In 330 BC, Alexander the Great had conquered the Persian Empire and in the process had become ruler of most of the known world. With the greatest army ever assembled he decided to continue his push eastward. His vision was unrelenting. He wanted to rule the entire world.
But when they reached the Himalayan Mountains, his leaders came to Alexander with a serious concern. They had gone beyond the boundaries of their maps. To go further would mean that they would march off the map. They were suddenly faced with two options. They could return to where they came from and stay within familiar territory, or they could bravely march off the map into new and unknown territory. The first option would result in retreating to the comfort and security of the past; the second option would result in embracing the opportunities and challenges of a new order.
We too live in similar circumstances today. We have been living through a crisis that has forever changed the world in which we live. The world of travel has changed, the world of shopping has changed, the world of business has changed, the world of socialising has changed, the world of entertainment has changed, the world of education has changed and the world of sport has changed. Consequently, the world of doing church has changed and in the process we have been taken out of our comfort zones. For many of us we would love to think that one day we will be able to get back to that which is normal and familiar, back to the good old days.
But is that the way we should be thinking? It is possible that God is still the sovereign God in times of crises? Could He take times of uncertainty to get our attention, to restore our perspective, to refocus on that which He called us to do, to get us to the point where we might even cry out as Jehoshaphat did in a time of crisis, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12
Already in my discussions with church leaders I am learning of some of the encouragements that are being experienced in this unusual time of crisis. They include:
- The emergence of new leaders who are rising up in the midst of new opportunities.
- A fresh awareness that the church is not a building in a geographic location but it is people who are called to be witnesses for Jesus in the world in which they live.
- The renewed awareness that pastoral care is the responsibility of every believer and not just a select few.
- The elimination of activities that have passed their use by date with a fresh focus on making the main thing the main thing.
- A fresh wave of people coming to Christ as people find themselves living in a world of insecurity and uncertainty. One church leader reported on how an unusual number of people listening to the church’s online service had committed their lives to Christ.
Alexander the Great had two options; to retreat to the comfort and security of the past or to move forward and march off the map into the unknown future. History records that he marched off the map.
Fortunately, we have a model in Jesus to help us as we choose to move forward into an unchartered future. When Jesus began His ministry, He had no manual to instruct Him, no precedences to guide Him and no history to learn from. However, He had a strategy that proved to be far better than any of these as He came to fulfill the purpose for which He had been born. In John chapter five we read of Jesus healing a man who had been sick for 38 years. Unfortunately, Jesus’ act of compassion was frowned upon by the Jewish leaders because the day on which Jesus healed this man was the sabbath. Jesus answered them, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too, am working…. The Son can do nothing by Himself; He can only see what His Father is doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does.” In effect, what Jesus was saying was that He was living His life in such intimacy with the Father that He had decided to follow the prompts of the Holy Spirit and partner with His Father in the things He was doing. He had no map to follow. He had no familiar place of comfort to retreat to. His plan was simple; “I just do what I see the Father doing.”
So in these challenging times, how do we march off the map? We do what Jesus did. We don’t have a map, but we do have a compass whose true north points us to the Father and all He is doing.
To help put the strategy of Jesus into practice, I have identified the following five words (beginning with A, E, I, O, U.)
- AVAILABLE We need to surrender our lives to God and be unconditionally available to partner with Him in the things that He is doing, knowing that He is always at His work.
- EXPECTANT We need to be ready and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompts and guidance in our life’s journey. These quite often can be unexpected and unpredictable and not necessarily in line with the traditions of the past.
- INTIMACY Communication with the Father flows out of a relationship of intimacy. That is why developing a love relationship with God is our most important priority. Jesus said, “For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does.” Intimacy is foundational to involvement in the Father’s work.
- OBEDIENCE As our Father reveals to us what He is doing, we need to take faith steps of unconditional obedience to join Him, knowing that His work done in His way will never lack His resources.
- UNDERSTANDING As we experience the Father at work in our lives, we grow in our understanding of Him. We progressively experience the many facets of His character and this results in a deepening of our trust and intimacy with Him.
Recently, my wife Sue and I were in prayer and asked the Father how we might reach out to the neighbours in our street in this time of crisis. We felt led to write a letter to tell them we were praying for them and to let us know of any prayer needs they may have. This letter opened a door to many in our street. A few weeks later, we felt prompted to deliver another letter with a small container of hand sanitiser and a continued offer to be praying for all in our street. Further relationships have continued to unfold. The following is one of the letters we received:
“Dear Rod and Sue, Thank you for your kind note and the hand sanitiser. It will be very useful. It has come to my attention that an extended family member has issues with drug and alcohol abuse. He is trying to get his life back on track and could sure benefit to be included in your daily prayers. Thank you so much.”
Our confidence in finding out how the Father wanted us to partner with Him was justified. New contacts continue to be made.
We live in unique times where the world has changed and to move forward will require us to be ready to march off the map into an unknown future. Let us resist the temptation to automatically return to our past comfort zones. Rather, let us move forward with boldness and faith to embrace the opportunities that await us as we walk in intimacy with the Father and partner with Him in the new things He is doing. We may never have a moment like this again.
“….get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give to you……Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:2,9.
Kathryn Denton assisted Rod in the writing of this paper.