During the initial baby steps of the church Jesus clearly mapped out a strategy going forward. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses (provide evidence, proof, confirmation, signs) in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”
For the vast majority of Americans, Jesus is “hid” from their sight, and the only plan Jesus gave us is one where we are responsible for making Him visible. I have had a lot of people over the years ask me why God doesn’t just intervene more directly or make himself noticeable in a BIG way. Surely if God would “write something in the sky,” or “appear in person to the world,” people would turn to Him. However, in the Old Testament God did take a more direct and active role in human history. The Exodus of the Israelites is a perfect example of God making some pretty dramatic appearances. However, as most of us are aware, these manifestations of God failed to produce lasting faith or change within people or culture.
Alas, God has chosen to make himself known primarily through ordinary people like you and I. This means we have to provide evidence through our lives that he is real to those from whom Jesus is hidden . Author Philip Yancey recalls a visit he had to South Africa in a recent interview with Alyson R. Quinn of Prison Fellowship (Sept. 2011):
In South Africa I met a woman named Joanna--an ordinary, suburban woman. She and her husband had some education here in the U.S., and then they went back to South Africa. They were involved in the anti-apartheid movement, which was very successful. So she started praying. And the Lord’s Prayer includes the phrase “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So she would pray, “Lord, show me a place where that’s not true, where Your will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven, because we’re supposed to be, as followers of You, part of the solution.” Soon she found out that the most violent prison in South Africa, Pollsmoor Prison, was just minutes from her home. That year the prison recorded 279 acts of violence—almost one a day! It was run by gangs. You would actually get points by stabbing somebody in another gang. If you stabbed a warden, you would get a lot of points. And it was severely overcrowded, as so many prisons are. And she thought, Well, that’s not right, so she started going every day—365 days—she didn’t skip Christmas or Easter, knowing those prisoners needed stability, something they could count on.
The year after she started going, there weren’t 279 acts of violence in the prison. There were two. The BBC sent a camera crew from London to figure out what happened... When I finally met with Joanna and her husband I said, “I think what you’ve done here is amazing. But tell me, what happened here? These guys are murderers; they’re rapists; they’re monsters. You just go in and act like a youth group and change the whole prison. What really happened?”
She looked at me, kind of shocked that I would ask such a question, and she said this line that I’ve repeated many places in the world because it so struck me. She said, “Well, of course, Philip, God was already present in Pollsmoor Prison. We just had to make him visible.”
In Genesis 28:16, it says that, “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Many in our society are asleep to the reality of God and will only be made aware of him by our intentionality and involvement in their lives. Ordinary people like us are charged to make a loving God visible.
Dave Short is a veteran campus minister who has pioneered campus ministries in Texas and throughout Illinois. He has also traveled extensively in and outside of the United States working with various churches and university ministries. He served as a national resource specialist for Chi Alpha Campus Ministries for two years before accepting his present role as National Director of Campus Alpha, a ministry of Alpha USA and the Alpha Course. More at CampusAlpha.us