A famous and oft-used line in storytelling: “There I was, minding my own business, when…”
That has been on my mind this week. Over the past month or so there have been multiple moments in which God has reminded me that, though He chooses to use us, He is infinitely capable of working things out on His own. Often, while we are off doing our thing (and “doing our thing” can be in line with God’s will—we are not talking about “doing our thing” by working against God), the Lord can have something special brewing behind the scenes of which we are completely unaware. We can’t see all of His movements, but we can trust that He is eternally good.
An example of this came for me in the form of a new friend reaching out and suggesting we have some good conversation. As someone who lives and breathes the Church, I am almost always thinking about how to build relationships. I am good at thinking about programming and outreach ideas and ways to get people connected to a faith family and those are all good things, but I was wonderfully sideswiped when approached with an open heart. I did not have to plan anything, I did not have to do anything, I just had to show up and enter into the scenario that God had already been planning out.
Friends, the Spirit is always on the move.
One of my favorite stories in Scripture comes from Acts 10 and 11, in which Peter receives a vision, welcomes Gentile believers into the fold, and changes the future of the Church forever. There is a whole lot to unpack in this text, but today I want to look at it through this lens of God doing great things when our attention might be elsewhere.
In the book of Acts, Peter is making great movements in the name of Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit. He is the rock upon whom Jesus planned to build the church, and Peter was certainly living up to his name. He was walking in line with the Lord’s will, but, all of a sudden, he has a vision which makes it clear that all animals are now clean to eat. There he was, minding His own business, and God lovingly flips the script.
Meanwhile, Cornelius is a God-fearing man and Roman Gentile. He was going about the business of simply being a good and faithful person when God sends a vision of an angel to him, who tells Cornelius to find Peter and listen to what he says.
When they are finally together, they compare stories and many were brought to faith through what God revealed to each of them in turn.
This was all out of left field, but God had been busy behind the curtain. Though they were both doing their best to follow the will of the Lord, God seemed to have a smile and a surprise behind His back. Two big things stand out to me about Peter and Cornelius in this story.
God got their attention.
If the Lord were to hit you with a vision of an angel or a sheet full of animals (reptiles included) being lowered before you, would you notice? I know these might seem like huge attention-grabbing moments that would be hard to miss, but sometimes I wonder if I have the eyes to see when God shows up and reveals His artwork. Sometimes, when we are hustling through our lives, God can be off to the side, flapping His arms and hoping we notice the magnificent things He is showing us, but we walk right past. It’s sad, but true.
A while ago, our faith family started asking the question, “Where have you seen God this week?” and I have found it to be so profound because it implies that we are willing to let God get our attention. To be able to see God is to allow enough space to behold Him when He moves. When God came to Cornelius and Peter, they stopped what they were doing and listened.
So, I’m asking you now: where have you seen God this week? Have you noticed a vision? Have any prayers been answered? Has the Lord showed up in a completely unexpected way? Think back over your week and I promise you’ll be amazed by the moments, big and small, in which holiness is revealed.
Now, the first challenge for us today is to allow God to get our attention. Look up, look around; God is presenting Himself.
Let’s say we start to pay attention. Let’s say that we see God’s movements and are amazed. According to this story, beholding is not enough. We must also respond.
Something I have noticed about myself in this past year is that though I am pretty faithful to time in the Word, I am not always the most faithful to daily meditating on Scripture. I will open my Bible, love what I read, and then be on my merry way. My attention span does not always stretch to truly and deeply respond to what God spoke to me through Scripture.
I think we are all guilty of this in some form, whether during quiet time or elsewhere, we might notice God and keep walking. Saying, “Oh, nice sunset!” without pausing for a minute seems a shame. Hearing of someone being healed and saying, “Cool!” does not seem to do a miracle justice. That tug on our heart that says, “Go here! Do this!” often gets written off as a silly impulse that should not be followed.
Here, Peter and Cornelius are wonderful examples. God not only got their attention, but they actually followed through on the weird things He asked them to do. “Cornelius, find this stranger and listen!”; “Paul, put it all on the menu and welcome all into the family!” And, because they both trusted God, they responded. And everything changed.
Our second challenge for today is to respond to God when we notice Him. Once we have opened our awareness, His movements and His voice will become more and more clear. Seek, listen, and respond.
Let me affirm once again: While we are minding our own business, God is always working. He lives and breathes and His movements, if we pay attention and respond, will often blow us away. Tune in when He speaks and follow where He leads. As we have seen with Peter and Cornelius, it might just change the world.