A couple Sundays ago, Dave, one of our pastors at Ethos, said this in a sermon on Mark 4:
The kingdom of God is exploding in your life. You’re the only one who can’t see it, so we’re going to keep cheering you on. You’re beautiful.
He used this in explaining the parable of the mustard seed, how God’s most remarkable plans for his kingdom start with a small and insignificant beginning. But then they grow and grow, because the Holy Spirit transforming a person’s heart to do his will is a big freaking deal. It might not feel like an explosion of God, but it sure is.
I couldn’t get what Dave said out of my head: I wrote it in notes to friends and texted it to others and was constantly reminded of the promise that even though we might be unaware, God at work in our lives, bringing to completion the good work he started in us (Philippians 1:6). It brought back memories of time after time where friends had explained to me how they saw God at work in my life, bringing me back to his feet just like the men who bring their paralyzed friend literally through the roof to Jesus’ feet in Mark 2.
Where can our comfort lie if we are rarely able to see the work God is doing in us?
This photograph, taken by George Steinmetz in Oman, is of camels crossing the desert.
Did you think the black shapes were the camels? I did at first. It’s a beautiful and exotic picture: camels, shaded black by the sun, somewhat out of proportion in the hazy desert. Actually, the camels are the smaller cream-colored lines under the black figures. The photograph was taken aerially, so the shadows are significantly larger than the camels themselves. I read Jennifer Dukes Lee’s thoughts on what this photo means and was reminded of Dave’s sermon. She emphasizes the camels’ shadows as the manifestation of the kingdom of God exploding in our lives. She says this:
You have a shadow, friend. You are walking, face forward, in the midst of a great light. Maybe today you feel rather small and unseen, walking through a desert. But God sees something else in you. You may never know, until you get to Heaven, what a difference your life made. And when you get there, imagine what it will be like when your Father takes you by the arm and says, “Child, I have some people I want you to meet. Your life made such a difference.”
I went back to my home church on Sunday. I see Jesus in a lot of places and through a lot of people at Willow Creek, but one of the most joyful places I see God’s glory on Sunday mornings at Willow is through the crossing guards. Willow is a big place, even the regional campuses, so crossing guards direct traffic while people park before the service and while they leave after it is over.
I have never seen a group of people so excited about a job that most would not choose as a way to spend every Sunday morning. They dance in the street as you pass by, offering up huge smiles to every car.
When I drove in that morning, the man directing me noticed the Ohio license plate on my car and motioned for me to roll my window down. When I did, he asked, “Are you a first-timer?!” I said no, that I wasn’t, to which he immediately replied, “That’s what I thought! I don’t forget a smile like that!” It was sweet. The part of me inside that keeps a record of all the times I feel joy–that part of me was doing a happy dance right then.
The truth is, I don’t know very much about the crossing guards at church. I don’t know whether they are paid crossing guards hired by the church every Sunday morning or volunteers from our community that attend Willow as well. I don’t know whether they stand outside all morning through each service (we have 3, so this would be about 5 hours, from 8am to 1pm), or if they come into service once most people have parked. I don’t know if they are Christians or if they could care less about Jesus. I want them to know Jesus. I desperately hope they do. By the joy they spread, I believe they do.
All I truly know about these men and women is how they spread the love of Christ. Even if they are not Christians themselves, the kingdom of God is exploding in their lives. I don’t always think about it that way: sometimes I try to guard God’s kingdom, requiring salvation first for him to work in a life. That’s laughable, because God is sovereign and his plan is perfect, calling all his children back to him–not only the ones who have been saved.
Their shadows cover parts of the world with the love of God that might not otherwise have felt it. I can only imagine how many people drive into church every Sunday morning, carrying things from the morning or night before: college kids and new parents and sweet grandmothers alike. But when the face directing you to your parking spot contains the biggest grin you’ve ever seen, practically bursting with joy because of God’s mercy and sacrifice and goodness, how can you not let the hard pieces of your heart crack a little bit?
I hope when those crossing guards meet God, he tells them, “Your life made such a difference.” Because their lives did. They pointed others closer to Christ without even knowing it.
But still, where can our comfort lie if we are rarely able to see the work God is doing in us? I’m not sure that’s even the best question for me to be asking. I would hope that in pursuing Christ, I long for comfort less and less, and for him more and more. I would hope in doing this I look more for where God is working in the lives of others than in my own.
Be an encourager, one who looks hard for where God is working in the lives of those around you.
Find the places God is exploding. Show other people the part of their shadows that cover others with love.
Tell them about it. Love well.