Would you pick an 80-year-old man to lead a slave uprising?
A timid man to lead an army against an all-conquering hoard?
A mild whisper to inspire a dejected prophet?
A shameful cross to bring us to a place of life and honour?
In a world accustomed to social media influencers and brand consultants, would you have picked a rag-tag bunch of nobodies to see your message of salvation went to the ends of the earth?
We live in a world where the big, the powerful, the influential and the instant are what matters. And it is easy for that to permeate our psyche, to colour our expectations of what God is doing.
For that reason we need to be recalibrated by scripture.
The Unlikely Power of Weakness
Shrinking churches, dwindling congregations—the church in the West seems to be in a perilous place. But consider the story of Gideon…
• Take your army and make it smaller—for I am big.
• Send your frightened soldiers home—for I am with you.
• Oh, you are one of the frightened ones—do not be afraid, for He that is with you is greater than all the hoards of Midian.
We have a God who not simply is stronger than everything else, but delights to use weakness so that we can see his strength, so that His awesomeness is on display, not ours. Yet we get discouraged when we feel weak, or feel the weakness of our congregation, or the church. It should sadden us to see the weakening of God’s cause, but it should also fill us with expectation. Weakness never has been an obstacle, only an opportunity.
The Unlikely Place of Smallness
We live in a world where size matters. But God wants us to live in a small world where He matters.
Consider Naaman’s maid… Healing and salvation came to a pagan warlord because of her 10 words. That’s all that is recorded, a nameless girl, with ten words—impacting eternity. I heard recently of how an offer of hospitality to a student far from home eventually lead to his conversion, and then to the gospel being preached to the entire Zambian cabinet.
The power of God can inhabit smallness just as easy as vastness. Ten words, from a small nobody. World changing.
The Unlikely Pace of Slowness
Lindsay Brown of IFES encouraged ministers recently by recounting the transformation of several countries over the last 100 years. In 1910 there were 4-7 million evangelicals in the world. Now there are about 350 million. In France in 1910 there were about 4000 evangelical Christians, by 1985 there were 200,000, now there are about 500,000. In Nepal in 1954 the first church was planted, now there are about 900,000 believers!
But the thing that struck me is that God is often doing more over 100 years and in unnoticeable ways than we realise. We look for it in the moment, or over 10 years—but He is working on a longer scale. There is a surprising pace in His slowness.
The Unlikely Productivity of Old Age
It would be easy to get sucked into the adulation of the cult of youth, but it was the 80-year-old Moses that God chose. Decades of careful training by God had gone into preparation for the last third of Moses’ life. Now he was ready for maximum service. God has spent decades honing, shaping, growing and schooling older saints in wisdom, prayer and godliness, bringing you to the pinnacle of spiritual fitness—and just when the world thinks you are past it, you are exactly what the world needs! “And in old age when others fade, they fruit still forth shall bring” (Psalm 92)
I love how the Puritan John Flavel put it: "Christ did not choose the eloquent orators, or men of authority in the courts of kings and emperors, but twelve poor mechanics and fishermen; and these not sent together in a troop, but some to take one country to conquer it, and some another; the most ridiculous course, in appearance, for such a design as could be imagined; and yet, in how short a time was the gospel spread, and the churches planted by them in the several kingdoms of the world"
The phrase, “God’s way are not our ways” trips lightly off the tongue, Usually it’s when we are perplexed at some unusual turn of events—as if on this rare occasion, God’s ways are not our ways. But his ways aren’t our ways far more often than we think.
There is always an unlikeliness to them, a twist in the tale, and we need to remember it.