Thursday, June 6, 2013

On Blessings and Surprises

I signed up last week to preach this Wednesday, but I was having trouble organizing my thoughts. I went to bed uneasily Tuesday night, figuring I’d polish my rough draft after work the next day. When I got back from work, however, a friend met me outside my door to show me a text message from the Pastor who helps coordinate our group.

“Just a reminder,” the text said, “the 100-person kid’s choir from Georgia will be at the service tonight.”

I don’t have a phone here, so I hadn't gotten the message earlier. I tried not to panic. In less than 3 hours, I’d be preaching to 100 junior high and high school students and their assorted teachers and parents, when I’d been expecting two or three tourists and a coworker or two. It was one of those moments where all I could think was, “Okay God, you got me into this mess– let’s see how you’re going to get me out…”

I spent the next few hours finishing and practicing what I was going to say. I wanted to talk about decisions, and how we can let small choices paralyze us, when our attention should really be on the bigger picture. We take decisions like where we’re going to go to school, what we’ll do for the summer, what job we’ll apply for; and let these overwhelm the “big picture” of our calling to love God first, to love others, to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

It’s like walking in the canyon, I thought, and only staring down at your own feet. Yes, the bumps and steep slopes are there and we should be aware of them; but if we’re only looking down at our own feet we miss the gorgeous views around us: we miss the bigger picture.

High school kids are facing tons of decisions. It’s almost like God knew when he laid the topic on my heart a couple of days ago...

At the rim, the two other ACMNP students and I met briefly before seas of kids and parents in brightly-colored polo shirts flooded the worship site. It was chaos as their director corralled them and warmed them up. They barely fit in our small worship area. We finally settled on an order of service, with the kid’s choir—“God’s Light”—leading worship.

I’ve never been one for stage fright, but I’ll admit that junior highers are intimidating. When I walked up in front of the altar and stared out at 98 teenagers, 14 parents, and a dozen or so local visitors, it was “Okay God, this is you,” all over again.

So I spoke. I told people not to worry so much about the choices they were facing. Not to stress so much about God’s will that they forget to listen to God. Not to be arrogant enough to think that they could possibly make a choice that would mess up God’s plan.

The choir ended with a couple songs and I was relieved that the service had gone smoothly. Then a young girl came up to me. “Thank you for your message,” she said. “I really needed to hear that.”

“Yeah,” her friend said, “that was really good.”

A boy who couldn’t have been more than 12 came over to shake my hand. “You’re a good speaker,” he pronounced solemnly.

Well, if God could use Moses, I thought.

The leader of the group approached me to ask if I knew they were coming when I wrote my message. I admitted that I didn’t, and she said, “It’s like you wrote it right to them. You even used the same verse that was in their devotional last night.”

Person after person came up to me. I was embarrassed and completely humbled. I’ve struggled with pride before, but I knew I couldn’t claim this one. “God, not me,” I repeated.

I needed this service.

If I had known a week ahead of time that the crowd was going to be there, I’d have planned and rewritten, and tried to do that message on my own. And it probably would have been okay. But instead, God caught me off-guard to show me that what I can do on my own strength is pretty measly, but what I can do through him is pretty incredible.

I’m sure I won’t speak to a group that size for the rest of the summer, but now that I see what God can do when I leave it in His hands, why would I ever rely on my own strength? Whether speaking to 100 or 10 or 1, it’s God, not me.

God, not me.

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