THE POWER OF WONDER
Have you ever seen something or experienced something that completely changed what you felt was possible? Can you remember a moment when a whole new set of possibilities opened up for you? I remember being in a meeting of my youth group. I was about 16 and I’d just started learning to play guitar. We had a guest speaker from another youth group and he brought along his guitar and taught us some songs. He also played a few presentation songs as part of his message. As I watched him play, a whole new world opened up for me. I suddenly saw what music could do, and how a guitar could be played. And I was determined that I would learn to play like that. You can be the judge of how successful I’ve been, but I do know that that moment changed my relationship with music and with my own guitaring.
There is an immense power to moments of awe and wonder. Moments when we witness something in the world we didn’t know existed, and that open up a whole new way of seeing the world, and ourselves and what’s possible for us. But, it can be tempting to think that they are insignificant – that beauty and wonder and awe are “nice to have” but not really important. We may be tempted to feel that what’s really important is getting things done, meeting the deadline, being practical and realistic. But, when we face life’s painful and difficult moments, what is practical and realistic can’t help us.
When life throws the toughest seasons at us, it is moments of awe and wonder that open us to new possibilities. It is these moments when the veil between heaven and earth fall away that our hope and courage are renewed, and we can begin to see new possibilities, and new ways through the storm.
And the most powerful of these are the ones that give us a glimpse of the face of God. It’s a powerful thing to experience God’s presence and glory in our lives, and to know that God is with us and carrying us through the tough times. And we see God’s glory most clearly in Jesus – which is what this series has been about. Over the last few weeks, Jesus has shown us that God is a God of surrender and self-giving, a God of compassion, of truth, of welcome, of hope, of grace, and of commitment to us.
The great news is that God’s presence and glory are always seeking to break into our lives, so we can encounter moments like this at any time. But, if we are going to open to these glory-filled moments, we need to know how to make the most of them, how to capture them and allow them to do their work in our lives.
THE TRANSFIGURATION – A MOMENT OF EMPOWERING GLORY
One of the most dramatic moments in Scripture of God’s glory being revealed is the Transfiguration. It’s a significant moment for Jesus, and it’s a significant moment for the disciples.
For Jesus, this was the moment he began deliberately to journey toward Jerusalem and death. He must have been tempted to run away. But in this moment, as God is revealed in him, he is given an amazing gift – the power to face the suffering ahead. I doubt Jesus could have faced the cross without this moment of reassurance and affirmation. Right after this he speaks with great confidence about his coming resurrection. Somehow, in this encounter with God, Jesus found the faith, and strength, and courage to go through the cross and all its pain. He sees the face of God, and he knows that anything is possible – even resurrection. In that moment Jesus is equipped to face the world’s worst, because he has been touched by God’s best. And he knows that he is called to reveal God’s face to the world in the most unlikely way – through the cross!
For the disciples this is a moment when they see Jesus in a whole new way. This moment comes just after Peter declared that Jesus is the Messiah, and then this confirms it to be true. As Jesus was changed into this glorious being they saw that Jesus reveals the face of God. Jesus is God’s glory in human form.
But, even though they experience this amazing moment, they don’t really get it. In Luke’s Gospel the disciples fall asleep. Here they fall down, so maybe it felt like a dream to them. Maybe they didn’t really believe it, so it didn’t take hold of them. Immediately after this, as they are walking down the mountain, Peter is already beginning to analyse and question it – wondering about Elijah, and whether Jesus really did fulfil all the Messianic prophecies. So, while for Jesus this experience gives him the courage to face the cross, for Peter it has little real value – he denies Jesus anyway.
LISTENING TO JESUS
So, if these moments of encountering God’s glory can empower us like this, how do make sure we don’t make the same mistake as Peter? How do we open ourselves to the new possibilities that God’s glory offers us? There’s one word that stands out in this passage – spoken by the voice of God: “Listen to him.”
It’s wonderful when we have dramatic experiences of awe and wonder like this. But, the bright lights and loud voices were not the point. The point is that we encounter God’s glory most often, and most easily through the words, the teachings of Jesus. Unfortunately, in spite of this voice, the disciples didn’t listen, and that made things much harder for them. But, the words of Jesus are powerful – they are Spirit and they are life – and they can transform us and carry us through even life’s worst moments if we will just listen to them.
Jesus often took time out to meet with God, and to hear God’s voice. In this passage he deliberately takes his closest friends up the mountain to meet with God. In the same way we need to make time – intentionally, and regularly – to meet with God and to listen to Jesus. Much of our prayer life is about talking – and that’s good. But, sometimes we need to shut up and listen. Maybe it’s as you walk around the neighbourhood in the evening, or in your car on the way to work, or as you fall asleep, or in that moment when you first awake. It doesn’t have to take long. But, make time – because if you do you will begin to hear Jesus speaking in your heart.
And then, when we do we will discover two amazing gifts:
Firstly, we will discover that God’s glory is not just in Jesus, but in everyone and everything. Jesus teaches that – the entire universe is filled with God’s glory. And the more we listen to Jesus, the more we are able to recognise that. The more we sense God’s presence and glory in unexpected places and experiences. Not just moments of great beauty, but also what is not usually considered beautiful. I’ve spoken to people who have seen God’s glory in prison cells, and in slums, and at death beds in hospitals.
Just before my dad died, I got the chance to spend a couple of hours alone with him at his bedside in the hospital. His heart was failing, so he slept much of the time. And my heart was broken, but somehow in that moment it was like God’s presence and glory were so real. The ward was radiant with love and grace, and while I knew dad was dying, I also knew that God’s life was stronger than death. And I got a glimpse of eternity and knew I would be ok. In that moment it was like I could hear Jesus saying “I am the resurrection and the life” – and I was able to listen to Jesus and trust him.
And secondly, we will discover that pain is not the opposite of glory. God’s glory was most dramatically revealed in Jesus’ death on the cross. And in our own lives, God’s glory shines most brightly when we face suffering. When we are hurting and we can still follow the way of Jesus, that shines God’s glory out into the world so powerfully. And then we find that it’s not only Jesus that shows the face of God. We can also reflect God’s face – the face of surrender, compassion, truth, welcome, hope, grace and commitment.
When we were at Sea Point, my wife Debbie led a Memorial Day service which included representatives from the SANDF, from Mkhonto We Sizwe, and from APLA. After the service the reps stood at the door and greeted people as they left. One woman walked up to the APLA rep and told him that she used to worship at St. James – the church where APLA soldiers had opened fire on a church service. She was supposed to have been in that service, but ha missed it. She had lost good friends and endured a lot of grief as a result of the attack. But, as she greeted the APLA rep she hugged him and said, ‘I forgive you.” He had not set foot in a church for about twenty years or more. But, after that morning he became a regular worshipper at our church. It was a moment of glory!
We all need moments when God’s glory breaks in. And the good news is that these moments are available to us at any moment. They’re not all dramatic like the transfiguration, but they can help us to find the strength and courage to navigate the world. All we need to do is practice listening to Jesus and let him reveal the face of God – because when we have encountered God’s best, we can face the world’s worst.