Episode 1. God’s Incredible Plan
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Few of us ever give too much thought to the fact that God’s gone to a lot of trouble to make us who we are today, to get us ready for what He has for us to do, but let me tell you: God has gone to an enormous amount of trouble to make you […]
Few of us ever give too much thought to the fact that God’s gone to a lot of trouble to make us who we are today, to get us ready for what He has for us to do, but let me tell you: God has gone to an enormous amount of trouble to make you who you are today.
The Trouble God Went To
Every morning, you and I get up; we look in the mirror; we men have a shave, looking at ourselves each morning in that mirror bleary-eyed; I guess you women no doubt are putting a bit of makeup on your face because somehow, that’s what society’s conditioned you to do, and as we stare at ourselves in that mirror, every morning day after day, we give precious little thought to how incredibly we’ve been made – how wonderfully we’ve been made.
Without you ever having to think about it, through a complex set of neurotransmitters, programming that has never been achieved by humans, chemical reactions and feedback loops so complex that endocrinologists are only just beginning to understand how it all works, your body keeps you alive; controls your temperature; nourishes every cell; manages waste; fights off infection; allows you to stand upright; gives you reflexes to catch a ball moving at over a hundred miles an hour, and that’s just the beginning!
You have desires, emotions, thoughts, memories so complex as to defy comprehension and understanding. Behind those droopy eyes staring back at you from the mirror each morning lies an incredible human being. Well may the Psalmist write:
For I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Absolutely you are. You are incredible! And I for one simply don’t have enough faith to believe I evolved out of some primeval amoebic slime, to be what I am today. I don’t have enough faith to believe that! If you do, good luck to you, but I don’t. Just the information encoded onto our DNA; the complexity of that; the uniqueness of that; this complex starter set that’s been bioengineered into every cell of your body, that makes you who you are. Each one of us is different, and that’s incredible! I can only look at that and whisper, “God”.
As I said, most of us don’t give any of that a second thought these days. Our self-image, somehow how we see ourselves, is influenced predominantly by social feedback: What other people say about us; what other people think about us; how we see ourselves compared to other people; the degree to which we in our own minds match up to the images of beauty and success and wealth, that a commercially-driven advertising industry with a strong profit motive dangles under our noses. So many people on the planet today don’t think all too much of themselves, but I’m here to tell you that God has gone to an enormous amount of trouble to make you who you are today, and to put you where He’s put you today.
And not just you and me; we’re going to kick off today looking at Moses in the Old Testament. Look, here’s the picture. Because of Joseph, you know, the one of technicoloured dream coat fame, the Hebrew nation has ended up in Egypt. It all started with a famine. You can read about it in Genesis 37-50. I mean, it’s a cracking yarn and a fascinating read, but now Joseph is long-dead; there’s a new Pharaoh on the throne in Egypt, and the Hebrews … well, they’re breeding like rabbits, so the Egyptians are getting really worried, concerned that the Hebrews might end up taking over the country, so Pharaoh comes up with a brilliant idea to kill all the baby boys born to the Hebrews. That’s where Moses’ story begins. Let’s have a look at it. Exodus 2:1-10:
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and plastered it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it up, she saw a child. He was crying, so she took pity on him. ‘This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,’ she said.
Then his sister said to the Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’
Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother, and Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses because she said, ‘I drew him up out of the water.’
Now quite possibly, you’ve read this story before and like your own story, never thought all too much about it, but just stop and think. Moses goes on to become one of the greatest leaders that Israel has ever had, leading his people (God’s people) out of slavery and oppression in Egypt, to the threshold of the promised land – the land that God had promised to the father of the nation, Abraham, almost five centuries before.
So, in terrible circumstances where babies were being slaughtered en masse, God not only saves Moses (with the help of his sister, herself a child), but He positions young Moses in Pharaoh’s household, experience that’ll become very important when he’s eighty years old, when Moses goes to Pharaoh to negotiate Israel’s release.
See, this isn’t just some story; it’s a part of God’s incredible plan to bring Israel to the promised land and then, centuries later, to bring Jesus into this world. My point? There’s a big picture here, and even someone as prominent as Moses is just a big player in God’s plan. The point is, God does have a plan, and God creates people and positions people in incredible ways.
Now if you believe in Jesus, if you’re one of God’s people, then let me tell you: You’re part of that plan. If you don’t believe in Jesus yet, and you’re not one of God’s people, you know what? You’re still part of His plan, because God has a passion to fit you into His plan. You’re not a descendant of some primeval amoebic slime; you’re a descendant, you’re a child of the living God who created you and He has a plan.
The Gifts God Gave You
You know how it goes. You compare yourself to other people, and invariably in your own mind, you find yourself coming up short. Everybody else seems to be smarter; better-looking; more articulate; more successful; better-off than you. They seem to have the better marriage; more perfect children; a perfect marriage; a perfect job, and so it’s all too easy to come to the conclusion that you just don’t make the grade.
You’re something less than all those other people out there, but actually, what we tend to do is we create this composite picture of perfection by plucking the best bits out of the lives of the people around us, mixing in with that advertising industry fairy dust; and you know all those images of beauty and success that they dangle under your nose?
And then creating this set of expectations that no human being could ever live up to, but there you have the formula of low self-esteem. See, that’s what people do, and if that’s how you see yourself – as someone who just doesn’t measure up, then what sort of a life are you going to end up living, do you think?
There’s a quote going round that’s attributed to Einstein, but actually he didn’t say it. Nevertheless, it’s a good one. ‘Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will forever live its life believing that it’s stupid.’ It’s true, isn’t it? If we establish our self-worth by comparing ourselves with other people, then chances are, we’re going to come off second-best every time, and it’s that wrong image of self that’s ruining many-a life. It’s that wrong image of self that’s causing people en masse to waste their lives.
See, as far as I’m concerned, there could be nothing worse than getting to the end of my days and looking back on a wasted life. Paul – not the apostle Paul, but the owner of one of my local cafés – has come to know me reasonably well. I wandered in for breakfast at about nine o’clock one morning, obviously dressed for work, and he said, “Ah. You’re off to work, are you?” and I said, “Well, no, I’ve just finished a four-hour TV-shoot” which started, you see, just before five in the morning.
Anyway, he went off to go and get me my usual cup of coffee, smiling and shaking his head as he muttered, “You’re not going to die wondering, are you, Berni?” The answer is no! I am not going to die wondering! I’m keen to live my life absolutely to the full. I am keen to get to the end, having completely spent my life on what God has called me to do. See, I don’t want to be lying on my deathbed, looking at a life of wasted opportunities.
Now, I know what some people are thinking at this point. “Well, that’s all well and good for you, Berni. God’s given you some gifts and some abilities to go and do what you’re doing. Good for you! But I don’t have those gifts and abilities.” If that’s what’s rattling round in your head at the moment, then here’s my answer to you. Of course you don’t have my gifts and abilities! You were never meant to be me. God’s given you your own set of gifts and abilities and at this point, to keep this conversation going, there are some people (perhaps you’re one of them) thinking, ‘But I don’t have any gifts and abilities.’ Well, that simply isn’t true, because that’s not what God says. 1 Peter 4:10 says this:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
In other words, we have all received at least one gift from God! Again the apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth about spiritual gifts God has bestowed on us. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:
Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are a variety of services, but the same Lord; and there are a variety of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
See, there it is again! To each one has been given a spiritual gift. It’s just that they’re all different. In verse 11 of the same chapter, it says of those gifts:
All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
So, do you see how completely futile it is to compare yourself to other people? I mean, God had sovereignly decided what gift He was going to give each one of us, but the point is that He does give each one of us a particular gift or ability that we’re meant to use, to exercise, for the common good.
I would have loved to have been given the gift of healing, but instead, God’s given me a gift to tell stories. “What sort of a gift is that?” you might ask. Well, the one thing that I can do really well is to take complex things and simplify them – bring them together, in a way that not only people understand and relate to, but in a way that moves them to do something about what they’ve just heard. Now, that’s not a boast. That’s not a statement I make out of pride; it’s a simple statement of fact. There are lots of other things that I’m not good at.
If I compare myself to friends of mine, like a good mate of mine – Pastor Greg Holder, he’s so pastorally-gifted. If I compared myself to him, I’d come off thinking, “Well, you know, I’m uncaring and unloving.” I’m not, by the way; I care deeply about you, which is why I’m doing what God made me to do.
Listen up. God has gifted you in a special way, and His plan for you is to use that gift for the common good. Now, you don’t always find your gift listed in the Bible. I mean, storytelling is not listed as a gift in the Bible, but there we are. See, there are three places in the New Testament that talk about gifts or giftings: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, but when I read them, as I said, I don’t read storytelling as one of the gifts. I don’t read about conceptualising and simplifying complex issues into simple explanations as one of the gifts.
You have a gift: At least one; possibly more, and comparing yourself to other people ain’t going to do it for you. God has given you a gift or an ability, and something that you love doing: Something that you can do better than just about anyone else you know, and in that gift you will discover your calling. You will discover the part of God’s plan that God has called you to play – to do with the gifts and abilities, the natural talents and motivations, that He’s given you, and nobody can take that away from you. Romans 11:29:
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
There’s no turning around. There’s no taking them away. Perhaps that’s why people so often talk about destiny. God has a destiny for you. God has a plan for you, and He’s given you everything that you need to fulfil that destiny. He made you with your destiny in mind. Back to one of my favourite passages of Scripture, Ephesians 2:10.
You are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do the good works that He prepared beforehand for you to do. In other words, God’s handcrafted you to do what He’s ordained you to do, even before time’s begun. You are a one-off piece of workmanship, made perfectly fit for purpose – the purpose that God has for you.
And so here it is: My definition of a wasted life, drawn straight out of this verse (Ephesians 2:10). A wasted life is when we don’t do what God made us to do. A wasted life is when we squander the gifts and the abilities that God’s given us by spending them on ourselves, instead of spending them on others in honour of the God who gave them to us in the first place and as someone who before coming to Christ (over twenty years ago now) turned wasting his gifts and abilities on himself, I can tell you it was a hollow pursuit, and as much as we think gaining worldly success will fulfil us, it doesn’t.
In fact it left me so empty, so lost, that I almost took my own life. Do yourself a favour: Don’t waste your life.
The Dreams God Wove Into Your DNA
Dreams come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. Of course, we all daydream, and you know something? That’s a really important thing to do. You see, often we think of daydreaming as something of a negative, but one of the great attributes of leaders in particular is the ability to dream: The ability to let the mind wander; to roam free; to explore possibilities; to visualise the future.
In leading this ministry of ChristianityWorks that I’m involved in, I consider it really important to dream – to take the time quietly to think about possibilities; to weigh options; to picture what some new opportunity might look like when we get there, and so often, I’ve walked into the office with that look on my face that the staff have come to recognise, and someone whispers an, “Oh no. Berni’s come up with some other crazy idea. I wonder what it is this time.”
Not all of them come off. Not every dream turns into a reality. Sometimes they’re not practical; sometimes the timing isn’t right; sometimes God closes the door, but there are many times that those dreams have become a reality.
There are many times when God’s been in them and done amazing things, taking the ministry to Africa when we didn’t have anywhere near the resources to do that, but where now, millions of people each week are listening to this programme; redeveloping our website to become really friendly, to serve up teaching resources in innovative different ways when again, we didn’t have the funds to do that, but now a few years on, it’s completely revolutionised the reach and the impact of the ministry.
I want to take you today into God’s Word, to show you a particularly odd, a particularly weird manifestation of someone’s dream. We’re going to join Moses again. He’s grown up now; just under forty years old, and something happens that really upsets his life. Exodus 2:11-15:
One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and he saw their forced labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way, he looked that way, and seeing that no one was there, he killed that Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting, and he said to the one who was in the wrong, ‘Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?’
And the guy answers:
‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Did you mean to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’
Then Moses was afraid and thought, ‘Surely this thing is known.’ When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses, but Moses fled from the Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian and sat down by a well.
So, remember the story. Moses is born a Hebrew at the time when Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, but they were becoming so numerous that Pharaoh decides to kill all the baby boys that are born to the Hebrews: A terrible genocide, murdering babies. Can you imagine? But Moses’ mother puts him in a basket that floats down the Nile and he’s found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who decides to adopt him and bring him up as her own child.
So for the last forty years, Moses has been living a life of incredible power and privilege, but you know the saying: Blood is thicker than water, and when as a Hebrew he kills an Egyptian, his life is in danger and he has to flee to Midian, which is way out beyond the back of nowhere when you compare it to the thriving metropolis, the centre of world-power, where he’d lived such a privileged life for the last forty years.
So what does this have to do with Moses having a dream? Well, you see, it wasn’t exactly a dream; not quite yet. Moses had no idea that one day, forty years later aged eighty, he would lead Israel out of Egypt, out of slavery towards the promised land in such a spectacular fashion, but what he did have in his heart was a love for his people – an anger at the way they were being mistreated. In him was beating the heart of God for His people, and that’s what caused him to lash out and kill the Egyptian oppressor.
You see, that’s kind of how dreams begin. They begin in the heart, with motivations; with natural inclinations. That’s why the gifts listed in Romans 12:4-8 are often called motivational giftings. They spawn from gifts that God has engineered into your DNA.
I remember when I first became a Christian, aged thirty-six. I started dreaming about preaching to large groups of people: Millions of people. I couldn’t tell anyone about those dreams because they’d have thought I was self-deluded at best and prideful at worst. They were crazy dreams! They were irrational dreams, particularly given the pain and the difficult circumstances that I was travelling through at the time.
When we have those dreams, there’s one of two things we can do with them. We can get all rational; we can tell ourselves they’re ridiculous, which clearly they are, and close them down. And more and more, that’s what people do amidst the hectic, here-and-now-focused lives that we lead.
The other thing we could do is to nurture them; to turn them over; to develop them; to kind of set them free in our hearts and our minds and see where they take us. See whether God opens some doors to step through and start to realise those dreams, and it seems to me that hanging on to those dreams during the dark times and the difficult times, protecting them, nurturing them until the sun shines again, is one of the most important things that we can do to live the life that God has called us to live.
Moses must have wondered on many occasions over the ensuing forty years that he was spending tending sheep in the wilderness what that day had been all about; why he’d lashed out; whether it was worth it, but then one day, when God was ready, when Moses was eighty years old, God called him to do the thing that He’d created him to do.
I have seen the suffering of My people,” said God. “Go and tell Pharaoh to let My people go.
See, those motivations that God has placed in your heart – those dreams that you keep dreaming, protect them because one day, God will be ready, and it may be sooner than you think.