A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
An ordinary sort of chap
Sometimes I look around and feel depressed. Few people in my village and circle of friends take any sort of religion, let alone Christianity, at all seriously. Constantly swimming against the current, in an ‘oddball’ minority can be very discouraging.
Am I right to indulge in feelings like this? Perhaps I am, for such thoughts drive me back to my Bible and to prayer. One source of encouragement of late has been the story of the Philippian jailor in Acts 16:16 – 40.
Let’s briefly recap the story. Paul and Silas take a severe beating and end up in jail. Instead of the usual, normal groans and curses, they respond by praying and singing to the glory of God. An earthquake follows, so big that it shakes open the doors of the jail and releases the prisoners. The jailor awakes, assumes the prisoners have escaped and panics. He is re¬sponsible for them and he could be put to an unpleasant death for letting them escape.
At this point, suicide seems the better option for him, but Paul calls out assuring him that they are still there. Thoroughly unnerved, he rushes into the prison, kneels before them, and cries: ‘What must I do to be saved?’. Paul tells him and he becomes a Christian.
Yes, but (there’s always a ‘Yes but’ when I reflect on a Bible passage) how does this help lift my depression? Well for a start, I identify with the sheer ordinariness of the chap. Ever since people began living in communities, there have been some who break the rules and have to be locked up for a while. Therefore, he would have had little fear of unemployment. In today’s terms he had it made – regular pay for the rest of his life, reasonable housing, well respected in the community and so on.
Secondly, after years of thinking that he could look forward to living happily ever after, suddenly it was all threatened. He panicked. Outwardly he seemed secure, but inwardly he had nothing to fall back upon in a crisis. Yet God intervened powerfully for this ordinary, weak bloke - who reminds me only too well of myself. I too am apt to relax in the comfort of my loving family, nice home and secure pension, and in a crisis, my reaction too is likely to be one of blind panic.
In the midst of the panic, there were just the right people around to introduce our jailor to Jesus. So the story leads me to recall the numerous occasions when a Paul or a Silas has been around to uplift me. Does this resonate with your experience too?
The Christian walkL~
It would be lovely if the Christian walk was one of steady growth, but alas it is not so. We need the crises to keep our perspective and to allow God to show us that he still cares. Few of us will have to face the same kind of catastrophe as the jailor – but isn’t it rather like pain? What is a raging, agonising hurt to a softie like me, is but a mild inconvenience to many a woman who has endured the pain of childbirth. Similarly, many of the ‘ordinary bloke’ crises of today would be a mere pinprick to our jailor.
Yet such crises are nonetheless very real and distressing - but how often we find a Paul or a Silas alongside to help us through. It is also a mighty and humbling experience to see a church swing into action, when one of its number is threatened in some way. Or how many times does the right Bible verse or line in a hymn come to mind to rescue us from despair? Crisis points are growth points. Let us learn to embrace them.
But it isn’t just about me and my problems, is it? The Christian walk is about helping others and thereby growing the kingdom. Look at some of the magazines in your newsagent. Is not the world crying out for wisdom in everyday living, both to avoid and to manage personal crises? Are we not in a unique position to be able to help? Let us build trusting relationships with our neighbours. Let us reflect on our own experience and be confident in our message, so that when the time comes we become Paul and Silas to them.
The Christian lifestyleL~
The earthquake and the threat of a painful death pushed the jailor towards action. Millions of people similarly have turned towards God through helplessness in the face of experiences that they cannot handle. So they cry out for deliverance. They are being pushed into his loving arms.
The calm demeanor and worshipful response of Paul and Silas also impressed our jailor, coming as it did after they had been stripped, flogged and taken a severe beating. Furthermore, when the earthquake came, they stayed where they were so as not to endanger his life. This was a quality of life he had not seen before and instinc¬tively he longed to be like them. He was being pulled by the visible Christian lifestyle held before him.
There is power in the normal Christian life, as it is lived out in the full view of others. Sure, we let God down in many ways, but we know that the corporate witness of our own local church so often uplifts us. The presence of such a loving group of people is itself powerfully attractive, for it can be the very body of Christ for its surrounding community as well as for us. Let us dedicate ourselves therefore to building our church into such a body. It will then be a powerful driver for growth both in terms of spirituality as well as numbers.
Overall the story is encouraging – God calls an ordinary bloke out of his fragile security by both ‘pushing’ and ‘pulling’ him towards faith in Jesus Christ. Imagining myself into the situation and reflecting on it lifts my depression. Yet it also has its challenges. Here are a few to think about:
~**What ‘pushes and pulls’ can you (and your Christian friends) identify in your own coming to faith?*~~* What can you do to enhance the corporate witness of your church?*~~*In what ways do you think you are equipped to respond to the crises in the lives of your non-Christian friends?**~
The Philippian Jailer is the subject of the first session of Exploring Growing with GodL~ by Colin Smith. An excellent basis for a group or individual to explore spiritual growth. The five main sessions end with an opportunity for personal reflection and discussion questions. Other sessions cover: Personal Growth; Church Growth, identifying the characteristics of a growing church; The Growing Church.
A session on 'The Sower' looks at receptiveness and different states of mind. Finally, an optional session with further suggested Bible passages consolidates the subject.
Published by Moorleys at £4.95 ISBN 0 86071 581 7