Great expectations

I was visiting another church to attend a concert. I got to the front door five minutes before the scheduled start and found a sign saying the concert had been moved to a different part of the building. I went around the building and found an open door. The concert was already going. They had decided to start 30 minutes earlier than the publicized schedule. They let everybody they thought would come know about the change. They didn’t expect visitors like me to show up.

Most churches say they want visitors, but often their actions indicate they don’t really expect any visitors will come. When songs are sung but the words are not in a hymnal or not handed out or not put on a screen, it shows they don’t expect any visitors will be in the crowd. When the speaker says a Bible verse or story is “familiar to all of us” it shows he assumes only regular church-goers are there. He has probably made anybody who is unfamiliar with the verse or story feel unwelcomed.

Sadly, at times, people will invite others to church because they know they should, but they don’t think the ones they invite will come. They share the good news of Jesus with others, but they don’t think it will be received. They pray for God to work in lives, but they don’t think it will make a difference.

David wrote, “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3). This is the same David who ran confidently into battle against Goliath. Even though Goliath was strong and intimidating, and David was armed with only stones and a slingshot, David expected God to give him the victory. “This day the Lord will hand you over to me … and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel” (I Samuel 17:46). We pray and wait in expectation that God will do good and gracious work and reign victorious.

In the late 1700s hardly anyone in the churches in England was interested in doing mission work in faraway lands. “Too hard. Too dangerous. Too expensive.” William Carey was frustrated with that attitude and so he founded a missionary society in 1792. At the first meeting of the society he preached a sermon that included the call, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Within a year he and his family and partner headed to India. It was hard. It was seven years until the first convert was baptized. He spent 41 years in India without coming home on a furlough. But he was used by God to translate the entire Bible into six of India’s major languages. He attempted to do great things like work for the abolishment of infanticide and widow burning.

The order in Carey’s phrase is important. First we expect great things from God. Motivation and strength comes when we see the great things Jesus has done for us. In response to those great things, we attempt great things for Him. Because of His goodness, grace and love, we pray, we invite, we serve and we live with great expectations of changed lives and good work God will do.

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Seek true treasure

Last month I traveled from Seattle to Alaska. In the 1890s around 100,000 people also set out from Seattle to Alaska. They used different transportation means than I did, and they were going for a different purpose. Gold had been found in Alaska. Prospectors set out from Seattle, hoping to make a fortune. Of the approximately 100,000 who started out, only around 30,000 actually reached the Klondike. Of that number no more than 4,000 struck any gold, and only a few hundred became rich. Far more people became rich by providing transportation and selling supplies to those who had become infected with gold rush fever.

People went to great lengths, seeking after something very few found. Those who did find gold maybe thought all their desires were going to be met. No matter how much gold they found it could not satisfy the deepest needs of their soul.

Isaiah 55 asks, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (v. 2). In a way, the prophet is asking the fortune seekers of the gold rush and fortune seekers of the present, “Why are you going to so much trouble, seeking after things that won’t satisfy?”

Isaiah also gives a gracious invitation: “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. … Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (v. 2, 6). True riches can be found. All who seek the Lord can enjoy the greatest treasure.

The people of the gold rush took great risks and endured terrible hardships, trying to find gold in the cold, remote regions of the Klondike. Jesus endured greater hardships and went on the far more difficult journey of going to the Cross so that we could find the treasure of being in His kingdom.

A steamship carrying gold from Alaska docked in Seattle in 1897. People saw the gold nuggets and set out to get some of their own. In a similar way, people who know Jesus ought to live lives that let people know what a treasure it is to have your sins forgiven and be in a right relationship with the Lord. It is great when people see the riches of love, joy and peace in us and then ask where they can find some of that for themselves.

We find the greatest treasure in Jesus, and we continually long for more by seeking to get closer to Him. Those who headed to Alaska in the 1890s thought the pursuit of gold was worth a great sacrifice. The pursuit of Jesus is far more worthy of sacrifice. It’s worth giving up time, comfort and material things in order to get closer to Jesus.

Seek the Lord with the determination of the most dedicated person on the gold rush. Trust the promise that “he who seeks finds” (Matthew 7:8). What we find is that faith in the Lord is “of greater worth than gold” (I Peter 1:7). Finding Jesus is worth an all-out search.