Methodist Church

In the most unlikely places

SOME people make a living looking for life in the most unlikely places. There are scientists, archaeologists and speleologists (scientists who explore caves) who are known in academic circles as experts in finding life forms in the harshest of environments on earth.

For instance, in the deep ocean floors of the Atlantic Ocean, where there are permanent volcanic vents, where temperatures rise above 100 degrees Celsius, where the noxious environment would kill any life form, there are found species of plant and fish life that should not be there. Or in caves in New Mexico, amid hard rocks and in an acidic and water-free environment, where biologists would not expect to see any life, there are organisms thriving in that situation. This is simply amazing!

If God has created such resilient biological life, He has also created equally resilient spiritual life. The life that is found in Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit can be found in the most unlikely of places. If we look carefully, we can find it in the most hostile of environments.

The 20th century witnessed the temporary rise of totalitarian communist states that tried to snuff out the spiritual life of churches and the presence of Christian testimony, only to fail. In fact, in the midst of such persecution, the Church grew even stronger and multiplied more rapidly, while individual Christians showed extraordinary faith, courage and commitment, even if it meant martyrdom. Truly, as the second-century church father Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The first few centuries of the Church were difficult years that saw wave after wave of severe persecution. It was a miracle that a tiny group of men and women who spoke of their resurrected Lord, and were ridiculed and mercilessly persecuted for it, could grow into a worldwide movement. Against all odds, the Church survived and showed a spiritual life whose source was like an eternal fire that could not be put out by the fiercest storms.

The Bible gives testimony to the resilience of this spiritual life in the deadliest and harshest of environments. Hence we find Lot, fragile as his faith was, sparkling like a jewel in the social sewers of the totally depraved city of Sodom (Gen.19). Or the prophet Daniel and his three friends who remained and grew strong as godly men in a godless nation.

WHEN the Saviour of the world was a tiny helpless infant, the forces of evil tried to ferret Him out from among the poor in Bethlehem to destroy Him, but He could not be extinguished. He was preserved in Egypt (considered enemy territory by the Jews) and nurtured in obscure Nazareth (Mt. 2:13-23). Later, when the cross, the harshest capital punishment of the ancient world, put an end to Jesus’ life, it was like a cruel wind that snuffed out the candle’s flame.

But the flame sprang to life again – against all odds.

HOW GOD OFTEN WORKS

‘Those who beat the drums of the world to manufacture spiritual life know little about how God often works, that He loves to bring forth life in the least expected places, in the harshest and most hostile and hopeless of environments. His life often appears in the most unlikely places, in the most unlikely ways.’

And that Life has given new life to countless millions. For whoever has the Son has life (1 Jn. 5:12). This eternal life is often seen in the most unlikely of places. Who would have thought that the pagan courts of Egypt and the arid deserts of Midian could produce a Moses who would become the mouthpiece for God? Or that a series of women who were barren would become the carriers of the Messianic line, culminating in the womb of a virgin? It appears that God relishes on working against the odds, of producing life in the most hostile and impossible of environments.

Perhaps God does this for at least three reasons:

■ TO KEEP our hopes alive. If spiritual life can be found in the most unlikely of places, then surely there is hope, even if the odds are stacked heavily against us. The darkest night can be the candle for the brightest flame.

■ TO KEEP us humble. We may try to “grow” spiritual life using our human skills and methods, but it is God alone who sustains and nurtures spiritual life. To find spiritual life in unlikely places both surprises us and humbles us. We must remember that it is God who is the author and perfector of spiritual life.

■ TO HELP us harvest in the unusual places. The freest Christian lives may be seen in prisons; the healthiest in chronic hospital wards, the richest in poor shanty towns. We must look for God’s life-giving work in the unlikeliest places.

Let us therefore not be surprised to find God at work, producing life in the most unlikely of places and situations.

Divine life is thriving in the most hostile and arid social environments in the world today.

It was reported recently that in France, perhaps the most secularised European society, the Church is seeing an evangelical revival of sorts. Today, one can find saints in the spiritually arid climates of universities, the neglected slums of urban jungles, among the helpless poor, simple factory workers, domestic maids, and countless other situations. God is surely at work, and the new life He gives springs forth, against all odds, in unlikely places.

Not only is this phenomenon seen in the world we see, but also in our unseen inner worlds. Hence, our personal suffering can be the very fertile ground in which new life emerges and grows. Our doubts may be the hard rocks that harbour the seeds of living faith. Our weaknesses and frailties become the sand through which strong roots grow looking for nourishing life-giving water. Our failures become the platforms for true spiritual success. And (paraphrasing John Piper) the tears of our eyes produce the rainbows in our hearts.

Those who beat the drums of the world to manufacture spiritual life know little about how God often works, that He loves to bring forth life in the least expected places, in the harshest and most hostile and hopeless of environments. His life often appears in the most unlikely places, in the most unlikely ways.

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