My Bible reading this morning had me in both Nehemiah 2 and Acts 12. These are the accounts of Nehemiah’s and Peter’s work of building up and strengthening God’s people as they faced opposition. Don Carson makes an important observation on these accounts:
“The lesson of these radically different experiences is one that we must learn again and again: God’s servants do not have the same gifts, the same tasks, the same success, or the same degree of divine intervention. It is partly a matter of gifts and calling; it is partly a matter of where we fit into God’s unfolding redemptive purposes. Has he placed us in times of declension, for example, or of revival; of persecution, or of major advance? Let God be God; let all his servants be faithful” (Don Carson, For the Love of God, January 12).
There is a plethora of Christian books and seminars that imply that church growth is pretty simple. If you do the right things the church (or the youth group, or the kids’ club) will grow. This attitude dishonors God and is presumptuous. The reality is that every effort and plan is subject to the sovereign purpose and work of God. In Acts 2 Peter spoke a sermon and 3,000 people came to faith in a single day. No doubt he would have taken those results every time if he could but he never did experience that again. Why not? God is sovereign, not us. Jeremiah spoke the very words of God to God’s people only to be ignored and to have no good effect on them. Why? He lived in a period of spiritual declension and God had determined to punish his own people. Billy Graham could not have succeeded there.
God will take a church through times of new life but also through times of change or transition. He may put a church under discipline to purify it or he may bring it into times of blessing because we have been refined and are ready for it. Our job is to be faithful and believe God to do what is very best in and through us. He determines the fruit but rewards faithfulness. It is exciting, though, to think that if God should choose to he can easily multiply the five loaves and two fish we place into his hands and feed thousands through us?