The Lookout | 8.23.09
By Alan Dowd
That old saying is true. Actions do speak louder than words.
We know it all too well from experience: the coworker who misses the deadline after promising, “I’ve got everything covered;” the church volunteer who goes to the game after promising to pitch in at the soup kitchen; the family member who promises to make it to the next recital, the next ballgame, the next birthday party; the spouse who keeps doing the same thing after promising to change.
Our words reveal a little about us, but it’s our actions that reveal everything.
The same is true for God. Although His words tell us a lot about Him, His actions say even more.
He is a God of action. He doesn’t sit in some faraway place, watching and waiting. Instead, He is engaged in every aspect of humanity. A quick glance at scripture shows how.
In Genesis, He not only “created the heavens and the earth,” plants and animals, man and woman; He “blessed” them.
In Exodus, He “delivers,” “leads” and “saves” His people by punishing Pharaoh.
The psalmist tells us that all creation proclaims His works, His deeds, His actions.
In the Gospels, He heals the broken, weeps for the hurting, gives hope and help to the needy, raises the dead, teaches and feeds the hungry, humbles the proud, uplifts the humble, rides a donkey, celebrates a wedding, fishes for fish (and people), makes breakfast, battles the enemy, carries a cross, lives and dies—and lives.
He calls us to imitate Him and to carry on His work by being men and women of action.
Follow the Leader
God’s followers have always been people of action: Noah built an ark. Abraham and his men carried out a daring mission to rescue Lot. The midwives Shiphrah and Puah protected newborn babies from Pharaoh’s genocidal plans. David felled a giant and danced before the Lord. Solomon built the temple. Esther did everything in her power to save God’s people from Haman. Peter jumped out of the boat and into the waves. Paul traveled across an empire to spread the Good News. And the list goes on and on.
Some of them did great things, and some of them did little things that had a great impact. Their lives—and ours—are proof that Jesus can do a lot with a little. That’s just His way.
Consider the time Jesus turned a few fish and loaves into a feast for thousands.
He first called on His disciples to act. Testing them, Jesus wondered aloud, “Where can we buy enough bread to feed all these people?”[i]
Trying to solve the dilemma on their own, the disciples were stymied. Philip concluded that not even eight months wages would be enough. Pointing to a young man’s meal pouch of five loaves and two fish, Andrew asked, “How far will they go among so many?”
But in focusing on what they did not have, the disciples overlooked what they did have: a few pieces of bread, a couple of fish and the Creator. What they saw as a limitation, Jesus saw as an opportunity. When that young man stepped out from the crowd and offered the little he had, Jesus worked a miracle and fed a mountain full of people.
The same is true today. When we step out in faith like that nameless boy, no matter how small or insignificant the action, God does great things. He feeds the hungry, reveals Himself to the lost, heals the broken, blesses His creation, saves His people and gives hope to the hopeless.
The wonderful thing about action is that it not only blesses the receiver of the action—it blesses the giver as well. Again, it is a nameless character from scripture that provides the illustration.
After a day-long journey, Jesus and the apostles stopped outside the town of Sychar to buy food and drink. The apostles proceeded into town while Jesus got some much needed rest near an old well.[ii]
When a Samaritan woman came to the well, Jesus startled her by asking for a drink. The woman balked at this request because of cultural traditions. “Jews do not associate with Samaritans,” as John reminds us.
However, Jesus didn’t care about customs and convention, and He proceeded to strike up a conversation with this thirsty woman. He talked about living water, which flows from within and quenches all thirst. Offering her a glimpse into His father’s heart, He explained that God seeks people who worship in spirit and truth. Jesus even revealed to the woman that she stood in the presence of the Messiah.
But above all, He listened to her. After being patronized, used or ignored by every man in her life, it was God Himself who found the time to hear her out. And because Jesus listened, she discovered the need behind her need. It wasn’t her body that thirsted for water, but her soul.
The two talked about her failed marriages and loveless relationships. She was vulnerable with Jesus because He treated her with respect and dignity, when everyone else treated her to abuse and gossip. As they shared, she drank in His words, and they refreshed her—or more accurately, revived her.
She needed hope and love. And Jesus gave her plenty of both. He even offered her enough to share with the rest of her town. In fact, according to John, she became an evangelist: “Many Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony.”
Jesus’ words soaked into her parched soul, and His desire to treat her as a person rather than a thing transformed her into a wellspring of life.
But the truly remarkable part of this encounter was how it impacted Jesus. Somehow, Jesus was fed by His time with that thirsty woman. While the apostles were gathering food for the body, the Father had provided food for the soul. “I have food to eat that you know nothing about,” Jesus explained. It’s not made from barley or wheat; it’s not harvested or cooked or caught; it’s not even of this world. “My food,” he revealed to His dumbfounded followers, “is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.”[iii]
There’s nothing new here. In fact, the Book of Proverbs makes the very same point: “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”[iv]
Living for Jesus
So, action refreshes rather than drains. And a little produces a lot, at least in God’s economy.
Jesus only asks for a little—a lunchbox to feed a multitude, a listening ear to change a life and transform a city. Yet too many of us don’t even want to give a little, forgetting that the abundant life is about action.
Count me among those who sometimes forget this essential truth. At my worst, I have been AWOL when Christ called me to duty. And even at my best, I’m nowhere near those described in the Book of Acts. The title of the book says it all:
- Chapter three tells us they healed the lame and taught with authority.
- Chapter four says they stood up to their opponents and gave away their possessions.
- In chapter five, they stared down death. Some of them even died for Jesus.
- In chapter eight, they cast our demons.
- In chapter 20, they raised the dead.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never healed anyone or been imprisoned for my faith or exorcised demons or given away all my possessions. And I’ve never even come close to dying for Jesus.
But I can, each day, live for Jesus.
I may not be able to heal the lame, but I can help the physically and emotionally broken by listening to them and sharing with them, as Jesus did at the well.
I may not give away everything I own, but I can live with a little less so others can have little more.
I may not cast out demons, but I can bring Jesus to the places I go and the people I know. I can show up and help my neighbor—as Christ defines the word—even when I’d rather be somewhere else.
I may not raise the dead, but I can love the living by pointing them to the Way, the Truth and the Life. I can strive to love my wife as Christ loves His church.
I may not teach in great assemblies, but I can share the Good News by word and deed, remembering that actions speak volumes. As Francis of Assisi so powerfully put it, “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.”
Indeed, Christ’s final command as He ascended from this world into the next was a call to action: “Go,” He declared. Make a move. Make disciples of every nation. Teach. Baptize. Act.
[i] See John 6
[ii] John 4:9
[iii] John 4:32-34