There's an old story about a country church that got itself a new preacher. Everybody liked him until, after a few months, he started doing a strange thing. Every morning, he would go down to the train station, sit on a bench on the platform and read the newspaper until the morning train approached the station. As soon as he heard the train, the preacher threw down his paper and cheered. When the train pulled out from the station, he cheered again until it was out of sight. Then he folded his paper and went back to his office.
After a few weeks of this strange behavior, the parishioners sent some deacons to talk to him.
"Uh, preacher," they hemmed a bit. "Folks've been asking about something."
"Oh, the train thing?" said the preacher.
"Yeah," they answered.
"I love that train," replied the preacher. "It's the only thing in this town I don't have to get behind and shove."
If you've ever been in ministry, you know just how he feels. You know that program, that initiative, that fundraising drive, that new Bible study that takes everything you've got, and you know that if you ever stop shoving it along, it's just going to dry up and blow away.
That's exhausting. And not at all the way God intended the gospel to go forward.
This week's Bible story comes with a truth that is a relief. The apostles have been boldly preaching about Jesus and healing people, and the religious leaders have tried all kinds of ways to stop them. They are seriously considering killing them, when Gamaliel, a respected teacher, speaks up.
"Be careful what you do. Remember, there've been others who made claims like this, but nothing came of it. If this work is merely human, it will fall apart,
but if this is God at work, nothing can stop it."
"Flesh gives birth to flesh. Spirit gives birth to Spirit," Jesus told Nicodemus. And later he told his followers, "Apart from me, you can do nothing."
Really, nothing? I have a hard time accepting that sometimes. I live in a very creative, very connected, very make-it-happen community of believers. And when we get busy for God, wow, it is really something. Or it seems like it.
That's why it's really important that we pay attention: Is this merely humans at work? Or this is God? I don't believe God ever needs us to get behind the gospel and shove. I believe he calls us to stand in the path of the Spirit and ride the wind of God.
Is that a relief to you?
Click here to listen to this week's story and download the homework.
Who will you tell this story to?