Today, because of a family connection to the Graham family (Billy Graham/Franklin Graham), I was able to have a personal tour and meet some people at the headquarters of Samaritans Purse.
It was fascinating (and a bit overwhelming!) to get a glimpse into what happens “behind the scenes” of a very large but effective non-profit mission organization. Being I am leading a much smaller mission organization, it was also a great opportunity to ask some questions and get a feel for what things look like on another level and how it all works. I left realizing anew that while so many people are blessed by ministries like Samaritans Purse (or ServeNow!), these “miracles” unfolding in people’s lives have a whole process that takes place behind the scenes in quiet but essential ways by many faithful servants, staff, donors and volunteers.
It reminded me of Jesus’ first miracle, which is one of my favorite stories. In John chapter 2, Jesus is attending a wedding (always a good idea to invite Jesus into every aspect of your life!) when the hosts run out of wine (a major social/cultural disgrace). Jesus’ mother does what we all ought to do when faced with problems in our lives, or that we see in others lives…bring the problem to him in prayer and intercede that he might intervene. Pray that he might turn a bitter situation into something sweet and beautiful!
Also, as an important note, there was nothing fancy about her prayer, and she also went directly to Jesus, simply stating the problem: They have no more wine. (verse 3). Don’t put your faith in eloquent prayers or long-winded prayers. Put your faith in the one who answers prayers!
Jesus’ initial response is interesting however, because it would appear on the surface that he isn’t going to step into this situation (verse 4). Doesn’t it sometimes feel that way when you pray about a particular problem or situation? I believe most of us don’t pray to begin with because we don’t really believe God will do anything, or we get discouraged and give up too soon when nothing seems to change instantly. Yet almost in every case that prayer is talked about in Scripture (certainly most of Jesus’ teaching on prayer) we are encouraged not only to pray (coming directly to God, through Jesus, with confidence as a child of His) but to keep praying (to not give up!). I recently preached on this, which you can listen to here: Keep Praying!
Thankfully, Jesus’ mother didn’t take his response as a “no” and give up. Instead, she understood that while Jesus was saying he was not going to do this in a public way as she might be expecting (it wasn’t his time to reveal himself publicly as the Messiah) it didn’t mean he wasn’t going to do anything! Sometimes what appears to be a “no” is really just a “no” to how you think it should happen! Discerning this, she astutely (mothers always find a way don’t they?) turns to the servants nearby and gives them the best advice that any parent, pastor or person can give to someone else: Do whatever he tells you. (verse 5).
This is so critical, but we often miss the significance of what Mary recognizes. Many times Jesus doesn’t work in a big “dramatic” way that everyone easily recognizes has come from him. Often, he works quietly through ordinary but obedient people, who are willing to not be “hero’s” who tell God what to do, but humble servants who do whatever God tells them to do!
In fact, now that I am leading an international mission organization, I am being exposed to seeing, hearing and reading on a weekly basis, lives being touched and transformed all around the world through ServeNow. In our first four years alone, I have watched our little organization specifically and directly serve over two million people!
Thousands upon thousands are becoming recipients of God’s blessing because of humble, ordinary, (but obedient), people who are willing to respond to whatever Jesus is leading them to do. This includes even when, or especially when, it doesn’t always “make sense” to those involved. And make no mistake, God often works in the most special ways when what he asks us to do doesn’t make sense to us (or others) at first!
Think about it. When this situation in John chapter two required wine, do you think it made sense to fill the jars with water? (verse 7). Our problem is we read this knowing the outcome, but those involved in this didn’t know until after the fact of acting on these instructions! Also, it probably would have felt a little “foolish” or even “risky” reputation wise to do this and also “draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” (verse 8).
But the servants didn’t argue, protest, do it their way, or even ask questions. They simply followed the instructions given to them. As a result, Jesus included them behind the scenes in a process of this miracle unfolding that would bless those at this wedding. However, don’t fail to note that only the servants who carried out these instructions, “witnessed” the miracle and realized where it had come from (verse 9).
I believe God is looking for more “servants” who will simply do whatever Jesus leads them to do. It is amazing to me as I think about Samaritans Purse, how that started because one man (Bob Pierce) prayed a simple but dangerous prayer (that God will answer if you sincerely pray it!) “Let my heart be broken for the things that break the heart of God.” That man was willing to be broken and then do something about the needs he saw and people in need. Because of his often “unorthodox” or seemingly crazy obedience in being moved enough to meet needs he didn’t always know how to meet, or have the resources needed in the moment to humanly meet, millions of people are still being served around the world through Samaritans Purse and “miracles” are happening as God provides. I heard some of those “God stories” today, and have some of those God-faithfulness stories of my own!
While everyone wants to be the recipient of God’s blessings or miracles in their lives, I contend that the greater blessing is to be used as a vessel, behind the scenes, as a humble, obedient servant, through which the process of a miracle unfolds! That is the true privilege, though it involves some time, effort, trust, faith and obedience at the risk of looking a little crazy! And make no mistake. The things God will lead you to do will often appear “crazy” or not always make sense in the moment to you or others. You will probably find yourself second-guessing yourself and certainly have others who think you are crazy or strange!
For example, I remember one time, I felt like God was telling me to go to Chicago. I sensed he wanted me to get a message to someone I had never met and did not know how to find. All that I felt was clear was that he was in a gang, in the West Side of Chicago, and the name “Hudson” kept coming to mind as I was praying. Never before or since have I ever had an experience like this. And it seemed utterly crazy to me to do this, but I told two others friends about it and they actually were crazy enough to take a road trip with me to Chicago! For three days we tried in vain to figure out what to do or how to find this person. Finally, we decided that we were absolutely nuts, gave up and started to drive home.
Before we got out of the West Side of Chicago however, we noticed a woman pulled over on the side of the road with a flat tire. My friends wanted to stop and help her, but I was in a bad mood and didn’t want to do it. We stopped however, and ended up buying her a new tire. She was so grateful she invited us to her house for dinner. We were hungry, with little money left, so we decided to take her up on it. While she was cooking, I decided to go out on a limb and said, “there isn’t anyone in your family named “Hudson is there?” She kind of froze for a moment and then said quietly…”that’s my maiden name.” You should have seen our jaws drop! I then asked her if she had a brother who was in a gang. This time it seemed like she became really uncomfortable and tried to dodge the question. She even asked if we were police officers! We assured her we were not and I simply told her that we were Christians and felt during a time of prayer that we were to come to Chicago and tell a man in a gang named Hudson that God loved him, wanted a relationship with him through repentance and faith in Jesus and that he had a plan for his life.
She finally admitted she did have a brother who was in a gang and even gave us an address where we could find him. However, we never did end up finding him ourselves. We are not even sure to this day whether she gave us the right address to find him or even what actually happened to her brother, but it was all too surreal to be a coincidence, so we left satisfied that we had been obedient, (though admittedly a little disappointed that we didn’t meet him for ourselves). I am sure they had an interesting conversation after we left and can only imagine what he must have felt about that story!
The point is, I believe we see so little “miracles” through our lives because we don’t step out in faith and simple obedience near enough. Everything has to “make sense” to our rational and logical Western brains. But I also believe, if more people were a bit more courageous (or crazy!) many more people would be blessed because of our faithfulness and God would use us in astonishing ways in other people’s lives.
If you want to leave a real legacy in this world and have an actual impact during your life, and after your life, in a way that matters eternally, I challenge you to do whatever He says. I challenge you to begin to pray that God will break your heart for what breaks his heart and be willingly to be used by him even when it “doesn’t make sense” or you don’t understand how it will all work out. I challenge you to make others problems your problems, and begin to intercede on their behalf. Bring those situations to him in prayer. Simply lay them before him and then be willing to do whatever he says. It is only through drawing near to him in prayer, seeking him in his Word, and letting your heart be moved by others needs that you will ever begin to cultivate a sensitive enough heart to hear his voice and become a blessing. True compassion comes from God, is something deep within your very being, and always results in action. And that action can have a ripple effect in others lives in ways you could never imagine…