It’s probably the best question I have been asked this year. It has resulted in a great
deal of self-examination and the process is not over. It is a question of faith and practice. It impacts prayer, vision and the day to day life of every disciple. It hardly
seems a biblical question, maybe one attuned more to business; but the more I consider it, the more biblical it becomes: “What do you expect to happen when you preach, pray, worship, witness..?”
My fear is that the truthful answer, for me and for many disciples of Christ in Scotland, is “not a lot!”
I was watching a DVD over the weekend, retelling the lifestory of Billy Graham. He
preached his sermon, then gave his appeal with the words, “God has spoken to thousands
of you... come forward now.” His sense of expectation was clear. He believed that many
would come to faith, not just one or two. It made me ask the question, why? What is it that
feeds our expectations?
Clearly, experience is part of it. Part of the reason that Billy Graham expected thousands to come forward that night was that thousands had come forward the night before and the night before that. As he prepared his sermons, as he prayed with his team, as he preached and called people to repentance and faith, he had an expectation based on what he had seen God do before.
In the Gospels, we see the disciples going to the people of Israel, casting out demons
and healing the sick in Jesus’ name. They have a faith-fi lled expectation based on their
experience of Jesus, and they are amazed and full of joy when they return to report all that had happened. The early church continues the pattern. It is not that they are never surprised! They are frequently surprised; suprised and amazed at the empowering of the Spirit, surprised that the gospel is for the gentiles. And yet they expect that the lame will walk and that people will repent and be baptised. We see them, having preached without gaining a response, ready to move on to a new approach or to another community, partly because they expect more.
Paul’s prayer, in writing to the Ephesians, captures his expectation: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infi nitely more than we might ask or think...”
Here is an invitation to be bold in our expectations, to not allow a perspective on the life of the church over the last 25 years to shape our expectation for the future. Our God is a God who breaks the natural cycles. He turns weakness into strength and death into life. He is able to accomplish more than we might ask or think.
So I’m trying to allow faith in our living God to shape my expectations for the coming
years, trying to allow my own memory of God at work through me in the past to shape
my prayers for our future as a Union and our actions. I want to fi nd a fresh faith that, in Scotland, God will transform his people, will build his church: that his kingdom will
come and that my neighbours, friends and family will find faith in the living God.
My prayer for our churches this year is that we would have a fresh boldness
and confidence in the gospel. May our expectations grow and impact our prayers and our other actions as we participate together in the mission of God.