God at work – and the miracle of means

I’m older now so it’s possible to look back over several years of Christian life – about 42 years so far. More for some of you maybe. Over that time I have met some fascinating people. One of those was Eric Williams. Eric was for many years the general secretary of The Evangelical Tract Society. Eric and his family moved to Rugby and for a few years we used to hold a prayer meeting in their home specifically to pray for the open-air work that we used to do each Saturday. In those meetings from time to time we knew and felt the presence of God. They were special times. It’s about the general work of evangelism that I want to encourage you in this post.

While Eric was secretary he received many many letters from around the world relating how the ETS tracts had been used by God in the salvation of sinners. Eric had, it seemed to us as ‘his boys,’ an endless supply of miraculous stories of how God had saved men and women. He also related to us amazing testimonies of remarkable providences (some might say that’s what a miracle is). The point with all the stories was twofold really. The first and most important was that God doesn’t need us at all. The second and perhaps in some ways even more remarkable is that he chooses to work through sinful people – but not always.

I remember being in a service where Harry Sutton was preaching (One or two of you might remember Harry). He was preaching on Rahab. Then he gave the following illustration that I’ve never forgotten. He related how in a village the local drunkard was making his way home. On his way he happened to lean against a gate and as he leant on it, it collapsed and him with it. Being completely drunk he felt nothing and lay there till morning when he woke up. The difference was, when he woke up he had been converted. The Spirit of God had made that man alive. This happened as far we could tell with no contact with any church. You might think that was just hearsay and a bit of a tall tale. But the punchline, as it were, was that that man was Harry Sutton’s Sunday School teacher. It’s an amazing story that I have never forgotten. The point of the story was to illustrate, not just how Rahad was miraculously saved, but how God does not need us to save people.

Then very briefly, there’s my dear friend John who first told me of the Gospel and of The Lord Jesus. His conversion was without any contact with a church but was through purchasing a secondhand tape recorder that came with some ‘religious’ tapes (the recorder was apparently owned by religious nutcases). John was converted in his flat. He then played them to me. The Lord saved me. This was with no contact with a church. We didn’t know any Christians. For a while we thought we were the only Christians in Rugby – which of course we weren’t. Eventually, by other providences, ‘we found’ a church and sat under the ministry of Peter Jeffery. Again, the point is, God doesn’t need us.

I have absolutely no doubt that should God choose to do so your church would be packed. People would be banging on the door to be let in. And in times of Revival that’s what does happen.

When we don’t see that happening we shouldn’t lose heart. We do lose heart though, of course we do. Maybe this post will help to encourage you. The writing of it has encouraged me.

Although we know God doesn’t need us – at all – nevertheless, his ordinary way of working is through means. That is through people, their circumstances, and in the ‘ordinary’ means of simply living in the world. The miracle of ‘means’ is that we simply do not know what God by his grace might use. Perhaps a ‘chance’ encounter with someone and even though you didn’t get the opportunity to ram the Gospel down their throats, instead you maybe showed them a kindness that later on led to a conversation. I want to keep saying God doesn’t need us because I think deep down we really believe he does. As I write, saying that makes me wonder if that’s why most of the time our evangelism isn’t very fruitful. We’re not getting the message – God doesn’t need us. Perhaps when we get to really believe that God doesn’t need us he might bless the ‘means’ of our evangelism. Just a thought.