“A theologian acquires the habit of looking at people and circumstances with an eye for what God is doing. The more unlikely the person, the more unfriendly the circumstance, the more intently the theologian’s discerning look,” writes Eugene H. Peterson in his commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel.
I suppose I’m a theologian of sorts. Not in my ability to make grand pronouncements about who God is, but rather in my eager desire to pay attention to what he is up to. Professionally, I bear the title pastor, and on my wall hangs a college degree noting four years of my life devoted to the study of Scripture. But, designations aside, I am humbled by the fact that God is always present in our lives, and the moments his work is obvious give me insight into the many moments it’s not.
For me, the conspicuous moments usually begin with a phone call. Maybe a message on the answering machine; the odd time an email. A job must be done: a pastor is needed, wanted or invited to attend.
I’ve learned these moments are often unplanned. They worm their way into a busy schedule cluttered with to do lists, meeting agendas, ministry outcome and evaluation. They give pause to the weekly workflow that flits across my desk and help provide meaning to the job I’ve been asked to do.
They’re usually preceded by the silent words under my breath, “Dear God, help.”
By virtue of my occupation, I’ve been blessed to be invited into some of the holiest moments of people’s lives. Moments of family crisis, open wounds, spiritual questions – the places we pay our pastors to go. These places are a sort of inner room, where steps must be taken carefully, words chosen wisely, surroundings treated with the utmost respect.
What I’ve noticed there is that we are never alone. Someone has been there before I arrive. Someone has been listening long before I ask the first question. Someone has been loving before we join our hands to pray.
God is present, and it’s pretty hard to miss.
The inconspicuous moments arise, not out of intentional pleas for spiritual help, but in the midst of the business of life. Shopping for groceries. Getting the mail. Waiting for a pickup order at the restaurant.
Someone hints at an invitation to the inner room of their holy struggles. The answer to “How are you doing?” betrays the struggles of stress, hurt, frustration or pain.
Will I take the time to listen? Will I pay attention with this individual to what God is up to? Will I give space for questions or utter a cursory response so I can move on with my day?
The inconspicuous moments often escape me. I’m too busy, too distracted, too preoccupied with my own thoughts and problems.
In the face of the great hurt of the world and the great truth of the gospel, we often wrestle with that question, “What do I do?” and its pesky companion, “What do I say?”
Not everyone is regularly invited into the grand spaces of the human experience, but we all find ourselves with ample opportunity to pay attention to the movements of the living God. Maybe on account of a close relationship with a co-worker. Maybe due to our loving presence in our hurting family. Maybe simply through being a good neighbour.
The moments of crisis will invariably bring us to the sorts of questions and experiences that lead us to an obvious God. But God is no more and no less at work in the profound moments than the seemingly inconsequential ones that consume the vast majority of our lives. He is in the hurried conversation around the dinner table and the banter in the coffee shop line where small children scream around our legs and petulant customers queue. Each is an opportunity to be a theologian.
What I’m learning about the conspicuous moments gives me a deep sense of encouragement for the rest of life. The Great Comforter, the Good Shepherd, the One Who Spoke All Things into Being is fearlessly, powerfully, quietly working ahead of me.
Being faithful becomes less about the conspicuous things I must do, and more about paying attention to the inconspicuous work he is up to already.
Being a theologian simply means watching him do his work, in moments both marvellous and mundane, and thanking him for being able to play a small part in it.
—Kevin Koop is the pastor of Blaine Lake (Sask.) Gospel Chapel.