By Alan Ahlgrim, NACC President
Listen up: God’s good work on earth isn’t finished yet!
While Luke’s Gospel account is all about what Jesus began to do and to teach, his second volume, the book of Acts, is all about what Jesus is continuing to do and to teach.
That’s because we do not serve a dead hero; rather, we serve a living Lord who is even now powerfully at work in and through the church universal and, at times, you and me.
In fact, God frequently is speaking to us all.
Just because we at times hear some flaky stuff that some attribute to God, we must not assume that everyone who claims to have clearly heard from God is simply self-serving or even insane.
Now, if you overreact to that and conclude that God won’t use you or me, that God won’t speak to you and me, that God won’t enable you and me—then you are saying far more about your lack of faith in God than our fallen condition.
God’s preferred mode of operation in this world has always been through people, especially people who wholly and humbly surrender to him. But the key is recognizing our dependence on God and calling on his power.
We often call the Holy Spirit the Comforter. However, that word isn’t merely about a kind of cozy quilt, but about courage and strength and power.
What we need most is the presence of the Holy Spirit, not an it but a he, not something but someone! We need God to help us do the work he is calling us to do.
We need to know the will of God, and we need the capacity to do the will of God. It’s not enough to have insight, we also need enablement. That’s true for each of us, our families, and our ministries.
Right now, Rocky Mountain Christian Church, where I preach, is involved in a major legal battle with Boulder County, which is trying to get the court to declare the Religious Land Use Act unconstitutional. In preparation for a two-week jury trial scheduled for Denver District Court in September (now November 2008), several of us were required to give depositions.
I was deposed on camera for an entire day. In the days prior I felt sort of like I was preparing for an IRS audit and an FBI interrogation all at the same time! But when God gives a vision, God makes the provision!
And because hundreds were praying for me, I actually was totally calm and even enjoyed it, especially when the attorney asked me questions like, “How do you know the will of God?” Imagine being asked questions like that in a legal case.
I responded that God speaks in a variety of ways.
First, God speaks through creation—“The heavens declare the glory of God”—and God is continually articulate through his creation.
Second, God speaks through the Scriptures. “The Word of God is living and active.”
Third, God speaks through circumstances and unplanned opportunities. The prophet Habakkuk said, “I will look to see what God will say. . . . ”
And at times, God even speaks audibly or internally in a clear and unmistakable fashion that cannot be dismissed. While I have never heard the audible voice of God, I know of credible people who have.
My friend and accountability partner, Dr. John Walker, has both a seminary degree and a PhD in psychology; however, John never knew what to think about some credible believers who made reference to God speaking to them, until it happened to him.
John was shocked when in a worship service—just after the singing and just prior to his preaching—God changed his life. He suddenly heard these exact words in his head: “John, do not buy a family ranch; I need for you to start a Christian leader resource and renewal center.”
John was blown away. He called it “a complete knowing.” That’s why he says The Blessing Ranch he founded in Colorado is not the realization of his lifelong dream. He says: “It wasn’t even in my head! It had to come from God.”
We each ultimately depend on what God reveals and enables. If God doesn’t prompt it, we would be foolish to attempt it.
In Acts 1:4 Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”
Now, what I find most intriguing about this is not the empowering, but the waiting that precedes the empowering.
Forty-three times in the Old Testament alone, the people of God are commanded to wait on God. In fact, the last words of the Bible are also about waiting. Clearly God is trying to get a message to us.
Waiting is not a passive affair, however. Waiting often is quite active. I remember my friend Dave Butts of Harvest Prayer Ministries teaching about waiting as the attitude of a king’s servants who are standing on high alert.
They are dressed and ready with eyes riveted on the king for any subtle sign he might be calling them and directing them to do his will.
That’s the attitude we are all to live with. We are called to be on high alert to the will of our master as he continues to communicate with us.
We are not alone or on our own. We are each benefiting from the ongoing blessing of the prompting and empowering of God.
When Jesus tells his disciples to wait for empowerment, they seem to become confused. They wonder whether he means the time has come for him to establish a kind of earthly, possibly even political, reign.
To that Jesus says, “It’s not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:7, 8).
In other words, God’s prompting and empowerment are primarily about the accomplishment of God’s purpose in bringing others to him. And that prompting and empowerment is available to all who are devoted to Christ.
Last year I had a fascinating conversation with Shelly Hilvety, a missionary home on furlough from Ethiopia. Shelly told about praying every day for God to open her eyes to the opportunities that he would provide in that difficult setting.
One day as she sat outside studying the Amharic language and enjoying the afternoon, a soccer ball came over the compound wall—a fairly common occurrence since she lived next to an open lot. However, on this particular day, perhaps because she was trying to live on high alert, she noticed the cheap rubber ball was ripped and almost deflated. In the United States it would have been thrown away, but in Ethiopia the youth are far too poor to do that.
So that day she wondered, Is God trying to speak to me through that soccer ball? At first she tried to dismiss it as a crazy idea, but the battered old ball kept bouncing over the compound wall and landing in front of her.
It prompted her to act. She went to the store and bought a new ball; not a cheap rubber one, but a top-quality leather one. Then she waited.
The next weekend when the old rubber ball came over the wall, she waited for the boys to come and retrieve it. When they did, she refused to return it, even though they offered her a little money.
Instead she told them to wait. She went into the house and brought out the new leather ball and shocked the first boy standing at her gate by giving it to him as a gift.
The boy, who had been a bit fearful, immediately became grateful, and then all of the boys let out an Ethiopian victory yell similar to the one she previously had heard only from worshipers in church.
But these boys were known as gangsters, not churchgoers. Most came from Orthodox, Muslim, or animist families. To make an amazing story short, the 22 soccer players ended up asking her to sponsor their team and in just over a year, 19 of them accepted Christ as their Savior.
Shelly admits she is a most unlikely “soccer mom,” much less a candidate to lead a sports ministry. However, God prompted and God empowered and God worked! When God gives a vision, God makes the provision!
How might God be prompting and empowering you to be his witness in your community or cross-culturally?
We all need to learn how to connect our prayers with what happens next.
A couple of years ago when our congregation was denied permission to expand on our 55-acre site in Boulder County, we began to wonder about opening another campus in Weld County. Then we wondered how we could afford to move quickly should the right priority become available.
At about that time I was out of town attending a conference with some of our leaders when we received a phone call that someone had made a surprise visit to the church office.
I was told the surprise visitor left a check—an anonymous check—from an organization he had established. And he also left his cell phone number asking if I might be willing to call.
Well, how long would it take for you to return a call to someone who left a check for $1,117,282.40! When God gives a vision, God makes the provision!
Our God is active in this world. He works through millionaires and missionaries, psychologists and church planters. He prompts and inspires and directs all who are seeking to be used by him.
We never know when and how the living Lord will make his will stunningly clear. It could happen through an obscure Scripture or a brief conversation with a friend or a remarkable circumstance. It could happen through a sudden conviction, a “complete knowing,” or even a simple sermon.
Many of us are praying that many more will hear the call of God, especially as that relates to kingdom expansion and church multiplication.
There is no higher calling than to go to Heaven when we die and leave a legacy for time and eternity. This is what we long for, an opportunity to partner with God; a sense of destiny that the living Lord will somehow be able to use us.
First we must wait—not with passivity, but on full alert, believing that God is often silent but never absent, and that he will never fail us or forsake us. We must believe that when God gives a vision, God makes the provision!
For the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us who believe (Ephesians 3:20, 21).
Alan Ahlgrim is lead pastor at Rocky Mountain Christian Church, Niwot, Colorado.