Ephesians 3 attributes to God the ability, desire and will to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.
Do Christians actually believe this or not? How many people in your church actually expect God to do nothing in or through them or the church on a week by week basis?
God, by dint of being God, can happily work in ways and categories that are not accessible to human beings at all. That are far beyond any comprehension of ours. The reason we can begin to comprehend and apprehend anything at all of what he does is only because of his gracious self-disclosure. We get to experience him because he decides it should be so. We experience him in categories that relate to us as humans because he decides it should be so - most obviously demonstrated by the incarnation.
But here is a nagging question: even if God has chosen to do some of his acts in ways that are accessible and comprehensible to us, shouldn't we expect that knowing the God of the immeasurably-more-than-we-can-imagine, the God who creates galaxies and raises the dead, will sometimes (or often) be at the outside edge of what we can get our heads around? Shouldn't we anticipate that we will regularly touch into areas where he exceeds our expectations and declines to be limited by our desire to control situations? Shouldn't interacting with this God normally be in the realm of the supernatural? Or have I missed something?
Very often I don't expect God to work. There, I have said it. At least, that's the way I behave. Or I expect him to work in ways that are not at the boundaries of my human experience and comfort zone, but well within them. I don't expect him to act in ways that wrest control from me and sweep me up in a whirlwind of God-activity. Instead I expect him to only act in ways that leave me in control of my circumstances. I don't expect him to challenge and sweep away aspects of my spiritual life or our church life that he doesn't like. I expect him to like it just as I do and not do anything that will make me uneasy.
Isn't that the implication of "immeasurably more"? That rather than us including God in our plans to the extent that we are comfortable with, he now includes us in his life in ways we cannot control - and which are infinitely greater, better, more glorious and more exciting?
Why then do we expect God-activity in churches up to, but not beyond, what we can realistically manage ourselves? Why don't we expect a torrent, a flood, a tsunami? Why don't we get upset, prayerfully concerned, and uneasy when God doesn't seem to be doing very much with us? Why are our expectations so low?
Is it, perhaps, because we don't see that happening in our churches (unlike in some parts of the world). We therefore normalise what we currently see and form our expectations of what God can and should do from that foundation. And when what we see - and our current expectations - differ from the normal New Testament Christianity we read about in the scriptures, we find ways to plead that the scriptural account shouldn't be the measure of contemporary church life. Which leaves us happy that we don't need to expect anything more.
If we start the other way around - assuming that the scriptures are normative and our British experience isn't - then we are faced with the uncomfortable idea that we need to align our church life and experience of God to the Bible, not the other way around. This is uncomfortable for a number of reasons:
- We might be scared of being closer to the biblical picture. It hardly describes a British comfort zone
- We might have no idea how to get from here to there. Which can be a devastating admission for leaders to have to make
- We might be in churches where the very idea of loss of control or God doing things outside our experience is deeply challenging
Lots of us allow what we see to determine our level of faith. Our grasp of what God can and can't, should and should not do, is established by our past and present experience. And can be limited by our experience. If God is constrained to only act within what I have seen and experienced of him, then his hands are tied indeed! Faith that is is limited to what I have seen isn't faith. It is walking by sight. It is not trusting God.
We need to pray. And we need to stop believing in "the God who does immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine - as long as it doesn't upset anyone, challenge my comfort and life plans or make supernatural things happen in my church".