The Book of Isaiah includes one of my favourite texts – and one that speaks to the heart of the Vineyard way.
“See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert; streams in the dry lands.” (Isaiah 43:19)
In these words to prophet issues an invitation from God himself to LOOK and SEE what new thing he is doing. The implication is that if we don’t look we won’t see. The call is made because with out the call to look, clearly the default is that we fail to look. We stay in the rut of Verse 18 of that text and miss what God is doing.
At the heart of Vineyard spirituality is a desire to be relevant to what God is doing today, as servants of his Kingdom.
The invitation draws our attention away from ourselves, away from church, away from the perceived centres of our lives to the dry lands, the wastelands, the desert. However that word is translated it represents a place away from the crowds, a place where God’s people are not gathered, a place away from busyness, away from popular attention. The new work of the Kingdom, by the implication of this verse, is on our fringes.
Image copyright David Joshua Ford
Vineyard has always been about serving the Kingdom of God. That means that we are not churches that sit there wondering how we can get the activity of God to grow our church or our denomination. Rather we ask, “How can we as Vineyard people, get into what God is doing, and by his grace make ourselves relevant to that.” It is a trait inherited, in part, from our Quaker heritage, where obedience was all about looking to see what the Holy Spirit was doing in order to join in.
This is so worth repeating, because habit, religion and simply the effects of the busyness required by today’s economic realities all have a way shrinking our lives. Me and my household. Me and my family. Me and my work. Me and my church. But the Gospel continually turns our attention outwards.
One Christmas time William Booth – an eager embracer of new technologies – wished to send a telegram to all his evangelists around the world. The costs were prohibitive. A paragraph would be extortionate. Even a sentence, an extravangance. His budget constrained him to one word. The word he chose? “Others”. The Gospel always turns our attention outwards.
Certain things are a given. Through the Great Commission we know that we have received a command to do everything that Jesus taught his Apostles. We know that we are to make disciples, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, advocate and care for the widow, the refugee, the orphan. We know that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves, and minister the healing and deliverance that the Kingdom of God brings, as ambassadors of the Gospel of Salvation.
This is a mantle shared with all Christian believers. How does that look where and when we are?
As the Apostle Paul traveled around his region he found spot-fires of Gospel and Holy Spirit activity. Pockets of God-seekers, communities of spiritual hungry pursuers of truth, believers who had taken hold of fragments of the Gospel. In every way he could he fanned those into flame and nurtured them as churches.
Our call today is not dissimilar. As individuals, households and churches we have our own Jerusalem-Judea-Samaria-Ends of the Earth. in 2017 my attention will be on my home town, my home region, the Yarra Valley, staying alert for surprising contexts and people-groups (such as Samaria was for the Jerusalem church, and Macedonia for the Antioch church) as well as keeping an eye open for global opportunities.I want to be in on what God is doing.
Nearly twenty years ago I wrote a lyric still expresses my own prayer:
I don’t want to be half-hearted. I don’t want to be on the slow train.
I don’t want to be on the outside. I don’t want to be just looking!
We are not to be “just looking”. We are to join in. It is part of our inheritance from our Anabaptist forbears, an idea enshrined in the word “Nachfolgen”. This is a wonderful word that describes our relationship with Jesus as a “following after.” By this insight Jesus us our leader and guide. He is not a recumbent figure, passively reclining in heaven to receive our prayers and worship.Rather he is still the Messiah, the world-changer who calls on us to be his friends – those who know his business – those who join in!
As I look already some spotfires are in evidence. And I am looking forward to discovering what joining in with the activity of the fire of God will mean in 2017.
The call of Isaiah 43 is to LOOK and SEE what the Holy Spirit fully intends to show us. New activity out there, inviting our blessings and participation. Things we have not done before because they are God’s “new things”. Could there be any more exciting invitation than that?