(Appeared first in January 2013, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.—Philippians 1:6 (The Message)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:28. (TNIV)
God is at work in the world to redeem and reconcile it, making all things new. Our mission in the world is to align ourselves with God’s reconciling work. But how can we know with confidence what God is doing?
David Miller, a professor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Ind., speaks of “tracking God” as one of the core tasks of the missional church.
He employs the analogy of hunters, who often rely on clues to help them find wild game. A tuft of hair on a thorn bush, scratches on the side of a tree, a torn leaf—all point to the presence of animals passing through. So, too, God leaves subtle but visible clues.
What then are the signs that God has been passing through an area, or that God has been at work?
Jesus told Nicodemus that “the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
We can of course tell when the wind is blowing through the trees—especially when the leaves and branches are waving wildly. We can’t see the wind, but we can see its effects. Jesus is saying that we can’t see the Spirit of God, but we can see its effects.
In her research regarding the missional church, Lois Barrett of AMBS discovered that many Christians, including Mennonites, find it difficult to speak of God as the subject of an active verb. She says this is true even when people are invited to respond to a direct question, such as, “What has God been doing in your life?” From my point of view, all the following responses would meet Lois’ criteria:
“Last week, God was with me during a very difficult transition at work.”
“When I was 20 years old, Jesus rescued me from a destructive lifestyle. I’ve been walking with him ever since.”
“At the time I was at a loss for words, but the Holy Spirit gave me the words to say.”
“God surprised us by bringing a group of Hmong immigrants to our church who have helped us develop a new outreach.”
“The Spirit convicted me about the need for a Sabbath, so I took a day off just to relax.”
Barrett says that in response to the question, What has God been doing in your life? we are more likely to say things like:
“Our church started a new outreach to homeless people in the neighborhood.”
“I’ve been attending a Bible study.”
“We had a great worship service last Sunday.”
“I work as a volunteer for the Mennonite Central Committee sale. We set a new record last Saturday.”
Do you notice the difference between the two sets of responses? The former depicts God as the actor or initiator in a situation, whereas the latter puts humans in the driver’s seat.
I’m grateful to Lois for sensitizing me to the difference between these two ways of speaking. Ever since, I’ve been listening to testimonies at a deeper level all across the church. And I’ve been reading the Bible with new eyes for the “God sightings” throughout Scripture. Now, when I read verses like Philippians 1:6 or Romans 8:28, a sense of God’s action leaps off the page.
I’m so intrigued by this concept that I’m going to tell stories of “God sightings” in this column for the next months. You can be confident that God will be the subject of many active verbs.