God Works Wonders in Steady-State Obedience and in Total Disobedience

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

1. Don’t dream too small or pray too small about what God may do to save sinners and glorify his name in the midst of steady-state obedience.

God ordinarily works his wonders of mercy and salvation in the midst of our steady-state obedience. For example, in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 Paul says:

The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Our duty is steady-state obedience: don’t be quarrelsome, be kind, teach well, be patient, don’t return evil for evil, correct with gentleness. In the midst of this stead-state obedience, “God may perhaps grant them repentance.” We should not assume that nothing extraordinary will happen while we persevere in daily faithfulness. That is where God loves to act in supernatural ways.

Therefore, we should pray: “O Lord, make the fruit of our lives utterly disproportionate to the measure of our faithfulness.”

2. Don’t dream too small or pray too small about what God may do to save sinners and glorify his name in the midst of total disobedience.

God is not limited to work only where we are obeying and praying and dreaming of his intervention.

For example, in Acts 22:5-8 Paul tells us about how Christ broke into his totally disobedient life when no human being had planned or dreamed it.

I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. 6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’”

In the midst of Paul’s total disobedience God broke in and made Paul into a great missionary. Here’s a contemporary version of God’s inbreaking power: D. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, tells the story of his conversion in Indelible Ink, edited by Scott Larsen (Waterbrook Press, 2003):

At the age of twenty-three, I was a spiritual derelict. Worse than that, I was thoroughly satisfied with my secular lifestyle as a ballroom dance instructor in Tampa’s Arthur Murray Studio. I was a college dropout, but making good money in a job that I immensely enjoyed. I was single, popular, and pretty well unhampered by moral restraints. Nor could I recall ever having heard the gospel. . . .

That was before my clock radio, in my rented apartment on South Boulevard in Tampa, threw me a curve. I had come in from an all-night dance party and thought I had set the appliance to wake me at the proper time with appropriate music for a soothing return to consciousness. But what I heard that Sunday afternoon was . . . the thundering voice of Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church. I jumped out of bed to switch the dial but was stopped almost in mid-flight by a question I couldn’t brush aside.

In the penetrating, stentorian tones for which he was famous, this great preacher and broadcast evangelist asked, “Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God, and He were to ask you, ‘What right do you have to enter into my heaven?’—what would you say?” I was completely dumbfounded. I had never thought of such a thing as that, and my nonchalance suddenly evaporated into thin air.

I sat on the edge of my bed, as though transfixed, groping for an answer to this simple question. I had enough common sense to realize that, even though I had no background in the Bible, this was the most important question that had ever entered my mind. (pp. 69-70)

In mercy, God led Kennedy to a nearby corner newsstand where he asked simply, “Do you have any religious books?” He was given Fulton Oursler’s The Greatest Story Ever Told. In this way, with no human design or dream, God saved D. James Kennedy.

Therefore, let us pursue steady-state obedience, but let us also pray, “O Lord, grant new life, and glorify your name, where no human has dreamed it or designed it.