The other day I decided, apropos of nothing, to start a study I’d found on the book of Numbers.
This was a mistake.
It was a mistake primarily because I assumed I was getting into a study that would provide some context for what can be an achingly dry book of the Bible. Instead, the study turned out to be a mere guide to reading Numbers – and the assignment for the first part of the study was to read the first eight chapters of the book.
Eight chapters of Numbers in one go is…a lot. A lot. I caught myself glazing over as I read God’s meticulous instructions for every single aspect of the tabernacle and the Levites. And then I stopped and reread them again, because those instructions really are meticulous. God’s desires and His demands permeate the entire book, from who can do what to who goes where to how to wrap the tabernacle materials.
What amazed me in that moment is how much those meticulous instructions contrast to Jesus’ more laissez-faire attitude toward His disciples in the Gospels. I mean, sure, He had guidelines in mind for them. He told them things to do and not to do. But His instructions to them – to these men who were to be the foundation of the church! – have got nothing on the mind-numbingly dry detail of Numbers.
Can you imagine Christ adopting the tone of Numbers to give commands to His disciples? When He sends out the twelve in Matthew 10, he sets up the parameters of their ministry: heal the sick, give generously, perform miracles, take nothing extra, be on guard, trust the Holy Spirit to speak for you. But He doesn’t tell them what to wear, or what specific miracles to perform in what region, or what it means precisely to “be on guard,” or what specific words to say. There’s a distinct absence of dictate, a sense of freedom and restraint removed that is missing in the early books of law.
Why the difference?
Well, for one thing, the difference between priesthood in the Old and New Testament, such as it is, is to some degree a commentary on the covenant of law versus the covenant of grace. Moses and the Levites were subject to the meticulous and elaborate requirements of their position because that was the necessity set before those who dared approach a holy God; with Christ’s death and resurrection, His blood permits us our priesthood and our ability to approach God unhindered by such things since holiness’ demands have found their fulfillment in Christ.
But there’s something else worth noticing, too. And it’s that the law of grace gives us the freedom to be creative.
Have you noticed that Jesus goes out of His way to show the disciples the potentiality and possibility of their gifts in Him? “Nothing will be impossible for you,” He promises in Matthew 17:20, and gives them the visual of a mountain throwing itself into the sea at their command. When His disciples bring Him word in Mark 9 of a man casting out demons in His name, Christ’s response is not to get irritated that the man is acting out of line, but rather to approve: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Go ahead, try all kinds of things in my Name, God seems to be saying. You’ll be blown away by what happens.
The Bible tells us in Genesis 2:19 – and this is a verse I smile over frequently – that God permitted Adam to name the animals “to see what he would name them.” In the earliest stages of His relationship with man, God seems to enjoy man’s creativity, likes to give him the space of freedom to play, to experiment, to step forward.
All too often I suspect our faith is bound by the laws of logic – if not the logic of reason, then our own peculiar logic of how things are and how the universe should be. Or even by the logic of what our churches say “proper” ministry should look like. We are often restrained to do only what is proper, traditional, and tried, tested, and true. But God joys and glories in what we can do when we are unleashed. Within the guidelines He’s set for us, we have an unlimited amount of say in how we serve, who we serve, what we give, how we minister, what we offer.
Isn’t that cool?
Vacation Bible School is a good example of this. It used to be a pretty standard ministry to children – in some places, it still is. But in our modern era it also doesn’t work the way that it always did before. Communities aren’t as small and parents have hectic schedules; some are reluctant to drop their kids off at churches with people they don’t know. The desire to keep traditional ministry “traditional” meant that the ministry was, in some locations, dying: in a lot of places where I grew up, the only attendees of VBS were kids from other churches!
So believers improvised. At one of my old churches they threw out the old VBS model and instead set up a series of “backyard camps” in various neighborhoods, which permitted them to reach local kids at the micro-level. Another church I know held a three-day event instead that worked as a mini-VBS bomb. The goal was to reach kids, not to maintain the same ministry model – and so the members of these churches got creative and got it done.
I believe God delights in our creativity. He is the Creator – the spirit of play and wonder and curiosity and experimentation that we have comes first from Him. And in Christ He gave us full reign to use that creativity to its utmost in whatever designs we set forward to accomplish in His name.
So don’t be hidebound by tradition. Don’t feel compelled to take part in only ministries that already exist or have been “proven.” Don’t feel like all that exists is all there is. If you get a wild idea – whether it’s for a ministry, or to serve a particular person, or to write something down and share it, or whatever – do it. Try it.
God is always willing to use your creativity to start something new and different.
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