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01 July 2011

Open our eyes to see

Open our eyes to see

General Director Steve Clifford says that in the busyness of life, let's look for where God is working and focus our efforts there...

A few years ago my wife Ann and I planned a long weekend away. Leaving responsibilities behind, the destination was Venice. Neither of us had been there before, and, catching a boat bus from the airport to the centre, our first impressions of the city were breathtaking. It was hard to believe it was real; I found myself touching the buildings to make sure it wasn't a Hollywood set. The weather was great, the sights beautiful, but the most lasting memory was on the final day. On Sunday morning we got up and decided on a short walk before breakfast. Making our way along deserted waterways on the edge of the city we came across a tucked away but impressive church building. We had seen so many by this stage and it wasn't in our guide book. We decided to go in and have a wander around. The inside of the building was covered in art work that really caught our attention. The paintings were better than anything we'd seen and suddenly we realised the place was filled with paintings by one of Italy's most famous renaissance artists, Tintoretto. What on earth were they doing here? Why were they not protected? Why wasn't there a big sign outside? We couldn't understand why there wasn't big fanfare to announce this church; but there was a story to explain it. According to the lady who kindly allowed us in, rumour had it that the artist had committed some crime and as punishment was required to produce a certain number of paintings - one way to get a freebee. Madonna dell'Orto is a church and a parish that most Venice tourists never see. This was Tintoretto's parish church. He is buried with his family in the chapel to the right of the high altar - and it is rich in his works.

The overwhelming emotion for Ann and I that Sunday morning was one of amazement to have found treasure in such an unexpected place. My experience as a Christian leader over the years is that there are spiritual treasures to be found. God is at work in ways and among people, in circumstances and situations, that I would never have predicted and indeed, had I been God, probably would not have sanctioned. It seems to me that God refuses to be put in a box. Whether it is a box of 'my network or denomination', a box of 'my neat theological framework' or a box of 'this is how things should be done'. God is the one who will always surprise us.

"We need God to open our eyes, to see clearly where He is at work and how we can put our time, effort and finances behind His purposes."

The Apostle Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians that "the eyes of your heart may be enlightened (opened) in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints". If it is true for those first century Christians, it is certainly true for us today. We need God to open our eyes, to see clearly where He is at work and how we can put our time, effort and finances behind His purposes and activities in the world. It is an amazing thought that Jesus could say of his own ministry, he only did what he saw his Father doing. Surely that needs to be true of us? As a young new convert, I was given this advice by a wise Christian leader - "find out what God's doing and get involved in it". Those words have often echoed in my thinking as I've tried to live my life with that as a test.

So how about asking the question as we look at our workplace, neighbourhood, place of education and of course our church - where is God at work and how can I get involved? We might find we are surprised discovering treasure in an unexpected place. Who would've expected even 10 years ago that thousands of Christians late on a Friday and Saturday night would be on the streets of our cities as pastors for those who need to get home safely? Who would have imagined hundreds of debt counselling centres, food banks, parenting courses….? Who would have dreamt of Alpha courses in prison or Messy Church for families or Romance Academies for teenagers? God at work in surprising places, with surprising people, with some amazing results. Of course it is not just the big scale impressive stuff that God's at work in. It could be that friendship with a neighbour, that work project that could have huge impact on the team, or perhaps it is in our own family. God's concerned about what we might regard as the small and insignificant. His economy doesn't seem to work like ours, like the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep for the sake of rescuing the one.

So as we ask God to open our eyes to see, let's be encouraged that God's at work in our world and we are included in on all His activities.


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