Monday, July 29, 2013

Looking for What God is Doing

“The recurrent error of our technologically conditioned age is to look for what’s wrong in our lives so that we can fix it, or what needs doing so that we can have something worthwhile to do. There are things wrong that need fixing; and there are jobs that need doing. But the Christian life starts at the other end—not with us but with God: What is God doing that I can respond to? How is God expressing his love and grace so that I can live appreciatively and in obedience?” (Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall, 138-9)

This week I had the privilege of teaching the first of a two-week intensive course on the subject of the church and mission in a global context. At one point we began talking about how the church’s mission begins, not with a question about historical tradition (“we’ve always done it this way”) or cultural preference (“what do people like?”), but rather with an inquiry about what God is doing in this time and place. The church’s role, we decided, was to participate in what God was doing in the world around us.

So I asked for examples of how we’ve seen this work in our respective faith communities. It took a while (for me, too), but we did have stories of people coming together in prayer and conversation, seeking to grasp, even in weakness, fear, and trembling, God’s ongoing activity and preferences, and then taking the risk to join into the missional party that was already going on.

I came home from that first week in Phoenix on Saturday night, and jumped right into a full, life-giving day on Sunday. After a rich and reorienting worship gathering, my wife and I had lunch with friends, sharing stories of joy and pain, hope and faithfulness. In the evening we hosted some young Venezuelan friends—children of the partner churches in South America who had grown into adulthood and were now making their respective ways here in the States. It was a day of fullness and life.

As I take a little time to reflect on these past days (without that time of reflection, the days often just melt together, blending with the mundane and routine, losing their significance and meaning, becoming part of the purée of time), I am asking the two questions that Peterson poses: “What is God doing that I can respond to? How is God expressing his love and grace so that I can live appreciatively and in obedience?”

Every pleasant relational experience is not necessarily a signal that one’s life direction has to change or that a new vocation must be embraced. But reflecting on experiences that bring life and joy allows for the consideration that the Spirit of God—the source of life—is always at work, and that work is seen in the lives of real human beings, all struggling to find their place in the world.

So, on this, day, I ask those questions on a personal level, not just for the church. Maybe you are asking them as well. May God surprise us with his mysterious responses.

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