God thrives with improvisation
This article discusses how God provides opportunities for us when we move forward. If you are like me you tend to overthink, overplan, and overanalyze before doing something. Planning is good, but sometimes a little improvisation is alright too. In the gospels, Jesus Christ gave “The Great Commission” to his disciples shortly after his resurrection.
…And Jesus spoke with them [the eleven disciples, sans Judas] and he said to them, “All authority has been given to me in Heaven and in the earth; in the manner in which my Father has sent me, I am sending you. Therefore go disciple all the nations and baptize them in the name of The Father and The Son and The Spirit of Holiness. And instruct them to keep everything whatever I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you every day, even unto the end of time. Amen”
– Matthew 28:18-20 Aramaic
The commission is clear. Go and make disciples of all nations. Make sure everyone has the opportunity to become born again and know God. Easy to understand, simple, and to the point. This section of scripture concludes the book of Matthew.
What’s not specifically mentioned in this record is logistically how to go about it. We know we are to make disciples and baptize (attain salvation) for the nations but how? There are further instructions elsewhere in the Bible but if we focus on what is written here, we learn two things.
There is no specific direction mentioned here as to how to make disciples of all nations. This is the challenging part about it, we have to go and figure it out.
There is no specific direction mentioned here as to how to make disciples of all nations. This is also the greatest benefit we could have ever been given since only you can determine how best to go about the task. And only you are best suited to accomplish it in your own way.
God knew what He was doing when this chapter of Matthew was concluded here. Had step-by-step discipleship instructions been lined out for us, then we would have been limited to such a list without much room for improvisation.
God thrives with improvisation.
Before you question that statement, please allow me to tell a story…
By 10 years old he was already labeled a thief, a liar, and a gambler. His parents had high aspirations for him but he wanted none of it and frequently stole from them. At one point in his teens, he was drinking and playing cards with friends while his mother was gravely ill. By his own admission he had an unrepentant spirit and chose to employ wicked behavior despite having a good upbringing.
At 20 years old he had a major change of heart. He met a girl and began attending prayer meetings, eventually attending college for theological studies. He began reading the Bible (or re-reading it since he had been instructed at a young age about God) and attending Church services on a regular basis. After seeing someone on their knees praying, he realized the need for his own salvation so he knelt and prayed to God for forgiveness and salvation. God answered his prayer and he was born again.
Never again would he drink, steal, or lie.
If that were the end of the story it would be a very worthwhile narrative, but it is not. There is much more.
He became a man of fervent prayer. He prayed about everything and expected each prayer to be answered. He took meticulous notes and documented every time that God provided for him. After his formal theological studies, his dad envisioned a prestigious church position for him, but instead he chose missionary work and began traveling, preaching, and teaching the Bible, before settling back down at home with his wife.
He and his wife saw there was a great void for someone to take care of needy children in the local area. In order to meet the needs of the ever growing orphan population, he opened his rented home to care for the kids, eventually hosting up to 30 at a time. Long story short, he improvised. Before long three houses and 130 children were being cared for. After neighbors complained of the noise, he eventually decided to construct a building which would care for and educate even more children. The architect who drew up the plans decided to donate his time at no cost. Through all of this he never made any requests for financial support from anyone, nor did he go into debt at all. He only asked God to provide, continued to work and serve in any way he was able, and waited for people to give of their own free will as they were inspired by God to do so. Many examples of God’s provision in his life are well documented and often cited on the topic of prayer.
The man’s name was George Müller (he pronounced it “Meller”) and he was born in Germany in 1805. After his conversion, education, and missionary work he devoted his time to housing, feeding, and educating orphans as well as preaching the gospel and traveling. By May of 1870, at least 1,722 orphaned & needy children were being accommodated in 5 homes
Not receiving government support and only accepting unsolicited gifts, his organization received and disbursed £1,381,171 (well over $120 million USD in today’s terms) by the time of Müller’s death in 1898 at age 92. His organization primarily used the money for supporting the orphanages and distributing about 285,407 Bibles, 1,459,506 New Testaments, and 244,351 other religious texts, which were translated into twenty other languages. The work continues to this day.
All this by a man who never asked for charity from a single person ever, but only requested the provision of God Almighty.
The obvious and immediate benefit to the children and the communities from which they came is evident. He literally took them off the street in droves and cared for their lives. But what may not be quite as obvious, is the lifelong impact that he and his leaders had on them. Someone taking the time to feed, clothe, house, and educate thousands of less fortunate children is no small feat. This would be something that at worst, would be remembered and appreciated by them, and at best would be a complete and transformational life changing experience for the youths — An experience which for many of them sparked a lifelong dedication to ministry service and helping others by the example they were shown, thereby affecting thousands more in a positive way.
He was quoted as saying; ..I had not before seen from the Scriptures that the Father chose us before the foundation of the world; that in him that wonderful plan of our redemption originated, and that he also appointed all the means by which it was to be brought about. Further, that the Son, to save us, had fulfilled the law, to satisfy its demands, and with it also the holiness of God; that he had borne the punishment due to our sins, and had thus satisfied the justice of God…
Müller’s doctrinal beliefs were strictly biblical and he would have regularly educated the youths in his care on the principles and teachings he had procured from the scriptures. It is likely that a very high percentage of the children became born again, or at least had the opportunity to do so. While the physical benefit of his life is apparent, the spiritual and eternal benefits far outweigh them. He literally saved thousands, in more ways than one.
His story is magnificent, but as you may recall, he was headed down the wrong path in his teens. Had it not been for his friend Beta inviting him to a prayer meeting it would have been completely different. Evangelism does not have to be flashy, just invite someone.
God thrives with improvisation.
Everyone is called by God to salvation and a life of service, but not all answer. Of those who answer, there is a place for you. That place looks nothing like anyone else’s place because it is just for you.
My grandparents lived in a small town in Texas and were both ordained ministers in the Assembly of God Church. They both passed away in the 1990’s, but their lives are still having an impact on the town where they settled. Just yesterday my mother spoke with someone who still serves at the church and who still appreciates all they did for his life.
Their calling was on a larger scale than most. They made a lifetime commitment to serving their people and teaching them about God and they did so with open hearts. They faithfully taught the Word of God, sang hymns in the service & played music, clothed & fed, and served the people of the Church until their last days on earth. They are not famous by any means, but people who knew them remember them fondly even this long after their passing. Many years ago during their time of active ministry service, one of the members of my grandparents’ church had some addiction issues he was struggling with. The man had been late to work multiple times and the boss was ready to fire him the next time it happened. Sure enough he didn’t show up for work one day — but he wasn’t fired. Someone worked his shift. My grandfather never said a word to anyone, and the only reason we know about it is because it came up in conversation between my mother and the man at a much later date and he thanked them gratefully for my grandfather helping him to keep his job by standing in for him that day. The man did turn things around and got clean and sober with the help of the Church leaders and God’s divine providence in his life.
That was just the kind of people they were.
You’re probably reading this and thinking “yeah but they were pastors, that is what they were supposed to do.” and you would be partially correct. They did fulfill the role of Pastor, as well as Teacher, Evangelist, and all of the other gifts given to the Church through Christ’s accomplishments. That was what they were “supposed” to do. But what about you and I?
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
– Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT
These “gifts” were given to the Church, not just to certain special individuals. This is an important distinction because they were not given only to the leaders, pastors, or ministers. God does not selectively pick and choose who can benefit from and operate his gift ministries, they are free to all in equal portion and equal value. This understanding is amazing because it allows us to realize that we can ALL step into any one of these roles at ANY given time and serve for God.
This lifestyle was passed down to my mother and her sister and both of them are faithful servants of God to this day. My mother has researched and taught the Word her entire life and has a gift for taking care of the needs of people (the gift of Pastoring) She has worked with special needs children, the elderly, and numerous people over the years who needed guidance, help, and wisdom. She sees the greatness within people when they do not.
Her sister (my aunt) has the same heart for people. She works as a cashier and the other day a man came in who needed healing. He was visibly struggling with his health and she could see it in his eyes and his posture. You don’t have much time to minister in a checkout line, but she finished ringing up his items and before he left, she put her hand on his and said “in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)
The man immediately knew that she was praying for him and claiming healing in the powerful name of Jesus Christ and he went on his way. The next time he came into the store he was visibly better. his heart was lighter, his step was easier, and he was considerably happier. He was healed.
God thrives with improvisation.
The reason I point out this distinction between people who hold the official title of “Pastor” and the rest of us is because we often think it is the exclusive role of our pastors to do the work of God, but clearly we all have that ability. Ministering does not have to be complicated or “official” it just needs to be done. You and I can do it effectively, even if we only have a few moments in a checkout line.
We have been visiting some new churches in Spokane lately and have developed some great relationships, and also reconnected with people we haven’t seen in awhile. If you have been attending the same church for a while why not visit some others? You don’t have to quit your “home church” and you might be surprised how refreshing it is to hear a sermon from a new pastor once in awhile.
A topic that came up during the sermon last Sunday was about why this particular church has a “worship team” and plays music before the teaching. They have guitars, drums, vocalists, a light show, projector screens, a fog machine, and big speakers to make sure the crowd doesn’t miss a single lyric. The pastor said that while the church is firmly rooted in study of scripture, and accurate biblical research & teaching, the musical show is really for the newest person. Those seasoned in the Word don’t need to be convinced that this is a fun, young, energetic group. They don’t need to be talked into believing the Bible. They are solid with or without the lights and sounds. The musical show is for the person who wanders in, not sure about where they stand or what they believe. They see this cool young group, jamming out for God. Maybe this church thing isn’t so bad after all…
God thrives with improvisation.
Modern churches are realizing that if they want to reach young people, they need to adapt and meet them where they are. Without effective teaching and accurate doctrine it’s just a glorified concert, but when you add impactful teachings from God’s Word it is a very powerful combination. There is an ever growing separation from the general population from traditional church services and this has been going on for many years. If we don’t continue to address this, there will be a new generation of lost and searching people, separated from God, which will negatively affect the culture and values of our next generations.
Great worship music, effective teachings, small group meetings, breaking of bread together, online church services, and reaching out to our communities are all ways that the modern church is adapting & improvising to move people to find God’s purpose for their lives.
Jesus Christ gave “The Great Commission” to his disciples and all who would follow. Our first step is to know God, then to lead others into the same. Whether your purpose is to serve the needs of less fortunate children, to work in the ministry as a leader, or just to pray for someone in the checkout stand at the store, it is all important to God.
No one else can reach who you can reach. God thrives with improvisation.
[brackets indicate my comments]
Scriptures from KJV Bible unless otherwise noted
An original article from January 2019