Who we are and what we think comes through in a variety of ways—our words, our actions, even our facial expression or tone of voice. So it’s important that the message we communicate is consistent—not only in the sense that we don’t send mixed messages, but more importantly, that what we communicate is consistent with what God wants to communicate through us.
God will use us to bring change to other people’s lives. But it comes at a cost: Us. We have to be willing to get out of God’s way and let Him use us the way He wants to. Sometimes that will mean opening our mouths and spelling things out to the people we’re with. Other times God might very well want us to keep our mouths shut, and let others watch Him working through us. We need to be ready to do both.
Neil Cole puts it this way in Search & Rescue: “If we can’t see our own lives changed by the power of the gospel, we have no right to expect to see the world changed by our message. If the gospel is no more important to us than life itself, the world will not be attracted to it. If they can’t see that we value the gospel, why would we expect them to?”
As we make the gospel the center of our lives and our lives reflect it, God will bring change into our lives, even as he’s using us to bring change into others’ lives. Let’s look at one example, in 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 (NET):
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you received the message with joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, despite great affliction. As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you the message of the Lord has echoed forth not just in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place reports of your faith in God have spread, so that we do not need to say anything. For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.”
That’s the kind of story we want to be able to share. But let’s be honest: How would you react if someone told you were imitating the Lord? Why?
And yet, it’s what we’re called to do. Look again at that passage, and how different people are affected by that imitation—the Thessalonian church, people outside Thessalonica, Paul himself.
It matters what we do, and who we imitate. But how we reflect the working of the gospel in our lives is going to manifest differently for each of us. And that’s OK. So let’s reflect again on the different ways we can communicate what Jesus has shown us, and what that might look like for you personally:
• What’s easier for you: Telling someone what Jesus has done in your life, or walking out what Jesus is showing you and waiting for someone to ask you about it? Why?
• When are you most teachable? One-on-one, in a big group, off by yourself? Reading, listening, observing, doing? Why do you think that is?
• Think again about your responses. Now that you’ve articulated what works for you, how might that affect your approach toward the people you’re invested in right now?
We’re told to imitate God, and furthermore, God’s Word tells us that even in our own limited way that’s possible (see also Ephesians 5:1). Nobody’s ever going to mistake us for God, but God wants us to be able to reflect His life so that others can see it. Even when we fail, God can use it. Think again about that wonderful Robert Gelinas quote from last Thursday: “We’ve looked at the bad decisions in our lives and then asserted to God, ‘You could really use this stuff!’ That’s the hope in the tragedy of confession. That we serve a God who can—and does—redeem everything, including our sin.”
Think about a time you wish you could have a do-over with—a time when you definitely weren’t imitating God—and then think again about those people you’re invested in. What could you teach them from that, so they don’t repeat your mistakes? What has God shown you through those times that you’d want others to imitate? In both cases, how could you make it known to them?
God can use everything in our lives. Let’s let Him.