God Always Has Somebody
One of the interesting consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been watching various organizations, especially sports teams, deal with random absences of key players and leaders. Major conferences have been cancelled or postponed because the key note speaker was exposed to COVID-19 and had to quarantine. Team rosters had to be juggled at the last minute because key players tested positive and were unable to play. Leaders in local schools and businesses, neighborhood churches and major corporations were constantly holding meetings to see who was available and who was quarantined. Some days, we struggled to figure out who’s in and who’s out.
We keep waiting for someone to step up and tell us what to do next. How do we live our lives in world of continuous uncertainty? How do we make decisions one day and then, have to make the same decisions all over again the next day?
But everyone seems to be as confused as we are. Communication has been muddled and contradictory. Do masks help or not? Can we sit inside with less than 10 people or outside by ourselves? Should we get tested if we’re feeling OK? Do we have symptoms? And what is a symptom? Sneezing? Coughing? Loss of smell and taste? Fever? All of the above? None of the above?
Like most things, all of us will have to take responsibility for our choices – our families and our own health – if we’re going to get through this. There’s not going be a single hero. There’s no John Wayne riding in to save us. Instead, there are going to be countless unknown heroes who make their stand in overlooked places that collectively make the difference.
The Bible is filled with stories of God choosing unknown people in unknown places to do His work in miraculous and unforgettable ways. Noah isn’t mentioned at all before we’re told that God remembered him. Abraham was seventy-five years old, way past the time most of us would embark on a great adventure, when God called him to be the father of His people. David was forgotten by his own father. Samuel had to ask Jesse if Jesse had any more sons before Jesse remembered to call David in from the fields.
The Christmas story is filled with God surprising unknown people to be part of His redemptive work. Mary and Joseph, Zachariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, Bethlehem and Nazareth – people and places only God was paying attention to were chosen to be part of God’s greatest story.
The mistake we make in reading these stories is assuming the lives of these people started when God called them. A closer reading of their stories tells us there were stories before the story. Everyone has a prequel, a time of being with God that gave them confidence and hope before God called them to their mission.
David had meditated on the words of God while he kept his father’s sheep. His writings give us some of the deepest insights we have into the heart of God. Joseph knew the Bible well. When the angel in his dream quoted Scripture, Joseph recognized the passage, understood its context, and was able to apply it to his unique situation with Mary. Simeon had prayed so long and so intensely, God finally granted his plea and let him see the Messiah.
A lot of us think we’ll get serious in our relationship with God once He calls us to our great mission in life. We assume we’ll drop all of life’s distractions and follow Christ when we know what we’re supposed to do in the kingdom of God.
Sadly, it rarely works that way. Sure, there are those dramatic stories where someone is snatched from a life in darkness and pulled into the life of light, but most of the time, the person called into a public ministry has been engaged with God privately for some time. The hours of Bible study and prayer, self-analysis and spiritual discipline that no one has known about is revealed suddenly in the public calling. In the wilderness of seeking God, the person’s character is shaped in the cruciform of Christ. Wisdom is gained. Confidence in God is solidified and the weakness of self is recognized and self-centeredness is rejected.
This process takes a long time. It’s also very hard. That’s why most of us never do it. We content ourselves with weekly church attendance and occasional emotional experiences we confuse with spirituality. Not only is this level, or lack of, spiritual depth not able to sustain us in our daily living, it certainly cannot sustain us as we live out our calling in Christ. Whenever I see the public failing of a well-known Christian leader, I always wonder if they’ve spent enough time in silence, in the wilderness, learning the heart of God. I wonder if they’ve heard God speak to the deep brokenness within them that is common to all humanity?
While we struggle to find our way in the challenges 2020 is leaving us on its way out, we can take comfort in knowing God always has somebody, somewhere, ready to hear His call. They may not be who you thought they would be or come for where you thought they would come from, but they are there, waiting in the silence to hear His voice.
Which brings me to this question as we close out 2020. If God always has someone ready, are we the ones who are ready? In this moment, in this time, can God use us? Have we done the hard work so we’re ready when God summons us to His work?
From time to time, I will hear people wonder out loud if they can trust God. That’s not the question, I will remind them. The question is always, can God trust us?
God will be calling someone to His work in 2021. Will it be you or me? Dare God trust us with this moment?