I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ seemingly senseless question to a suffering man: “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6) Was he being audacious? crowd seeking? taunting? Even the most dogmatic critic would not attribute these characteristics to the man called Jesus.
People, events and current reading have led me into deeper thinking about Jesus’ question. I find myself in a quandary (is ‘quagmire’ a better word?) when I consider the number of people sitting in churches each week who seem to believe that it is normal to be lukewarm about things of the faith. “Let’s not go overboard” is their mantra. Or an even safer position is “don’t rock the boat.”
While writing about the lame man approached by Jesus, Adele Calhoun says, “The man Jesus spoke to that day had carved out a life in a community where sickness was the norm (emphasis my own).” I wonder if we have been lulled into believing that statements like, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God” are only for the faith-filled William Careys of the18th century?
An interesting thing has been happening in a small group of women in which I’m privileged to be a part. Over a year ago we began asking each other: “Where did you ‘see’ or ‘hear’ God this week?” For months it was only the few who have learned what I call the Holy Habits who responded to the question. Sometimes the silences were long but I have learned that silence is almost always a good thing in Christian circles! Somehow we have been conditioned to believe that hearing or seeing God is abnormal–that “sickness (deafness/clogged ears/blindness) is the norm.” But recently—as the Holy Habits are being practiced—more of us are on the alert during the week and God sightings, God sounds are being shared.
Leadership in my own church has been struggling in the last year or more with the concept of discipleship. What does it mean? Who is it for? What is its process? Perhaps some who have succumbed to the “sickness norm” might even query, “When is it over?!” (Thankfully, no one in this group asked that question!)
In the book of Acts (chapter four) we have the description of that first band of Christians, people who believed that walking and leaping and praising God was the norm. Peter and John, preaching and healing in the power of the Holy Spirit, have been briefly imprisoned. Upon their release they return to the faithful and a “prayer meeting” spontaneously erupts. This is not a Dear-Heavenly-Father-bless-the-missionaries kind of praying. They are bold and specific and God-glorifying. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way: As soon as Peter and John were let go, they went to their friends and told them what the high priests and religious leaders had said. Hearing the report, they lifted their voices in a wonderful harmony in prayer: “Strong God, you made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. By the Holy Spirit you spoke through the mouth of your servant and our father, David…‘Why the big noise, nations? Why the mean plots, peoples? Earth’s leaders push for position, Potentates meet for summit talks, The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers!’
And now they’re at it again! Take care of their threats and give your servants fearless confidence in preaching your message, as you stretch out your hand to us in healings and miracles and wonders done in the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Meditate on the words and phrases I’ve underlined. Definitely not the norm!
Do you hunger for this kind of ” new normal”? Watch out…Luke gives us the result of what might happen, paraphrased again by Peterson: While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence.
The new normal.
PS If you’re able to connect with the website below, you might find an article by Mark Labberton of interest. Everything by Labberton is worth the time and what he writes here is related to today’s blog. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/this-is-the-best-of-times-for-following-Jesus.html