We had a sweetly earnest cell plan intensive the other night in the basement of 2212 S. Broad. All those couches reminded me of the youth group I used to lead! I suppose that’s why I remembered a lesson I learned very early in my life of mission.
Here’s the lesson: Anything might work because nothing really works. What I mean is: God works. I am just a vehicle, an opportunity, a marginally-capable participant. In the cause of redemption, God has used a lot more surprising partners than me to get things done.
The cell leaders were mainly talking about how to make connections with people without seeming like Verizon trying to get someone to switch. [Hate this commercial]. They were lamenting those awkward conversations when they suspected someone felt weirdly pressured to sign on the dotted line when they were only being invited into a cell group — a group that would likely feel like a precious gift after a few minutes or meetings. “The ask” is always so hard.
So I told a story about being a youth pastor and feeling compelled to make new relationships with high school students. I used to somewhat-illegally go to Arlington High and sit at one of the lunch tables hoping I would connect with someone. It was, of course, awkward enough to go to lunch when I was in high school. This was even more awkward. And more than a few kids let me know how weird it was, including the ones I already knew! But I also made some new friends, and many of them became friends just because they appreciated just how far I would go to get a chance to meet them [Love this commercial].
I had learned a lesson from Jesus and I was just determined enough to apply it. Jesus also went to great lengths to get to know us. One time he found someone to heal in Jerusalem and the leaders were mad because he did it on the Sabbath. He told them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (John 5:17). Then they were mad that he said God was his father. Nothing worked with these people! He might have gone to a meeting in a basement and lamented that his healings resulted in too little and people responded poorly when he called on them! I would do that and have.
At the same time, I heard what he was saying and went out and tried again. Because the Holy Spirit has repeatedly made it plain that God couldn’t care less about the rejections and absurdities that people throw against Love and Truth. God is at work, so I can trust that. “My Father is still working” — and if that doesn’t work, then nothing works.
The fact is, I throw out a lot of resistance and nonsense myself! And what I come up with as a strategy is usually weak, at best. If I were basing my next move on my predicted effectiveness, I would certainly do nothing. I can demonstrate how ineffective I am (even when others think I’m successful!). Fortunately, God could not care less about my estimations of myself. He died for me when I was turned away and uses me in spite of myself, repeatedly.
That motley, beautiful crew in the basement had a shocking number of success stories to tell the other night — that is, if you consider God transforming lives to be success and you don’t restrict Jesus to making your plans for world redemption work out properly. You could tell we thought very little of our successes. The stories were told to encourage us not to give up, for the most part.
When we prayed, I silently hoped that we would see you at work, Lord. Anything we do is just for revealing you. If people don’t see you at work, what is there to do but heal them, or at least be at the table when they show up for lunch and provide the opportunity for living bread?
Nothing works. People will reject a healing done before their eyes by the Son of God! But anything can work: a prayer, a meeting, a note, a cold call, a random encounter, a song, because God is at work and Jesus is alive in his people. Why wouldn’t we just take the best shot we can according to whatever we have available at the moment? Stranger things have introduced people to eternity.