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How does God work

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One thing we get from reading the Bible is an idea of how God does things, not least so we can maybe know how to do it right.  We can also look at how he has worked more recently, and it's been an honour to come across biographies of three of the most effective overseas Christian evangelists: William Carey in India, David Livingstone in Africa, J Hudson Taylor in China.

These all came from humble beginnings, William Carey a cobbler, David Livingstone a factory worker,  J Hudson Taylor a chemist-shop assistant. They came from evangelical Free-church backgrounds which had less social standing - you only belonged if you had real faith.

They were active in the 1800s, a key part of British history as the threat from Napoleon was being neutralised so travel was safer - especially by sea thanks to Trafalgar. Trade was also increasing as new products were discovered and cultivated. Technology was moving fast. It used to take 5 months to travel to the Far East by sail (people and mail), but this was later reduced to a few weeks as steamships were introduced. By the late 1800s British telegraph cables meant next-day receipt of important communications - a technical miracle.

But in the beginning, the disincentives were huge: the remoteness, language challenges, local resistance and all too frequent death from disease. On top of this were limited funds and sometimes little obvious success with new churches. So what drove these people in such alien surroundings?

A key motivator as part of the Great Commission was the sense, not thought of much today, that people dying without being Christian meant they would go to destruction. They felt that if they did not obey the call, the responsibility would be on their shoulders. God was sending them to preach about him: of his goodness and man's sin, hell, repentance, a new way of living, the hope of heaven. This was authenticated by practical care and self-giving.

This sense of responsibility was given to them by God who called them at that time, 'at the right time', when technical and political circumstances allowed them to undertake these incredible endeavours.

He gave them the faithful assurance to endure so many obstacles and in each case, the small beginnings (though monumentally difficult at the time) were stepping stones to the even more faith-stretching plans he put in their hearts. The results of these were not all seen in their lifetimes, but now in China it is estimated that the number of Christians is 3-4 times the whole population of the UK.

At the time Britain was thin on social virtue but God bought a period of revival. This resulted in wide-scale community improvement often instigated by Christians - Ragged schools, Muller's and Barnardo's orphanages, hospitals etc - all motivated by a sense of God's love for people: soul and body, with the Bible at its heart. This also supported overseas work with people and funds. There is a sense that God blesses these things together.

God also worked through those overseas to bring key life-affirming changes to the world he loves. Livingstone's missionary travel reports got into the newspapers and lead to the British government enforcing the ban on the slave trade, still carried out by Portuguese and Arabs. Carey highlighted the sacrificing of babies in the Ganges and the burning of wives on the death of their husbands (suttee). Both were stopped.  Ex-pat and local authorities were often suspicious or hostile towards them but this changed to respect and admiration as they recognised the benefits received in many different ways. God seems to like to do this - those counted as nothing, now honoured before God and man!

So what of today - how do we know the times, what is God doing today?

  • first we have to recognise that he is doing something, and more intensely than we know!
  • he does not show us all of it, just what we best need to know. We don't know if ahead is revival or persecution or both, but our approach is no different.
  • he's not worried about our social popularity, but how popular he is with us.
  • the only hope for a nation is his presence and this by his body - without his ways there is growing authoritarianism and decay. We are seeing this in the West. Christians surely need to take notice, wise-up and act.
  • every revival is accompanied by a strong sense of God's holiness and good judgement, resulting in thankful and relieved repentance. 
  • all are destined to destruction except 'the righteous will live by faith' Hab 2:4. We've been mugged into silence on this, afraid of being mocked for 'fire and brimstone' preaching. But the truth has not changed and we're not warning people. Do we feel that burden? Only one entity benefits from our silence.
  • the heart of our work is speaking the Gospel, giving thanks for good works that may flow around that (but not the other way round, we mustn't not talk about something because it would harm our social work). Once our hearts are transformed the good works look after themselves.
  • there will be fruit, physical and spiritual, more than we know.
  • God provides practically for his work.
  • God is always honoured, we see his glory in joy and peace on earth.