In this post, I want to start discussing what I believe are the two key necessary ingredients for Christians to participate in the mission of God. Listening and doing. That is, we learn to listen to God and when we hear God speak, we do what he says. I hope to add some subsequent posts on this issue at a near future date (though I am not sure how many) I also have been trying to drop some seed about this approach to God’s mission to Jesus’ people at the Randolph Church of Christ (so if you are an RCoC member reading this…read carefully).
Let’s consider a small but potent passage of scripture that helps us get a grasp on the explosive potentiality of listening and doing. Our passage is Luke 5.1-11 (you can read the entire passage here).
In this passage, Simon (whom we later know as the Apostle Peter) and his co-workers are just wrapping up after a very unproductive night of fishing. Jesus hops into the boat with Simon and tells him to head back out into the deep water and throw his nets back in the water to try once again.
As a former grave-yard shift employee, I have had a few of those unproductive nights when as soon as the morning came all I wanted to do was go home and get some sleep. So I would assume that Peter might come up with a very candid way of telling Jesus to get lost but he doesn’t. Instead he replies, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (v. 5, NIV, emphasis mine).
As the story goes on, Simon and his companions do as Jesus says and they catch a boatload…I mean a boatload…of fish…so much so that what no person on a boat wants to have happen, happened. The boats were sinking because of the massive catch (v. 7).
So why did Simon listen to Jesus in the first place? We, the readers, have the hind-sight of faith and know that Jesus is Jesus, the Son of God and not just some man named Jesus from the Galilean region. That is to say, I believe we are pressing too much into this text if we force our doctrinal beliefs about Jesus into the thinking of Simon at this point. Yet I don’t think when Simon heard Jesus speaking to him, he just saw him as any other ordinary Jewish person. First of all, Simon addresses Jesus as having a certain religious authority by calling him “Master” (v. 5). But earlier in our passage, Luke tells us that the crowds already recognized Jesus as someone from whom they heard “the word of God” (v. 1). Whatever degree of respect and authority Simon had come to regard Jesus as having, I believe Simon recognized that as Jesus instructed him to go back out into the water and drop his nets down, Simon believed that it was God speaking through Jesus. And so he did as he was told.
So what about us? I believe if we are going to be faithfully participating in the mission of God, we must learn how to hear God speak and then do what God says.
Listening to God… This is about letting God set our agenda rather than deciding how God ought to work ourselves. However, this is the difficult one from a theological viewpoint because not everyone is convinced that God will speak. Let me say that I have never heard God audibly speak to me as he did with people like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, etc…. But I also believe God speaks indirectly through people, events and circumstances, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and so forth. I do not believe that God is only communication to us is through scripture. However, I do believe that as scripture is inspired of God and authoritative, it is the measuring stick by which we discern if we are truly hearing God’s voice or hearing something else. And that means, that God is not going to tell us to do anything that is incoherent with what he has already revealed to us in scripture. So we need to learn how to listen for God’s voice.
Doing what God says… This is not theologically difficult but it will be even more difficult than listening for God’s voice because, if our passage is any indicator, when God speaks he does not conform his will to fit within our agendas or expectations. No…God instead tells his people to do things that often are beyond comprehension and outside of the box we try to keep God locked in and for this reason, doing what God says takes faith…more faith…and more faith.
How this works out practically is that I will simply pray that God will show me how he is at work wherever I am at and how I can join him in that work. Then I try to listen for God to speak (I am not always good at this but I am trying to get better) and when I discern that God has spoken, I try to do what he says (though I always try to make excuses to get out of it). And so last week at our the RCoC blood-drive, after a teen-age blood giver became sick, there was something in me (the Holy Spirit) saying you need to get everyone together and pray for this girl. Of course, I thought such a notion would just be bothersome to her two friends but after about ten minutes…I did what God said. And so the three of us RCoC members and the young girls two friends gathered together and prayed.
So as I leave this post, I should point out that it wasn’t until Simon showed Jesus that he would listen and do that Jesus invited Simon to join him in his mission (v. 10-11). Perhaps before we can proceed in participating in God’s mission, God is waiting to see if we will first learn to listen to him and do what he says in faith.