Over the last two days we have seen how keeping an attitude of gratitude, keeping a thankful heart towards God, can help us to stay flexible. It can help us to avoid being locked in to rigid views about what should or shouldn’t happen, both in our own lives and the lives of others, or in our circumstances as we walk through life with our God. Thanksgiving can help us to assess the unexpected, and not be ‘offended’ by God when He takes a different route in our lives to the one we had planned! Or when He leads us to think outside the box, and leave our well trodden paths for a different route.
Another area where we need this ‘flexibility’ is how we do life together as Christians – our corporate life. This feels quite an important issue for the church in these days, and by the church I don’t necessarily mean the organizations called ‘church’, I mean all of us believers who make up the body of Christ, and who are becoming the bride of Christ. This is because like Jesus, (see yesterdays blog) the Holy Spirit has carried on doing the unexpected, and He often sidesteps the predictable path, as He works on towards the goal to ‘fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea’. Habakkuk 2:14.
It began at Pentecost, where the infant church was born. The Holy Spirit caused such a commotion that all the ‘God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven……came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them (the 120 disciples) speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked; “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?” Acts 1:5-13. First the Messiah is called ‘Jesus the Nazareen’, after the town that provoked the question “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Then the Holy Spirit chooses to pour out His life and power through some men from Galilee, a region that is highly unlikely, in those days, to produce educated leaders for a new movement.
Why would God choose to start building His Kingdom on earth with such poor uneducated people? Well we know why now, ‘God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not- to nullify those things that are, so that no one may boast before Him’. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. It is so often the case that our God loves to surprise, shock and shake up the status quo, and if He did it then, He will surely be doing it in our day too.
Throughout the early days of the church the Holy Spirit is busy challenging preconceptions. Saul, who became Paul, is an obvious example, but what about Peter and how the Lord sent him to a gentile home and ambushed him into recognising that this gospel was for the whole world and not just the Jews. Saul (Paul) was blocked by his rigid theology and understanding of what the Messiah was going to look like and do. Peter by his experience, (aswell as what he had been taught) because surely Jesus had only come for the Jews. Why else would He have called twelve Jewish men into His inner circle?
The Holy Spirit has had to contend with His people settling down with certain assumptions throughout church history. And whenever the church organization has become settled, rigid and unresponsive to the Holy Spirit, fresh groups have formed, through which the Holy Spirit has carried on His work. We could talk of Francis of Assis and his band of brothers, of the Moravians, the Hugenots, the Quakers and Shakers, the Wesleyans, and many, many others. As we know from the picture of the river of God flowing from the throne in Ezekiel 47, the life of God will keep flowing, bringing fresh life wherever it goes. And the Holy Spirit will open up a fresh channels if the old ones get blocked, or sluggish.
We can all look at other groups and see in what way they are inflexible:- ‘Why do they have to have an organ? ‘Why do they have to have their music so loud?’ Why can’t they break bread among themselves without a priest?’ Why do they always have to have three hymns and a long talk?’ It’s so easy to see the inflexibilities of other groups, but miss our own. However, we are living in extraordinary days, days of global upheaval in so many areas of life, but still the Holy Spirit is actively pouring out His life on all flesh. Joel 2:28. So we need to be ready.
We know that the Lord has told us that before He comes there will be a great shaking, ‘so that what cannot be shaken may remain’ Hebrews 12:27. None of us can know what that shaking will look like, but we all have to live in the here and now with the shakings that are happening in our day and in our time. So before we find ourselves saying, when we see something fresh happening in the church, ‘that’s just not how it should be done!!’, let us turn to the Lord and thank Him that He has said ‘I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ Matthew 16:18.
Thanksgiving will help to keep us in that flow of life with Him protecting us, on the one hand from an unhelpful rigidity, and on the other hand from being sidelined by error, or excess, from the main stream of what God is doing, or from His word. It will help us to be non compromising on the wonderful truths at the heart of the Gospel, and flexible in our response to the Holy Spirit and what He might be calling us to do next. Our task is to remain open and responsive to Him. Having a heart of thanksgiving, that He is good and that He loves us and that His Kingdom is an ever advancing Kingdom, will help us to do just that.