As we approach the seventeenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Towers that killed nearly 3,000 people, we are hearing again the many stories about the people who were late for work for one reason or another and missed their “appointment with death.” And then there was the man who had a flat tire on his way to Boston’s Logan Airport and missed his flight to California. Brooding about his “bad luck,” he returned home only to receive a phone call from a family member shocked to hear that he was still alive, since it was his plane that became a “flying bomb” that destroyed one of the towers. He replied, “God must have had a reason to keep me off of that plane.” He is certain to spend the rest of his life figuring that one out. But how are we to think about such occurrences? Was it luck (good or bad) that he had a flat tire? Was God exercising providential care in keeping only this man away from danger? Such questions are beyond our ability to understand. They deal with issues locked away in the mind of God.
But as interesting as it is to debate such rare occurrences as these, I am more concerned with what the Word of God does teach us about the providence of God. Unfortunately, the topic almost never comes up in general conversation unless it has the mass appeal of this passenger’s story. What the Bible does indicate is not that God is interested in keeping us alive or taking us home through His providence, but in putting us into situations where we can be of use to Him. In other words, my personal survival on this planet isn’t as important an issue as my availability to be used for His purposes. One thinks especially of the story of Joseph in Egypt and the providence of God that brought him to the right place at the right time. Or, we think of Esther, whom her uncle wisely counseled: “Who knows whether you were come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” But we are not to think this happens only to the “ancient greats.” It appears that God is at work in the lives of all of us preparing us for areas of service far beyond our ability to understand. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we should not be so quick to label the events of life either “good” or “bad” for he promises that “God works all things together for good to them that love him, who are called according to his purposes” (Romans 8:28).
The question our friend who missed his plane should be asking is not “why?” but “what?” What is God leading me to become? What is He leading me to do for Him? For there will come a time when neither he nor we will any longer be preserved from death. And then the only remaining question will be “What have we done with the opportunities for service God has offered us?”
Kevin Harney is an outreach coach. He understands how reluctant so many Christians are about sharing their faith. Here are some helps he gives us that will not only make our attempts effective but perhaps will light a fire under so many of us who are holding back.
1. Ask for permission and don’t be pushy. When you sense that a door is opening say, “Would you mind if I told you about a way God has changed my life?”
2. Use ordinary language. People far from God will not understand some of the “churchy” words we use. It is best to use plain language.
3. Start briefly and share more as it becomes appropriate. Rather than telling your whole life story, just share one experience.
4. Highlight God’s presence and power. If Jesus has healed you from an addiction or bad habit, or has provided guidance, let people know. People really want to know if God is real and active in the world today.
5. Clearly present the before and after pictures. The list is as long as our life experiences: from self-centered to caring, from no purpose to deep meaning, from fear of death to hope for eternity, from anxiety to peace….
6. Share the source of life transformation. The only power that can change us from the inside out is the work of Jesus.
7. Let joy shine through. Don’t fake it, but joy will be part of our story because Jesus is the author of joy.
8. Communicate with humility. We need to be careful not to come across as saying we are right and they are wrong or we are good and they are bad. We simply want to share what God is doing in our life.
9. Remember, you have many stories. Be careful not to get locked into telling the same story over and over. And make your story fit the needs of the person you are talking with. If they are suffering from loneliness, tell how God’s presence has strengthened and comforted you.
10. I would add one more: Talk to God before you talk to someone far from God—PRAY!
A few years ago Kathy and I visited the former Auschwitz/Birkenau Prison Camp near Krakow, Poland. The Nazis, in a hurry to exterminate all kinds of “undesirables” (especially Jews), had installed poison gas “showers” to expedite the process and had built more ovens to dispose of the vast number of corpses. Everyone who visits this memorial is aghast at the depravity that humanity is capable of. We have been told for years by all kinds of secular authorities that mankind is basically good. The problem is we have this pesky thing called guilt that constantly bothers us.
The Bible says, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Romans 3:19). The reason we experience this pesky thing called guilt, the Bible tells us, is because we ARE guilty. The whole world is guilty before God. We can pretend it is not there. We can find someone else to blame for our problem. But the only real and effective way to remove guilt is to get to the root of the problem, which plainly is sin. The truth is that humanity is not basically good. Humanity is basically sinful. That is God’s assessment of humankind. We see it in the acts of terrorists who heartlessly murder people with no apparent pangs of conscience whatever. We see it every day in our own nation In the crimes that are committed, especially against children.
The Bible tells us that these things happen because people have no fear of God in their lives; “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:28). I hear people say all the time, “Well, you have chosen to follow God and I have chosen other pursuits in life.” They carelessly think that all that is at stake is simply a difference of taste or opinion. NO. The eventual outcome of turning away from God is a life of evil, which may be expressed many different ways. Solomon, after his binge into every kind of sin imaginable, came to this conclusion: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). He was essentially saying, “Listen, here is what I have learned from life: after doing everything that God told me I should not do, I have discovered that God knew what He was talking about.” We would do well to come to that conclusion as early in life as we possibly can
—Adapted from an article by Greg Laurie
One of my spiritual “mentors” (although he died 40 years before I was born) was George Muller. Mr. Muller began his life’s career in England as a pastor, but he is best known for beginning and carrying on an orphanage that ultimately supported about 2,500 children in five huge buildings which he built with a huge staff of helpers and all the furnishings, daily clothing and food that was needed. All of this with no capital, no contacts, and no solicitations. Faith in God’s provision was the only tool he relied upon. He confessed later in life that he really had no intention of beginning an orphanage except that he felt compelled by the love of God to do so, but his personal motivation was to show his fellow Christians that “there is reality in the things of God.” He was distressed by the fact that so many of his fellow Christians lived their lives as if God was unavailable to work in them. So his entire career was, so to speak, a show-and-tell demonstration.
The Bible is full of stories of ordinary people who possessed extraordinary faith. Many of these were people so ordinary that there would be nothing else to distinguish them were we to meet them today. But something inside of them shouted “You can trust God!” And they did. And we have been profiting from their accomplishments for over 2,000 years. Faith is a dynamic, forward-looking relationship with God. It is not a psychological tool. It is not faith in faith. It’s object is the Lord of the Universe, a Being so willing to respond to us that He promised “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23). He also said, “According to your faith will it be done unto you” (Matthew 9:29). That strongly implies that the means to accomplish great things in life is laid squarely upon our shoulders. We hold the key that unlocks the Treasure House of Heaven. But what amazes me about the Bible’s teaching concerning faith is that this key is not for the few, the fit, and the fortunate. The promise is universal. It is a challenge God issues to every son and daughter in every generation.
No age has needed great men and women of faith more that the one we are presently living in. William Carey, who labored tirelessly for God in India 200 years ago, said it like this: “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.” That is the secret of a life of great spiritual achievement—the confidence that God can do anything, the courage to ask Him, and the trust to expect an answer.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship