The Small Work of a Mighty God in Youth Ministry

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I was recently gazing out the window of our church office on a quiet afternoon. As I did, I noticed an elderly man from our congregation stop by and tend to the flower pots outside the building. Unaware that he had an audience, this man retrieved a large water container out of his car, carefully yet efficiently watered the flowers, and drove away. This clearly was not his first rodeo.

I’ll admit: I have never once pondered how those flowers stay alive. I walk by them daily, yet never considered the fact that there must be someone tending to them. Turns out, this someone is a kind older man who has taken their survival upon himself. For him, this is what it looks like to serve and bless our church. Some people are called to lead Bible studies, some to pray, others to bake casseroles. This man is called to water flowers.

Witnessing this small act of service got me thinking. How many other unnoticed yet faithful servants are out there of whom I have no idea? How much goes on behind the scenes in the Kingdom of God that I may never know of? Surely, the instance of this dedicated gardener must be just one among many.

There is much to be said about the fiercely powerful, earth-trembling, instant work of God. And yet—the longer I walk with Christ and serve in ministry, the more I’m beginning to appreciate the subtler, quieter, steady hand of God.

While I often long to see radical, immediate change both in my heart and the hearts of my students, this is rarely the case. Some days, I find this frustrating. But when God begins to shift the contours of my heart and mind, I find it to be one of the most encouraging truths about him.

God is like my new gardener hero. When the sin we cannot shake creeps in yet again, when a student still won’t open up after years of coffee dates, when we look around and perceive that the world is hopelessly declining, God shows up outside our office window. Turns out, he had been faithfully watering all along, ensuring that nothing under his care perishes. We just had yet to look up and notice him.

There could be students in your youth group who read their Bibles daily but never think to mention it in Sunday School. There could be a family in your church who serves meals to the homeless every Thanksgiving but never posts about it on Facebook. There could be a woman you have never spoken to who has taken it upon herself to pray for you and your ministry regularly when she sees your name in the church bulletin.

Who are we to assume we can know all that goes on in God’s Kingdom?! Perhaps we have been limiting the work of God only to what we can see—which, St. Paul reminds us, is never the way faith was intended to work (Rom 8:24).

We worship the God of the whirlwind and the God of the still small voice (1 Kings 19). We worship a God who works though powerful kings like Saul and through faithful widows like Anna who “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2). We worship a God who immediately heals with just a word and who sees to it that some walk through life with a persistent thorn (Mark 5, 2 Cor 12).

Ezekiel 37 has become one of my favorite stories in the Bible. In this bizarre, almost eerie scene, we see the powerful, resurrecting voice of God turning dry bones into a great army. What I love most about this narrative, however, is the formation of this army. In this passage, Ezekiel shows us what it looks like when God slowly forms life out of death.

God takes his time in this scene—forming new life bone by bone, tendon by tendon. There is at first a dull rattling, then bone attaches to bone—206 of them, presumably, so that must have taken some time. Then the sinews, then muscle, then the skin. Last but certainly not least, God breathes life into these bones. From that faint rattling, an “exceedingly great army” is formed (vs. 10).

To me, this story is both a testament to the mighty, life-generating Word of God and to his tendency to work with care and precision at a steady pace, even if that pace means tediously forming a great army of bodies bone by bone. Just as Ezekiel was privy to see this work take place right before his eyes, so too are we.

Brother and sisters in ministry, God is at work. He’s constantly moving, even in acts as simple as gardening. On the days you feel like you are staring at a valley of bones—the days when texts go unanswered, small groups remain stagnant, and hope seems distant—remember that your ministry rests in the hands of the God who can transform dry bones into great armies.

Let us pray for eyes to see his slow, transformative work and for a trusting heart when we cannot. God has, and God will continue to show up. God is completing the good work he began in us and our students (Phil 1:6). As he reminds us in Ezekiel 37:14, he has spoken, he will do it.

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