Join God Where He Is Working
In Isaiah 64:8 we find these words. “O Lord you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are the work of your hands.”
When one understands how to make pottery this imagery means even more. Many potters start out by working or massaging the clay. This works out any air bubbles or lumps that would ruin the final product in the end when placed in the furnace. They soften and moisten the clay. The clay is then placed on the wheel where the sculpting takes place. If at any time in this process a crack or stiffness emerges the sculpture is then destroyed and returned to being a lump of clay. The problem is remedied, and the shaping process starts over. Once the piece of pottery is finally sculpted correctly it is glazed and eventually put into the kiln or furnace at 2400 degrees.
With that in mind, now read Isaiah 64:8 again, “O Lord you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are the work of your hands.”
Can you remember of a time when God purified, shaped, and refined you? That is an amazing idea. That the God of the universe would intimately be working in our lives to shape us into who we were created to be. It is a pattern that can be seen throughout the Bible. God shaped the lives of people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, Esther, Peter, and Paul.
As we pass through today’s service may we humble our hearts and be like moldable clay as He works in our lives.
On the morning of January 12, 2007, violinist took a cab the three blocks from his hotel and set his things up on the landing of the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station in Washington, D.C. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by, and a middle-aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.
A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly, he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3-year-old boy. His mother dragged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pulled hard, and the child continued to walk, looking back to keep watching.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 people gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed that he had stopped.
No one knew this that the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell had played to a sold out crowd in Boston where each seat was incredibly expensive. Copyright © 2013 Illustration Exchange, All rights reserved.
I told you this story so we could consider this statement. How easy it is to overlook greatness when it appears in an unexpected place. This can also be said for the workings of God.
Have you ever wondered where God was or why He was not working in your life? Or maybe you asked why God was not working more in the church or maybe you watched the news and wondered why God is not working more in our world. Today’s scripture will declare that God is always working.
In John 5 we read a story where Jesus spoke into this type of situation and taught truths that help answer our questions about God working in our lives.
John chapter 5 tells us that Jesus had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the Jewish Holy Days. While in Jerusalem he passed by a pool called Bethesda. This was a place where the lame, the blind, and the paralyzed used to gather every day hoping to be miraculously healed. Many believed that from time to time an angel from God would come down and stir the water. It was believed that whoever entered the water first would be healed. So it was with the man that Jesus encountered. He had been disabled for 38 years and there he sat by the pool waiting. It seemed like a hopeless cause because even if the story about the angel and the miraculous healing were true there was no way he would ever be able to get into the pool on his own. Yet the man continued to hope.
John 5:6-9 continues the story with these words:
6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
This sounds like the happy ending to a great miracle of God, but the story doesn’t end there. The day on which this happened was a Sabbath. Now you would think that regardless of what day it was it would be a great reason for a celebration to suddenly begin amongst the people for the sake of this man and for the glory of what God had done, but instead this is how the story continues.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
What would you say to a man in this situation? He had been disabled for 38 years and had just been miraculously healed. Some of us might shout “glory to God.” Others of us might say something like, “Wow, that is incredible. I can’t believe it!” Others might instantly celebrate by putting it on their Facebook page or on Twitter. But the Jews religious leaders didn’t do anything like that. The first thing that came out of their mouths was, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
That doesn’t make sense. Let’s dig a little deeper to see what is really happening here. When it says “The Jews” it is likely talking about Pharisees, or at least Jews who were very legalistic in their following of God. God had commanded that work not be done on the Sabbath. Even that a burden should not be carried through the city gates. (Exodus 20:8; Jeremiah 17:21) This was a description of doing business on the Sabbath. The Jews of Jesus’ day had taken the words to an extreme and understood them to mean that you could not even carry your mat on the Sabbath. Because of this, instead of seeing a mighty work of God in their midst they saw a reason to judge someone for not being as holy as they were. When God appeared in a way that they weren’t expecting they totally missed Him.
When the Jews found out that Jesus was the one who had healed the man and told him to carry his mat they began to persecute Jesus for breaking their religious law. In response Jesus said this:
“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (John 5:17)
God has called us to keep the Sabbath holy so that we may draw near to God, and also that we may rest. God has called us to rest on the Sabbath, but (and this is where the Jews missed it) God, is always working in our world and in our lives regardless of what day it is. This is a key truth that we each need to understand. God is always at work.
We see this truth in various places in scripture. Romans 8:28 tells us that “God works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Psalm 121 reminds us that God never sleeps and never slumbers. He watches over His children now and forever more. God is always working.
We see throughout scripture God working in people´s lives to grow their faith, humble their hearts, convict them of sin, heal their wounds, forgive their sins, provide for their needs, shine light in their darkness, give counsel to their confusion, protect them from attack, give them purpose, guide them into truth, grant them new life, use them for His glory.
This is not the only truth we can take from this passage. A few verses later in John 5: 19 we see Jesus speak these words to the Jews. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
These are the two key truths for today.
- God is always working, and 2) Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing.
That is how Jesus could come to the end of his life and know that he had done everything the Father had wanted to do in and through him. Jesus walked close enough with the Father that He could recognize the fingerprints of God in His life. When He saw God, the Father working, He joined Him. Because of this Jesus was able to say these words in John 17:4 as His ministry was coming to an end, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” On the cross we hear a similar idea when at His death Jesus proclaims, "It is finished."
Can you imagine living a life of purpose, without regret, and knowing that your life accomplished what God intended? It is not only about paying the bills, or having a job, or being comfortable and respected. It is a life that is on mission with God. That is what these truths call us to. God is always working and when one recognizes that God is working it is an invitation to join God in what He is doing.
The Jews limited God to what they expected Him to be and were not open to anything else. In some ways they were guilty of spiritual arrogance. They felt they already knew all there was to know about God. If we are not careful we are guilty of the same. We put God in a “box” and only recognize Him if He works in a way that we expect and are familiar with. If we are not careful we begin to limit our understanding to only our personal experiences and the Christian culture that we have come from.
If we miss the fact that God is always working, then we begin to take matters into our own hands. Whether it be with our finances, job, relationships, family matters, or futures we try to control situations and people to accomplish what we think is best. We view our circumstances from a godless perspective, not even taking the time to seek out what God is doing in the midst of our situation. When we look at it only through human eyes, our plans may bring mediocre results when God wanted to do something great, or we may see our situation as a curse when it really is a blessing.
God works in our lives for our good and His glory. He is either working in us or through us. At times the difficulties of life are making us more like Christ, at other times the darkness that surrounds us is allowing our light to shine for His glory and the salvation of others.
Life will bring good and bad to us all. Will we take the time to stop and see how God wants to work in our lives? If we will join Him, where He is working, He will likely grow our faith faster than we ever expected. The workings of God are present all around us. May God grant us the ability to see them.
What might God be teaching a person who just had a child? Maybe gratitude, dependence, servanthood, selflessness or how to understand the love of the Father.
Maybe you have a difficult boss and God is teaching you to submit, or persevere, or forgive, how to love the unloveable or what not to do when God gives you the opportunity to lead in the future.
Maybe you just lost a job and God is teaching you that your identity and value are found in Christ and not in your career. You are learning about God’s provision and how to trust God when life is beyond your control. And God is moving you in a new direction because He has plans for your life.
Maybe you are here today with a sickness or ailment that continues to be your “thorn in the flesh.” But it is your way of experiencing, with the Apostle Paul, God’s grace that is sufficient. It is an opportunity to lay it before God in prayer and experience the peace that passes all understanding. It is taking you beyond knowing about God and causing you to experience His faithfulness on a firsthand basis. At times we may not know why things are happening, but our confidence is that somehow God is working all things for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
What situations are you experiencing right now? What might God be working in your life through these situations? Will you join God where He is working that He may work in and through you?
Share it with someone else that they can be praying for you. Read more on the topic in scripture. Submit daily in prayer to God’s working in your life in this area. Obey more completely in this area of your live.
At times we focus on studying God's Word and prayer as the only ways that God works. They are definitely essential to the Christian life, but when we look back to the Old and New Testament we see an additional dynamic. During the early days of the Nation of Israel most of the Old Testament had not even been written yet. Their main understanding of God came from their experience with Him through their circumstances. In the early days of the church after Christ's return to heaven the New Testament did not yet exist. The people would hear the teaching of the Apostles and then be shaped as they applied it to the circumstances of their lives. Most had no access to their own copy of scriptures. In the early centuries of Christianity it was the same. Books were too rare and expensive for most people to own. Most believers did not have their own copy of the Bible. The Word of God was and is essential in the life of a believer, but God working through our circumstances has always been an additional way that God works in our lives.
Life will bring good and bad to us all but God will never waste an opportunity to make us more like Christ. Will we take the time to stop and see what God is doing and join Him in it?
This same principle applies to the church and to the world around us. God is always working. We see it in the early church as persecution broke out after the stoning of Stephen and the Christians fled. Many of them saw God’s hand in the turn of events and used this circumstance to share Christ with many different cities and even different countries as they fled to safety.
We see it again in the early church when Gentiles started becoming believers and the church had to adjust so that the gospel could spread beyond the Jews to the entire Roman Empire. In both cases it was a case of God working and the church joining what He was doing.
We also need to recognize changes and trends that are occurring around us as we seek to further the Kingdom of God in Houston and in the world.
Based on recent studies, Houston is now the most diverse city in the United States, surpassing even New York City, Los Angeles and Miami. Houston.org, reports research that found that over 140 different languages are spoken in this city. One researcher said, “The country can look toward Houston as a shining example of the future, a kind of blueprint for what the whole of America may look like in just 25 years.”
At the same time, Houston ranks as the nation´s worst city for human trafficking. We are part of Texas which shares a 2,000 mile border with Mexico, which is the most frequently crossed international border in the world.
We are passing through a season where racism has taken center stage again in the national conversation, where Christians are now associated more with political candidates than Jesus Christ, where secularism is growing at a rapid rate. Where many churches are declining, and fewer people are attending church.
Some would say these are difficult times, but God is always working. Can we see our potential as a multi-cultural, Gospel-centered church in the most multi-cultural city in the nation?
The gospel is enough to bring true unity in the midst of diversity. The gospel is the light in the darkness. It is the hope for the hopeless. Our church can be the home-away-from-home, the family, that so many people are desperately in need of.
We have been prepared for such a time as this. We are sitting in a strategic place in our society to somehow bridge the gap between Jesus and people of different nations. We also sit in a unique place to be an example to other churches who need to step across the cultural divide and strengthen churches in our area who are struggling.
I met this week with one of our members who is leading a missions effort to Afghan refugees. I believe he said that there are 10,000 Afghans in the Houston area. There are thousands more immigrants and refugees who come from other unreached people groups. We have an opportunity that no other generation has ever had to reach this many nations for Christ.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In this place, Houston, Texas, Our Jerusalem has now also become our ends of the earth.”
Every Sunday we represent 40-50 countries in our worship services. We speak multiple languages and have relationships with people from our home countries. What will we do to join God where He is working?
It is not an issue of us making our plans as a church and then asking God to bless our ideas. It is us praying, seeking God, and joining Him as we see where He is working. It is our role to be prepared to follow. It is His role to lead the way.
In the mean time may we prepare ourselves to be ready to join God when the way becomes clear. May we prepare our church spiritually, administratively, financially, in prayer, in faith and in equipping.
May we pray in expectation. May we be prepared to serve our community. May we be prepared to share the gospel. May we prepare ourselves to be a church who knows how to make disciples. May we give financially so our church can be debt free and ready to join God at a moment’s notice as God reveals where He is working.
God leads us into and defines the opportunity. It is our responsibility to be prepared and to obey. May we not miss out on the God-given opportunities of life and ministry because we aren't ready, aren't willing or because we don't see them. May God gives us the wisdom to connect His ways and our circumstances so that we may see where He is working.
I would like to end our time together with this story.
Helen Keller was a little girl who was born in the late 1800s. What set her apart from other children was that she was both deaf and blind. For children, vision and hearing are two of the main ways that we all learned how to relate with the world around us. Little Helen had neither.
Her early years were very difficult. Her parents did the best they could but it was almost impossible to communicate with her in a way that she could understand. At this time in history many families would have just sent her to an asylum to live the rest of her life, but not Annie’s parents. Instead they hired a nanny, named Annie Sullivan, to come live with them and to help Helen.
At first it was very difficult. Because Helen had no understanding of the world around her she had become a very bitter and angry little girl. Annie did her best to somehow communicate with Helen. One technique she used was sign language. She would have Helen touch an object. Annie would then spell the name of the object with sign language while putting her hand in Helen’s hand, so Helen could feel the letters. Time and again Annie tried this but it never seemed to work. Helen was just not understanding that the object and the spelling were connected.
Then one day it all changed. Annie was trying to teach Helen about a mug (cup) and water. Helen did not understand so Annie got the idea to take her outside to the old-fashioned water pump. Once there Annie began to pump the water while holding out Helen’s hand under the water. At the same time she was spelling the word “W-A-T-E-R” in Helen’s other hand with sign language. Suddenly Helen understood what Annie was trying to do. She finally understood that the letters and the liquid were the same thing. Once Helen understood what Annie was doing she began to touch everything she could while holding her hand out to Annie so that Annie could “spell” it for her. She could now begin to understand the things around her, including “mother,” “father,” and countless other meanings in the world around her. This revelation at the water pump opened Helen’s world because she now saw the connection between what she thought had been random experiences in her life.
Annie wrote in her journal that night that Helen came into her room and finally kissed her for the first time. It was truly a breakthrough in Helen’s young life. She had now made a connection between herself and the world and it even began to soften her heart towards others. Helen would go on to earn a university degree, write a book, and become a social activist.
We are at times like little Helen. We walk through life experiencing difficult circumstances. We harden our hearts and become bitter because we never make the connection between our circumstances and how God is wanting to work in our lives. Have you ever connected your circumstances to what God wants to do in your life?
John 6:44 tells us that God draws us to Himself. If you are not yet a believer maybe that is the explanation to what God is doing in your life. He is drawing you to Himself. Will you surrender your life to Jesus Christ today?
If you are a believer will you humble your heart and seek what God is doing right now in the midst of your life situations? Will you quit swimming against the current of God and surrender to the flow of the Spirit in your life circumstances?
God is always working in our lives, in our church and in our world. May we join where God is working and join Him as He molds us, as clay, into a vessel to accomplish His purposes.