• The BaptistWay lesson for Oct. 13 focuses on Hebrews 12:25-13:9, 20-21.
Most people misunderstand the way God works in our world. How often have you heard the old ultimatum: “If God exists, then let him strike me with a lightning bolt”? This phrase demonstrates a misconception held by believers and unbelievers alike: That God’s sole duty is to act, and our sole duty is to pray.
I first encountered this misconception as a teenager, shortly after I became a Christian in a small Baptist church. One Sunday, the pastor announced “revival week” was coming. He had a whole sermon series geared toward helping us prepare for revival, as well as a prayer guide and manual.
This was serious stuff. Over and over he told us, “Revival starts with prayer.” Perhaps there is nothing overtly false about this statement. But the message that seemed to be coming through was that if we prayed, planned, promoted and invited, then God would work.
In the days when revivals were a success simply because they provided an attraction for people to attend, this formula seemed to work. But I’ve heard more than one old-timer say with jest that we used to hold “two-week” revivals, now we hold “too weak” revivals. In other words, the formula isn’t working anymore.
Is it because we are not praying, visiting, planning or promoting enough? Or is it because this formula never was valid in the first place?
A God of action (12:25-29)
I think Hebrews 12-13 supports the latter conclusion. God is referred to as “him who speaks” in 12:25, which is a direct echo of the Sinai story. Throughout Scripture, God is portrayed as one who speaks life into his people—first through the giving of the law and then through the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.
This God who speaks is at work to establish “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (v. 28).
What a vast difference from the God I learned about as a teenager, who required me to do something before he would work in my church, community or world. Hebrews 12-13 supports the idea God already is at work. It is not up to us to get him to do something. It is up to us to join him in what he already is doing.
My church is named for a neighborhood that no longer exists in our town: “Eastwood.” In 1956, the year my church was founded, this was the new, up-and-coming edition of Gatesville. W.E. Fairchild, the first pastor and founder, sensed the need for a church to reach out to this neighborhood. The founding of Eastwood was a response to what God already was doing in a community.
Today, it is our challenge to keep an open eye on what God still is up to in the area formerly known as Eastwood. Our children’s director recently noted the Boy’s and Girl’s Club moved in across the street from us. Could this be God’s way of providing a neighborhood organization with whom we might minister with and alongside?
A people of action (13:1-9)
When we rightly recognize we serve a God of action, then we can seek accurately to be a people of action. Love, hospitality, mercy and faithfulness are just some of the actions mentioned in 13:1-9 that characterize the people of God. They are summed up in the three words that begin the chapter: “Keep on loving” (v. 1).
The love it speaks of comes from the Greek term philadelphia, which refers to “brotherly love.” This general command sets forth the consistent ethic that should characterize the Christian life. We can continue loving because Christ continued to love even at the cost of his life.
The author states he “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8), even as he works through us in different ways to bring about his kingdom.
I find it interesting that for many years, church looked the same in many Baptist congregations. We value autonomy, yet we do what we see others doing that is easy and repeatable.
The days of “plug and play” are gone in church life. The command to “keep on loving” must express itself differently in every community if it is going to be done authentically and effectively. This creates more difficulty and uncertainty. But those difficulties and uncertainties are not ours to bear alone.
The people of God (13:20-21)
It’s not about us praying and God doing, or even us doing and God doing. It is about God and us doing as one. The benediction at the end of Hebrews says it all: “Now may the God of peace … equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
The pastor at the church I attended as a teenager did not mean to reduce the work of God into a formula or a spell. But that is what we do when we avoid looking honestly at our own, individual contexts. How is God already at work in your neighborhood? How can you join him?