The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
How can we be more aware of God’s constant presence with us and of the pattern of his working in the spheres in which we live our life?
It began as a perfectly normal day for Pharaoh’s daughter. As she was in the habit of doing, she went down to the River Nile to bathe (Exodus 2:5), probably to one of the sacred areas around a temple. We are told, “She and her attendants were walking along the river bank”, which is probably an understatement, since such an important member of the royal family would have been accompanied by a large retinue to protect her and cater for her every desire.
Yet this day was different. For along the river bank she saw a basket which aroused her curiosity. Her slave girl brought it to her, and when she opened it she discovered a Hebrew baby boy inside, crying. He was a fine child (Exodus 2:2), so she was immediately drawn to him and felt sorry for him. It did not occur to her to ask why this baby boy was in such an unusual place, or whether she should respect her father’s order that all Hebrew boys be thrown into the Nile at birth (Exodus 1:22). She decided that she wanted to adopt the baby, and she was not accustomed to having her desires thwarted.
Little did she realise the consequences of this apparently casual decision. She adopted the baby on a whim, but that baby would in due course become Moses, the man who would lead the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and cause all kinds of problems for Egypt and for her family.
Each of us is faced with a myriad of decisions every day of our life. Some of them are big: Shall I apply for another job? Shall I move house? Shall I marry that person? Shall I accept that university place which I have been offered? Most of our decisions, however, are rather small: Shall I get out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off? What shall I have for breakfast today? What shall I wear today? When I see my neighbour as I am leaving my house, shall I just say Hello or shall I start a conversation?
It is CS Lewis who points out that we are less likely to make gross mistakes with the large decisions of life because we consider them very carefully and we are aware that they have consequences. It is the small decisions that we so often give little attention to, not realising that they have consequences too. The decision not to get out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off may result in us inadvertently going back to sleep, waking up late, arriving late for work and being in a bad mood all day. When I see my neighbour he may have just received some bad news and is looking for somebody to talk to; but I just say, Hello.
Lewis observes that our small decisions also have much more serious consequences than we are aware of, because they set a trend in our life which will predispose us to act in a certain way when we face major decisions in our life. My decision not to have a conversation with my neighbour, perhaps because I am preoccupied with a problem at work, if repeated with him and with other people, over the course of time will tend to bring distance between us and increase the perceived magnitude of work problems in my mind, so that ultimately I may become withdrawn, self-absorbed, even depressed.
How, then, should we approach these small decisions? Should we consult God before making any decision whatsoever? I remember one of my former pastors, not at all charismatic in his spirituality, telling me how as a young man he had linked up with a prophetess who was very strong on receiving God’s guidance for any and every situation in life. He reached the point where he was unable even to shave in the morning without feeling he had received the OK from God. When he finally came to his senses he realised that this was not following Jesus, but it was slavery, and he strongly suspected that many of the voices which he had heard telling him to do this or that were not from God at all.
Jesus gives us valuable help in this matter. He said, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). From reading the Gospels, it does not seem that Jesus was constantly getting commands from heaven, ‘Do this!’, ‘Don’t do that!’ Rather, he was constantly aware of his Father being with him and of the overall picture of his Father’s activity in the spheres of his life, so that he was alert to any specific direction that might come in a particular situation.
That is the pattern for us. It will take us a lifetime to develop it, but now is a good time to begin, if we have not already done so. It is about being more aware of God’s constant presence with us and of the pattern of his working in the spheres in which we live our life. Then we will be ready to hear that prompting, often so gentle that we could easily ignore it, which says, ‘Go and see that person’ or ‘Ask them such and such a question.’
The Bible calls this “being led by the Spirit of God” and it is the birthright of every child of God (Romans 8:14). Elsewhere we are warned, Guard your steps when you go into God’s presence. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools (Ecclesiastes 5:1).
Had Pharaoh’s daughter been aware of God when she first saw the baby Moses, she would probably have made the same decision, but would also have decided to press for freedom for the enslaved Israelites, and so saved her nation from a lot of trouble.