By Pastor Glenn Pease
David Semands in his book Living With Dreams tells of his experience as a first term missionary in India in the 1950's. He caught an early morning train to get to a committee meeting at the mission station. He expected to return that day, and so he took very little with him and nothing to read. Half way there the train stopped. A derailment up ahead had damaged the tracks. So they backed up a few miles and pulled into a small station in the middle of nowhere. There they sat until the next day. He was so frustrated because he had nothing to read. The tiny food shop had a few magazines, but they were all in a language he had never seen before. The shop keeper, sensing his plight, pulled out a well worn paperback addition of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The only book in English anywhere to be found, and it was 11 hundred pages of anti-Christian philosophy. Just what a Christian missionary dreams of. It was a nightmare, but he was so bored that he spent the day reading that book.
He was not thankful for the book, nor did he see this as the providence of God in his life. It was just misery and pain. Ten years later a young student came to his office with intellectual problems regarding the Christian faith. He had read a book that shook him up, and it was the book Atlas shrugged. The student was shocked when he heard that the missionary had read the book. There was immediate rapport established, and they spent a lot of time dealing with the issues of that book. The young man went on to become a Christian physician loyal to his faith in Christ.
David Semands said, "I considered the day I spent reading that book one of the worse days of my life. It was a wasted day with no redeeming value. It took ten years before he could see God working in his life that day in making a difference for the future. He now keeps this little saying before him to remind him that God is involved in his everyday-even the bad ones.
"He is always around the corner to meet me,
So I can enter the future unafraid
For nothing can come to me
That cannot be used
By the grace of God,
For the glory of God,
My own growth,
And the good of others."
Even the painful past that God wants us to let go of can be used if we pray for God to open our eyes to track his involvement in our everyday. Paul is speaking in our text to idol worshiping pagans, and yet he stresses that God is even involved in their everyday. God has given life, breath, and all their blessings. Theologians call this the prevenient grace of God. This is the grace that shows even to the unbelievers of the world. The sun and the rain blesses the evil as well as the good.
Paul says that God's goodness is designed to motivate men to seek Him and find Him, for He is never far from anyone. He is involved with every life on the planet, and then Paul even quotes a pagan poet who said, "For in Him we live and move and have our being. We are His offspring." Paul is saying to these pagan people that there is a sense in which all men are children of God, and God is involved in their lives. But they are lost children, and they need to be born anew into His family by faith in Christ in order to be saved and have the hope of eternal life. The point is, if God is involved in the everyday of even His lost children who do not acknowledge Him as their heavenly Father, how much more is He involved in the everyday of those who do?
This involvement does not mean that God is doing wonders and miracles everyday in our lives, but that He is providentially guiding, protecting, and nudging us in the direction which is best for us. Karen Mains tells an example of this in her life. She and David were in a motel in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She got up early to go get coffee. As she was walking back to the room with two hot styrofoam cups in her hand, it suddenly dawned on her that she did not have a key to the room, and she had forgotten the number of the room. She stood there feeling somewhat panicky, but she calmed herself down and stood there in the long hallway quietly trying to think. Then she heard a man blowing his nose a few doors down, and having been married to that man for 22 years she recognized the sound. She followed the sound and knocked on the door, and her husband opened it.
Ordinarily the blowing of one's nose is not heard by anyone as a blessing, nor is it any sign of God's providence in life, but here was a case where Karen added it to her list of God's involvement in her everyday. God can and does use the ordinary, the commonplace, and the trivial to express His guidance and care. If you are looking for super-nova explosions in the heavens, or the ability to fed thousands with your lunch, you are looking for God in all the wrong places. Focus on the trivial and the mundane, and you will see the hand of God at work daily. If you are looking for a burning bush, forget it. It's been done, and God will not likely do it again. This does not mean God does not do some amazing things in our lives. He does, but they are rare and not everyday things.
Alan Finney tells of driving down a four lane highway in the fast lane. He looked into the rear view mirror and saw a white Lincoln Continental blinking his headlights to say, "Move over." He was annoyed by it, for there was no traffic in the other lane, and he wondered why the guy did not just go around him. Reluctantly he eased over to the other side. Just then they came to a top of a hill, and an oncoming car driving the wrong direction came flying over the hill in that fast lane where he had been. He was startled and thought there would be a head on collision with the white Continental. But as he looked in his mirror the white Continental was gone. Whoever it was saved his life, but he never even got a chance to wave and say thanks. It was apparently a vision God gave him to spare his life.
This is a major work of God, and it is going on all the time, but for most of us there is no need for being saved everyday. So we need to focus on the commonplace to see God's involvement in our everyday. The woman at the well was a less than ordinary woman. She was divorced 5 times and living with another man she was not married to. She went on an ordinary day to an ordinary well to get some ordinary water. She met to what appeared to be an ordinary man, but she discovered He was far more than that. He was the Messiah, and he could love one even like her. That ordinary day changed her life forever, and the lives of many others in Samaria. The ordinary and the extraordinary are all united when God is at work in our lives. Never dismiss the ordinary, for it is one of God's most useful tools.
One of the paradoxes of life is the fact that the ordinary may be the most extraordinary factor in our lives. The Bible, for example, is the most commonly found book in our culture. Every home has several, and they are found in every hotel and motel. We take it for granted and do not realize its value until we lose the opportunity to be exposed to its light. When Terry Anderson was captured and held hostage in Lebanon he was kept chained and blindfolded for 24 days. He had read parts of the Bible, but it was no big deal. Now he longed for a Bible. He begged the guard of his basement prison to get him a Bible. He could not believe it when the guard took his blindfold off the next day and laid a Bible in his lap.
He devoured that Bible. He read it through 50 times. He was a captive, but every day admit the filth and the beatings he was growing in his Christian life. The result was that after 2,455 days when his ordeal was over, reporters asked him if he could forgive his captives, and he was able to respond, "Yes, as a Christian I am required to forgive, no matter how hard it may be." He could let go of his painful past because he had been tracking God's involvement in his everyday-even the everyday of one in captivity. God was working in his life everyday as he exposed himself to the Word of God.
If we would search the Word daily, we would sense more of the reality that Paul speaks of in our text. God is never far away from any of us, and in Him we live and move and have our being. The problem is never that God is not involved in our everyday. The problem is that we miss it because we are not aware. We are not interacting with him and so we miss the signs. Not everything that happens in life is God's will. There are many wills at work in the world and each of them makes choices that can affect our lives. Sometimes these choices lead to blessings, and other times they lead to burdens. The challenge of the Christian is to strive to see how each can be used of God to make us what He desires us to be.
Sometimes the same event is both a blessing and a burden at the same time. Janette George, the woman who played Corrie Ten Boom in the movie The Hiding Place, tells this story of her cousin Jesse, who is a prominent surgeon in North Carolina. One day a neighbor girls came crying to their home because her cat had climbed up their tall slender tree and she could not get her down. Jesse felt it was a good place for a cat. He did not like cats, but his wife Frances loved cats and volunteered the two of them to help. Frances would pull the tree over so Jesse could reach the top of the tree and scoop the frightened cat to safety. The plan seemed perfect and soon the tree was bending like a thirsty giraffe, bearing its tiny passenger to safety. But then Frances lost her grip and the tree sprang away with such force that the cat was flung into space. The little girl was crushed for they had sent her cat to unknown destiny, giving new meaning to the word catapult.
Jesse tried not to laugh even though it was terribly funny to him. Frances was overcome by guilt because they had lost the child's cat. A few days later Frances was in the grocery store and met a friend pushing a cart with cat food in it. She knew that her friend's husband did not like cats anymore than Jesse did. She asked, "Do you have a cat?" Her friend looked around to make sure no one else could hear, and then she said, "Frances, the strangest thing happened. My husband and I were sitting in our backyard when all of a sudden, out of no where, this cat landed at our feet! My husband looked at the cat and then at me. He said, 'Maude, the Lord has sent us a cat!'"
I do not know if God, in His sense of humor, used their failed rescue attempt to send their neighbors a cat, but the value of this story is that it illustrates the need to accept the circumstances of life as a means by which God can work in our lives. God uses even our mistakes to be a blessing to others. Our failure to achieve a goal could even be a blessing to someone. Our loss could be their gain, and if we accept this, even the negative experiences of life can be seen from a broader perspective. I think of Peter's prejudice against the Gentiles. His failure is a blessing to millions, because if an Apostle of his stature could still have hang ups that were serious defects in his Christian life, it gives us all hope that we are still loved by God even with our defects.
The failure of others is not wasted, but it is recorded in God's Word for the comfort and encouragement of all God's people. Failure is never the last word with God. He works with failure to bring forth success. Everyday God is working in the lives of His people to forgive their failure and restore them to fellowship, and to a useful path of service. The reason Jesus stresses for us to avoid the folly of judging the failure of others is because when we do so we are blinded to our own failure. We thereby miss God's involvement in our own need for forgiveness and growth. If I am focusing on the speck in your eye, Jesus says I can actually miss seeing that I have a log in my own eye. The busier I am in trying to see the false of others, the blinder I am to my own faults. This is very dangerous blindness Jesus says, for I will be judged as I judge. The quickest way to miss God's involvement in your everyday is to focus on the failure of others rather than your own failure to be like Jesus. If you deal with yourself and escape the clutches of hypocrisy, you will be a useful tool in God's hands to help others.
It is a fallen world full of sin and folly, and mistakes of all kinds. Your biggest responsibility is not to change others, but to change yourself, and to be growing daily in Christ likeness. Your daily growth may not change the world, but it does fulfill God's will for you. Paul writes in Eph. 1:4, "For he chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight." When we are daily becoming informed to the image of Christ, God may use us in a special way to make a difference. It is amazing how one Christ like life can change the lives of millions.
The greatest example of this that I read of recently is the true story of little Annie. She was a severely disturbed little child in an asylum in Boston. The staff had tried everything to get some response out of her, but the failed, and so she was confined to a cell in the basement and given up as hopeless. One Christian woman who worked there did not give up, however. She was convinced that God was not far from this little child. She felt that the child was not to be abandoned but loved. So she spent her lunch hour each day in Annie's cell. She read to her and prayed for her. Months went by, and all her efforts got no response. But then one day a brownie was missing from the plate she sat in Annie's cell. She was encouraged, and she kept reading and praying, and finally Annie began to talk to her. She convinced the doctors to give her a second chance. They brought her out of the basement and gave her treatment. In 2 years this hopeless case was told she could leave the asylum as a normal child. She chose not to go, but in gratitude to the Christian woman who sacrificed for her, she volunteered to stay and show that same love others.
Nearly half a century later the Queen of England held a special ceremony to honor one of the world's most inspiring women, Helen Keller. When she was asked how she overcame the dual handicaps of blindness and deafness, she replied, "If it hadn't been for Ann Sullivan, I wouldn't be here today." Ann Sullivan was little Annie, and she did for Helen Keller what another had done for her. She became a channel of the love she had received and millions have been touched by her daily awareness that in Him we live and move and have our being.
This true history reveals the danger of thinking every day we will see some dramatic breakthrough and see the hand of God changing our lives. It may take months and even years to achieve a God-given dream. What you need to see every day then is the power of God in your life to be faithful and persistent in pressing on to achieve that dream. In any one day maybe that is all you will see in your search for God. You will only see that He kept you faithful in not getting weary in well doing as you press on toward the goal.
The Bible reveals clearly that God uses even non-believers to achieve goals that He wills to be achieved. In Isa. 44:28 God says of Cyrus the pagan king, "He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please." In 45:4 he says of Cyrus, "I call you by name and bestow a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me." There are other examples like the pagan king Nebuchanezzar of Babylon who is called God's servant. The point is that God is the God of all people, and he is working in lives everywhere. He works even in pagans sometimes, as is the case with the one that Paul quotes. But most often they are like Cyrus who was used of God but did not acknowledge him as his God.
The Christian is to be one who daily will acknowledge God as the one in whom he or she lives, moves, and has their being. Tracking God's involvement in your everyday simply means acknowledging God's presence and providence in your everyday. The reason we often do not do this is because we live in an age where the focus is on what man is doing, what government is doing, and what science is doing. There is no focus on what God is doing, and the result is we are conditioned by our culture to fill our minds with a secular rather than a sacred awareness. We come to church for an hour where we are forced to be aware of God's presence. But then we go right back into the world of secular awareness and forget that Jesus said, "I am with you always."
We tend to forget that God is the God of all life as well as of all people. The secular world is not something foreign to him. It is filled with physical and spiritual dirt, and the competition is often cutthroat and anti-Christian in its spirit. But Jesus was found in the midst of that world in His day. The politicians, the tax collectors, and the prostitutes were not off limits to His ministry. He was there in the heart of the secular world added salt to its rottenness and light to its darkness.
The Christian is not to escape the secular, but add the sacred to it by taking their awareness of the love of Jesus for all people into their secular environment. Ben Hoper was the child of an unwed mother, and he had a terrible time in school. His classmates would call him bad names, and he would eat his lunch by himself because nobody would be seen with him. He felt everyone was staring at him, and wondering whom his father was. This is the kind of treatment that leads many to become criminals and lash back to hurt the society that so hurt them.
But one day when he was 12 a pastor said to Ben, "You are a son of God." Ben says he slapped me across the rump and said, "Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it." Ben says, "That was the most important sentence ever said to me." With a new sense of identity that he was not an illegitimate, but a legitimate child of God, he had a dream of a future filled with joy and service rather than sorrow and rejection. His dream was fulfilled, for twice the people of Tennessee elected him to be their governor. A man successful in the secular world was so because a sacred truth was conveyed to him.
If you want to track God's involvement in your everyday, then carry this sacred spirit into your everyday. Relate to lost people and people with low self-image in a way that conveys to them that they are loved and valued by God. He has provided a way through Jesus whereby they can be restored to the family of God. We need to strive everyday to help others recognize that God is involved in our everyday, and in him we live and move and have our being.