong thing and thereby ‘wasting our life’. Meanwhile, you can kind of imagine a medieval farmer slaving away to produce enough food to feed his family for a week not really having much issue with this question. He’s just happy to see the first green shoots on his potato plants pop out from the soil.
Still, here we are and a lot of young people I talk to seem to be grappling with the idea of guidance at least partly because our culture seems to have hitched us up to another wagon as well; effectiveness. The modern world hates ineffectiveness. We have a drive to want to ‘make a difference’. Youth conferences are often all about how you can ‘make a difference for Jesus,’ and the parable of the talents is a favorite for youth devotions.
But do we stop to think why?
Why do I really want to be effective? Really?
I’m going to be honest and admit that the more effective I am at what I do, the better I look to other people. We’ve got to admit that there’s at least a temptation in there.
Is it possible that what turbocharges our quest to be effective and therefore leads us to struggle with the question of guidance can sometimes be reasons that are a little less biblical than we might think?
What if our drive for effectiveness is in some part fueled by the urge to ‘justify our existence’ before others?
What if the urge to do ‘the right thing for us,’ is in part due to wanting to impress people? (putting it bluntly.)
Meanwhile here’s Paul. In Acts 8, we have yet another example of how Paul is just about the most effective person on the face of the earth at this point. I mean think about it for a second; on a purely historical footing, you’d have to say that this guy is, apart from Jesus himself, the most influential figure in Christianity and therefore has to at least be in the conversation of the most influential people to ever live.
He has such…..power.
Not simply intellectually, but spiritually. He has powers of discernment that anyone who works with and around other people which they had. Here he looks at a crippled man and knows, realizes, sees that he has faith to be healed.
And then of course, heals him.
Paul lived big. Paul was effective. Paul was influential. In this thing we call life; Paul absolutely smashed it.
Well for a kickoff, Paul never really seems to be super concerned about if what he is doing a the present moment is ‘God’s will’ for his life. For the most part, he just lives for God wherever he finds himself. Even if that is in the belly of an ancient Roman prison.
I wonder when some talk about ‘chasing God’s best for you,’ they include the possibility of being imprisoned in a foreign land as part of their exciting catchphrase. I’m not trying to be negative, rather measuring some of the words we use up against N.T. examples.
Anyway, Paul moves through his life yes, seeking guidance on occasions but more often simply making the most of every occasion to glorify God. Whatever that occasion might be. Paul’s so concerned with the glory of God’s grand plan for the world, (the Gospel message) that he doesn’t really have time to freak out over God’s plan for Paul. This is because Paul is so rested, and so at peace with what God has already done for him.
My favorite verse of Paul’s writings is Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Every time I read this I imagine Paul authoring it with a tear of gratitude in his eye. And that, ironically is the key to true effectiveness, the source of Paul’s massive influence. Paul is effective because his affections have been changed by God.
The deepest affections of Paul’s heart have been affected by the Gospel. Now, those affections birth effectiveness in his life. When I reflect on Paul, I realize that the best thing I can do to be effective is to not focus on my effectiveness, but grow in awareness of my affections, and invite God to consecrate them to himself.
Perhaps the simplest way in which we can show God that we’re serious about this is to be deliberately grateful. Gratitude, is the first step to changing our affections. Gratitude opens the eyes of the heart to the reality of grace.
“I no longer want to impress people, but to bring pleasure to God for he has been good to me,”-the first step and statement towards effective ministry, wherever we might be.
There’s nothing more miserable than getting what you want for the wrong reasons. There’s nothing worse than craving affirmation from people and getting it at the same time, especially for what you do, or what gift you have.
It’s like being addicted to something, you crave it and when you get that hit you realize moments later that it hasn’t satisfied you at all, and so you’re even more depressed by the realization that you’re on an endless hamster wheel pumping nothing but dust out of an empty cistern.
But if that is case, the opposite also is true! If your affections are for God and his glory, any effectiveness we have is turned from addictive spiritual contraband to a flowering plant; giving off beauty and perfume to people, whilst receiving warmth and refreshment from God.
When our joy becomes God’s glory, whatever brings glory to him provides joy to the soul. We become effective, safe……happy.
It starts by choosing gratitude.