The Kingdom of God in the Middle of NowhereMonday, February 27, 2012
During my second year of mission work in Romania, I was given the opportunity to serve one Sunday a month in a tiny village church close to the Hungarian border.
As the months passed, it seemed the village became more desolate. The people were aging. Their children and grandchildren had moved to the cities. Whenever we walked down the main street, we passed rows of abandoned houses and saw brush overgrowing the courtyards.
The local Baptist church was merely a remnant of ten or so elderly members who, despite the decline of their village, were filled with hope. They loved the Lord, faithfully attended services, and consistently shared the gospel with their neighbors. They had been praying for a pastor, so they received great encouragement from our willingness to visit their church and minister to them once a month.
One day, I was talking with a Romanian man who had just returned to the country, fresh out of seminary in the United States. He told me of his ongoing search for a church in which to serve. I informed him of the little village church that had long been praying for a pastor. His reply came swiftly:
“I want a city church. I don’t want to fool with the villages. City churches have a future. What can I do with a handful of people? I want a church I can grow.”
The next time I ministered in the small village church, I could not help but wonder if maybe the seminary graduate was right. A pastor who would take such an insignificant church would be giving up any possibility of gaining power or influence within the Baptist Union. How foolish for a pastor with a seminary education to take a church with “no future!”
But as I listened to the joyful voices of the church members, believers remaining faithful even as their way of life crumbled around them, I came to see the power of God’s kingdom in a unique way. The presence of the Lord seemed palpable in that little village church in the middle of nowhere. Somehow, serving in the place of powerlessness stirred up within me a powerful sense of hope and joy. I then felt sorry for my pastor friend. He was missing out on such a blessing!
The Great Reversal
God’s view of our world is radically different than our own.
History books about ancient Egypt list all the Pharaohs and their accomplishments. It is interesting to note that the Bible never tells us the name of Pharaoh during Moses’ day. However, in the book of Exodus, we are given the names of the two Hebrew midwives who protected the Israelite babies and defied Pharaoh’s orders. From God’s point of view, the faithfulness of Shiphrah and Puah are far more important than the pyramids of Rameses the Great.
And nowhere is the Great Reversal more evident than in the seeming weakness of the Lamb that is slain and yet sitting on the throne in Revelation. The slain lamb would appear to be a picture of ultimate weakness, and yet a glimpse of God’s throne room shows us that Jesus is the conquering king who has won the victory through his death and resurrection.
Power in the biblical sense affirms God’s glory, not our own. We should take the earthly power and authority that God has given us and exercise it in such a way that it shines a spotlight on God’s magnificent grace.
In order to subvert the Caesar of Power, we must be ready to question the world’s derision of apparent weakness. It is often in our weaknesses that God’s strength is most clearly perceived. It is often in doing something the world sees as backwards that we are taking spiritual steps forward.
The Puritan prayer captures this truth well:
Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
- adapted from Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals