Month: December 2013

The Extra-ordinary and the ordinary (Luke 1:1-25)

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Are you like me? Sometimes thinking; “If only God could speak to me audibly, then I’d follow or obey!” But then I read the account in Luke leading up to Jesus’ birth and I realize that’s probably not true. I am not sure about you but I sadly tend to give myself more credit than I should – assume I’d have more faith would be more obedient than is the case in reality.

Luke 1 is an account of ordinary people with very ordinary responses to an extra-ordinary God and His dealings with us.

In Luke 1 we read about a guy called Zechariah, he is one of the priests in the temple, he is advanced in years and he and his wife have not been able to have children up to this point. One day while serving God in the temple the angel Gabriel appears to him in response to his prayers.

I identify with Zechariah maybe more than some might as you could say that like me, Zechariah was “in the ministry”. So he should be a man of faith, prayer, should expect God to answer prayer, to be present when we seek Him…

But that is not the case in Luke 1. Zechariah is serving God in the temple, there are a multitude of people are outside praying, he is making sacrifices to God – which is all good. But then God does something! God actually shows up. God shows up in His temple of all places, in response to the prayers of a His people, of all things!

Zechariah is flawed, shocked, even “troubled” Scripture says. He clearly was not expecting this manifestation of the presence of God.

I am slow to criticize Zechariah though, because I see myself in him. Maybe you are like me, often no different from Zechariah? I know that I can easily slip into “low expectation mode” – and I have to fight it off. I pray for healing but do I actually anticipate God responding and healing, I along with others pray for His presence in our meetings every week but would we be shocked if He sent an angel to represent Himself?

Although I have never served in the temple like, Zechariah I do spend my days ministering to God’s people. There are many times that I have prayed for people and they have sadly not been healed but there have been quite a few times that I have prayed for people and they have been healed. And in those moments my response often has been similar to that of Zechariah’s, I have been surprised, even doubtful in the moment of this other persons rejoicing of pain that is gone…!

I wish it were not so but it often has been.

Or we will be driving home from a Sunday meeting where God was tangibly present in some way, and while reflecting on the morning yes we are grateful but sometimes I catch myself in conversation together with Nadine and there is a hint of surprise in the conversation, “wow that was unexpected”, even though what we had just witnessed is what we pray for weekly…!

Are you like me? Like Zechariah?

Have you ever thought, “I will believe if God speaks to me audibly”?

Reading Zechariah makes me wonder whether we will in fact believe in those moments. Zechariah is in the temple, people are praying, an angel of a God appears and makes some monumental and good promises to him and his response is to be terrified, his response is unbelief and a request for more confirmation please.

“And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

“How can I trust you?” – that is essentially what he asks. “How can I believe you?”

Here we have the extra-ordinary (Zechariah is speaking to an angel of God) and a very ordinary response (How can I believe?). We know that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had not been able up to this point to have children, we know that Elizabeth was considered barren, so we can empathize with the struggle for faith but Zechariah is speaking to the angel Gabriel after all.

Will we believe even when faced with the extra-ordinary and God speaks to us audibly with a visible manifestation of His glory?

The good news is that a God is very patient and gracious in His dealings with guys like Zechariah, yourself and myself. God could have changed His mind, chosen someone else who was “performing” better, had more faith than Zechariah – but God didn’t!

God is so gracious and forbearing, His work in our lives is always by grace, never by our works our good effort. In my 30+ years of following Jesus, I have had so many “Zechariah moments”, even in the past 11 years of serving God as a pastor, I have still had and still will have so many “Zechariah moments”, but my Father is gracious, He is patient and He loves me very much even though I and my faith are so ordinary.

And for that I am so grateful.

Having said that, my Father and your Father does want us to believe, He does want us to have expectation and faith in Him and for His in-breaking power, and faith is always better than unbelief or just low expectations…

After all, Zechariah’s stumbling faith did cause him to loose his voice for nearly a year! Our unbelief does have consequences, but this is the amazing thing…

God used even that unbelief for a His good plans. God doesn’t waste anything, uses all things to work all things according to His good plans and purposes for us.

I can’t say for sure, but I have a feeling that Zechariah being mute all those months probably ended up being used by God to prepare people for the extraordinary work God was going to do through John in preparation for Jesus Himself. Word would have gotten out about Gabriel’s appearance, even if it was the genesis moment for a game we now call Pictionary. Word would have spread of Zechariah’s being struck mute and sudden burgeoning art career as he tried to communicate with Elizabeth and others about what happened to him and what had been promised. And once John was born to this couple who were previously barren, and Zechariah could speak I have no doubt that his account and his experience prepared the hearts of people for what was going to be an extra-ordinary ministry.

So God can and does use all things for His purposes, even our unbelief, our very ordinary faith. God is so good and gracious, He does not waste anything and can even use our weak faith and low expectations, our being so ordinary to work in extra-ordinary ways to fulfill His amazing purposes for us and for His glory through simple ordinary people like you and I.

I identify with Zechariah, do you? In his story I see the ordinary of my life and the extra-ordinary of God colliding and I am encouraged that God is not shy of ordinary people like me, God is not limited by our weak faith, God is not impatient with us but works through us to bless us and to use us in His amazing purposes, to bring glory to His Son, Jesus.

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