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God of the unexpected: reflections from a Messy Church quiet morning

Posted by Martyn Payne on 11 Nov 2020

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Elijah faces lockdown 2

A small group of Messy Church leaders from the Silver Team met online this week for a quiet morning focusing on the story of Elijah from 1 Kings 19.

We could relate to poor Elijah! Having spent most of chapters 17 and 18 in a three-year self-isolation - albeit escaping Ahab and Jezebel rather than Covid-19 - he now finds himself on the run again in this chapter. In between there was the famous showdown on Mount Carmel, but that hadn’t really changed everything for the better as he might have hoped; instead, it turned into yet another ‘lockdown’ for Elijah. We reflected how much of a shock this must have been for him - quite unexpected - even to the extent of him now feeling depressed, suicidal and a failure as God’s top prophet.

2020 has been a year of the unexpected. Painfully we listed some of the unexpected things that have happened for each of us personally, as well as for the church generally and Messy Church in particular. But at the same time, while not wanting to pretend that this hasn’t been a year no one wanted, the Lord did bring to our minds some of the unexpectedly encouraging things that have happened, God’s surprising grace appearing like the tiny flower in the rock face in the accompanying illustration. Here are some of our thoughts on the unexpected positives of 2020:

‘For some of us it has been a sabbatical rest, with time to enjoy new recipes and work in the garden…’

‘In the turmoil of church/Messy Church closing, new opportunities have arisen and new people reached. Alpha Online, church services watched by many young people, online Christian festivals, discovering Lectio 365, a chance to access different styles of worship online – these have been unexpected blessings.’

‘Although I do not find this screen stuff at all easy, especially any relational element, I have got used to it and am more confident in using it; our home group attendance has actually increased as it has been easier for people with children to attend online.’

‘Disruption to participating in the Deepening Discipleship project meant a lack of continuity of meeting with our young leaders; however, I have been in regular contact with the older boys by text… and this has been a lovely example of genuine intergenerational communication and support.’

‘In this time a new leader for Messy Church - plus a team of helpers – has emerged and I think it will be much easier for them to take over.’ (This parallels with Elijah handing over to Elisha at the end of this chapter.)

‘God provided for Elijah at his low point (v. 7, Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you’). God has also provided for me in the low times.’

‘I found I enjoyed solitude; I developed closer friendships with Messy Church friends; I discovered new giftings and tried new things.’

‘Facebook Lives!… the opportunity to love the garden and nature… unexpected stories of encouragement which inspired other leaders to try for themselves… more positives than I thought!’

‘Time and space for more listening to God… a stronger friendship with God… worldwide corporate online worship opportunities; a new Bible Zoom group.’

Together we went on to wonder what Elijah learned through his unexpected experiences and of course then what we felt God was teaching us personally and also Messy Church. It was interesting – and unexpected! – that God didn’t simply comfort Elijah and shower him with love. Instead, God gives him new work to do, and most importantly reminds him that he is not as on his own as he claimed he was! God even organises an apprentice and successor for him.

In a chapter of unexpected happenings, Elijah ends up exhausted and burnt out. Human beings are possibly designed to live in the predictable and we find the unpredictable tiring and stressful. But if we can hold on to nothing but the predictability of God’s love, that helps us deal with the unexpected and simply expect to deal with the one next thing at a time.

Messy Church is still in the unknown, the unpredictable, the unexpected, and I think it’s still too soon to say what the future looks like. But Elijah reminds us that the future is not in our hands, but in God’s. All we are asked to do is to be obedient in the present, for the present moment.

For leaders, perhaps the story reminds all of us that there is no privilege, no entitlement, no insurance simply by dint of being a leader. We can rely on nothing except the reliability of God’s love and working God’s purpose out. This purpose overrides our perceived need for comfort or security and dismisses feelings of self-pity. If we’ve committed to a journey with God, we can expect to be made to keep going, even when, like Elijah, we feel ‘the journey is too much’.