“so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” From the RSV
“It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” From the NLT
You know, growing up I remember that most of my reading revolved around two resources. I wasn’t a big Dr. Seuss reader or stuff like that – maybe some Richard Scarry J. When I had free reading time, I would randomly pick a volume from our World Book Encyclopedia set and read the articles in them. And, I read the Bible, especially stories of Jesus doing amazing things. I really liked that – Jesus healing, calming the storms and other stuff. I know, sounds kind of nerdy. It is also a bit peculiar given my Catholic background in that, at the time, there didn’t seem to be a lot of emphasis on reading the Bible. But yet, there I was reading a Bible given to me by my third grade CCD teacher, Jim. I can still see his inscription on the page.
What a gift he gave me. He couldn’t have known the impact giving me a Bible would have and the impact it would have many, many people because of my reading it. It is kind of like throwing a stone in a pond, the ripple effect.
Here I am, less than a week from my trip to Africa to bring God’s Word to a people who have very little access to the Gospel. Many of whom have never heard it and will never be able to read it because of illiteracy.
One of the things we did in Africa was meet with groups of pastors. And many times, when it was my turn to address them I would say, “Brothers, you and I know what it means to know Jesus (through the Word); you and I know that life without Jesus – is no life! So that is why we have come here, to bring the Word of life to people so that they may hear it and have life in Christ.” And I really think and mean that. That is what has been driving me in this project.
When we think of me going to Africa, I fully admit that it doesn’t make sense on a lot of levels. And when I first got there, I did experience a time of “What have I done! What am I doing in Africa!” But I also remember something my Dad said to me a few years ago. He said, “CB, you go to places and to people that few or none of us can go or get to.” And he was right, over my life, before ministry and in ministry, God has given me this gift, though uncomfortable and uncertain most of the time, of reaching and connecting with places and people that have never been reached or have been forgotten of left behind.
So in that light, the trip to Africa seems not so strange. But a little bit like my book Giving Faith a Second Chance which speaks to those who feel alienated, rejected and distanced from God and church, this trip was part of my life’s purpose – extending a hand of love and compassion to those in need, those in prisons and dark places.
And always, my outstretched hand is strengthened, in fact my hand can only reach out because of the power of the Word and Spirit. My love for God’s Word and how it has transformed the way I live, think, and act. Obviously, a long way to go, but still, all those years of reading it has shaped me into this instrument for bringing the Word. I have always loved that my parents gave me the name Christopher, which means Christ-bearer or bringer.
So often on the trip to Africa we saw the power of God’s Word at work so visibly. One of the clearest stories was on the first day we were there. We arrived in the evening and our hosts; Gabriel and Geoffrey asked me if I would like to preach the next morning at a church. I had not prepared for that, I was prepared to talk about the Treasure (audio New Testament units that we brought with us), but I said sure. So I prayed and asked God to lead me to a passage that would be a word for this congregation, Geoffery’s church. So we went there the next morning and we were very welcomed. The pastor then starts to explain that the night before he had been working on his message and was having a lot of trouble. He asked God why he was having such a hard time. God’s answer, he said, was “You are not preaching tomorrow; I am sending you someone else to preach the Word.” As you might imagine, the pastor was a little concerned. A pastor without a message on Sunday morning, hoping, trusting that someone else was going to show up? But the pastor trusted. And about two hours later, Geoffery called to say that there was a pastor from the US who was willing to preach the next morning.
But it gets better.
After I preached from Acts 2:42-47, the pastor stands up and says, “Church, I am holding back tears, because of how God is speaking to our church. This brother (me) could not have known that we had just studied this passage on Friday and Saturday as part of our leadership retreat about how God is going to lead us in the future. So God has sent him here to encourage us forward in our mission.” With God, everything has purpose – no coincidences!
And that was just the first day. Over and over throughout the week, all of us saw the power of God’s Word and Spirit just moving in front of us, opening doors, building bridges, producing miracles, giving life.
We talk a lot in our churches of being all about the Word. And I am sure we mean it. But I am more convinced than ever of that and that my official title is Minister of Word and Sacrament. Do I fully understand the depths of this? Not sure I ever could. But certainly when I look at my life and I look at this trip, I came a little closer.
I saw this verse fulfilled over and over again – “It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it (Isaiah 55:11).” It reminded me that the most powerful force in this world – stronger than military might, stronger than violence and bullies, stronger than love and hate, stronger than lust and greed, stronger disease and poverty, stronger than death and sin, is God’s Word and Spirit – it is the only power that can change this world. Name any situation in life or in the world – and when you bring God’s Word and Spirit to it – it is changed.
I went to Africa to bring God’s Word to a people that have never heard it and we have unleashed something so powerful that it could change a nation. I have preached hundreds of sermons and written hundreds of Living Waters to share the Word as I have heard the Lord speak it to me – to draw people closer to Jesus. I have sent Bibles to cousins and childhood friends thinking it was the best gift and best way I could love them. All my life, starting with a gift of a Bible, I have been reading and thinking about Scripture and have been shaped and formed by it. My life in and for the Word has “produced blessed fruit” and “prospered” in my life and everywhere He has sent me to bring it.
And as long as He wills it, I will go forth to faithfully bring His Word by the power of His Spirit.
- What is the value or importance of God’s Word in your life?
- How have you seen it work in your own life or in others?
- If there is a part of your life that needs change, have you tried applying God’s Word to it? Why not?
- Think of someone with whom you can sharea a passage or a Bible. How about today?