An elderly Chinese woman who has two large pots, which she carries with a pole balanced across her neck.
One of the pots is perfect and always delivers a full portion of water. The other has a crack in it. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.
One day after 2 years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, the blemished pot spoke to the woman while they were at the stream. ‘I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house’. The old woman smiled, ‘Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.’ (from http://www.guy-sports.com.)
Prayer: God who knows us better than we know ourselves, open our hearts and minds so that we may see through your eyes. Amen.
Today is the last in the series of talks we have been having concerning a personal relationship with God. We have considered entering a relationship with God, hearing God’s side of the conversation, the fact that we are church and that as such, we need to be able to judge or discern whether or not the voice we are hearing is in fact God’s voice. God has given us several tools to use. We started with the church, local and universal and then looked at the Scriptures, our collective history and our ability to reason, being mindful that our natural reasoning is insufficient to understand God’s ways. Today we are going to very briefly take a look at experience.
We use the word, “experience” in two very different ways. One points to an event and the other to an going process. So, it is, that our experience is made up of various experiences.
Under the category of experience, let’s be mindful that there is a very real sense in which experience points to all of the other tools God has given us to help us discern God’s voice. We can consult the experience of those found in the Scriptures, of those around us, of those that have gone before us and the reasoning each employed to help them decide. Take for example those who experienced the events on the Day of Pentecost that marks the birth of the Church (Acts 2: 1-21)
When that rag-tagged group gathered in that room that day, they had no idea what was about to happen. But they knew that sooner or later something would definitely happen because Jesus had instructed them to stay in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49) until the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Beforehand there was a lot of uncertainty, but once it happened, even though they had never had an experience like this before, they had no doubt about either their experience or what it meant.
Because they knew the Scriptures, because they knew their history, they knew that during the Exodus, the foundational event in the nation of Israel, they knew that wind and fire were physical manifestations of God’s presence. They knew that in days long ago when the Spirit of God came upon a prophet, often some type of ecstatic speech was part of the experience. They reasoned that since the languages they were speaking was in reality the native languages of Jews living in cities across the known world, visiting Jerusalem for the feast, that Jesus wasn’t messing around when he commanded them to take the Gospel to the entire world. (Although, it did take a few more experiences for them to understand that the entire world included the non-Jewish people as well.) They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was present with them and that the Holy Spirit was very powerful; more powerful than their very human fears and weaknesses.
Like I said before, they consulted their community, the Scriptures, their history and reason and concluded that whatever this very new experience was God stuff.
They did not ignore their experience. They acted on it and when they did, they saw confirmations of what they had concluded – that God was at work in and through them. This leads me to what I most want to say to you.
First, any experience we may have, means nothing if it does not compel us to action. If we believe God is saying something to us and we do not act on it, that whole enterprise is a waste of God’s time and energy. As well, we don’t remain where we are in our evolving relationship with God. We take a step back because we have said, “No.”
Second, experiences should change us, whether that be in our understanding of God, of ourselves, of others or of the various relationships in which we are engaged or our actions and attitdues.
Third, God’s definition of success is faithfulness, not a favourable result. After Peter gets up and preaches, some 3000 become followers of Jesus. Peter had a very successful day. However, God also called Jeremiah to speak on God’s behalf and the result was exactly as God told Jeremiah before he spoke his first word – nobody paid any attention. Just because God asks us to do something doesn’t mean we will see the result we might be hoping for. Nor does not seeing the result we were hoping for mean that the exercise was a waste of time and energy. We don’t know the ripple effect that comes into play once we set out to be faithful to do what God has asked.
Fourthly, as we walk with God carrying on the conversation, we become more aware of and accustomed to God’s voice. This helps us to both better recognise God’s voice and to have greater confidence in our ability to hear and understand God’s voice. However, we can’t gain experience if we never step out and take action. Like with many things, some of the best lessons come from what appear to be failures.
And fifth and lastly, just because asks us to do something does not mean it is intended to last forever. Most things have a time and season. So, it is important that when God asks us to do something, that we remain open to God telling us that time is up.
Next Sunday, we are going to do something that came about as a result of one of our numbers suggesting something. It was a conversation that I believe God highlighted and so, I decided that this needed to be done even though what we are going to do is probably not exactly what Clarence had in mind.
Assuming we do a relatively good job, I already know that some will like what we do, some will very much dislike what we do and some will like some of what we do. And that’s ok. That’s life. What I also know is that regardless of how well or how terrible we do, it can only get better if more get involved.
Prayer: Give us ears to hear your whispers, the wisdom to use the tools to help us know what whispers come from you and the determination to do as you ask. Amen.