Saturday, October 25, 2008

Listening For The Sneezes

In our ministries, we need to learn to listen for the sneezes.


Well, Elisha the prophet could explain what I mean.

In 2 Kings 4:18-37 this man of God accompanied a grief-stricken, desperate, but believing woman back to her home to see what he could do about her dead child. When he got there, he prayed and stretched himself out over the young boy's corpse. Warmth came into the lad's body. Elisha got up, paced for awhile as he prayed, and bent down near the child. Suddenly he heard him sneeze, seven times. The boy opened his eyes and in moments was reunited with his grateful mother. A great miracle of God had just taken place.

Those sneezes were literal. They signaled that the Shunammite woman's son was coming back to life. Metaphorically speaking, we need to be alert to those initial signs and evidences that God is at work around us so that we can join Him in what He's up to in our midst. In our witnessing and church growth efforts we're sometimes tempted to think that nothing is happening and that our labors are in vain. It may appear that other soulwinners are seeing results and other congregations are reaping harvests while we're largely unsuccessful. The situation might seem as hopeless as praying for and massaging a decaying body in which there's not a hint of breath or movement. But don't get discouraged. Sooner or later you may hear a sneeze.

Someone shows up in church for the first time, or after a long, long absence. A person you've been praying for unexplainably starts asking probing spiritual guestions. A usually quiet, reserved individual requests your prayers. A friend is more tearful lately. These may be early reflexes that indicate that the Lord is digging and cultivating in someone's heart and He wants to use you as an instrument to assist in the work.

Or in church life, perhaps you sense a new burst of unity and enthusiasm in the fellowship. Maybe financial giving improves. There's a more pronounced swishing-of-the-Bible-pages-sound as the scriptures are called out and read from in worship. More folks are volunteering to serve. Church members start praying for lost friends and relatives(and not just the sick) and they get more intentional about inviting them and even bringing them to the services. Some of the saints who have been estranged reach out in reconciliation. These jerkings and twitchings are signs that God is reinvigorating and renewing the life of the congregation.

By the time Elisha got to the room where the dead boy lay, the body was certainly deteriorating and decomposing. It surely smelled. The situation looked hopeless. But the prophet refused to count God out and so prayed and waited. The snorts and sneezes that he heard next confirmed that the Father was restoring life.

Have you heard any sneezes lately?

You probably won't unless you do what the prophet did in verse 33 and occasionally shut out all the noises and distractions that would keep you from listening to those first faint sounds of God at work. TV and radio and internet can easily prevent you from a focus on waiting on the Lord. So can excessive busyness and activity. You must be alert and attentive to the coughs and moans that come when God clears out the toxins of the spiritual air passages of people and breathes fresh and stimulating divine oxygen into them. Then you'll have the privilege of cooperating with the Lord in His life-giving project of soul transformation and church renaissance. Solitude and silence and serious reflection every now and then do wonders in helping us be better prepared to minister in the Father's spiritual emergency room in resuscitating those flat-lined in soul.

These are tough times but individuals and churches all around us are sneezing.