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Discovering God's Transformational Power
By CHARLOTTE GAMBILL
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Charlotte Gambill
All rights reserved.
TIME FOR THINGS TO TURN?
"SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?" CAME THE QUESTION FROM MY pregnant friend and her husband as we stood together on a wet, bleak hill in the English countryside. Shivering and trying to avoid being blown away by the relentless, gale-force winds, my husband and I took in the full scale of the project our friends were embarking upon. In front of us was an old, tumbledown barn with a sagging roof, rotting wooden doors, and no windows. This was not quite what my husband and I had in mind when our friends invited us to come see the "new house" they had just bought.
The barn had been weathered by storms, neglected, and vandalized. Over many years, it had stood derelict. But our friends had decided this was the perfect place to build their first home, where they would raise their soon-to-arrive baby.
"I'm not sure what to think," I responded nervously.
"Can't you see it?" they implored. They went on to describe a lovely family farmhouse with a large kitchen and living room and a nursery with a view. They explained how the house they envisioned in their hearts would be soon situated on this barren land.
Several years later, I sat in what is now a stunning farmhouse and ate in the large kitchen while taking in those breathtaking views. My friends' dream and dedication transformed that bleak hillside into a beautiful home.
Today I pose the same question to you: "What do you think?" You may not be standing on a barren hillside looking at a broken-down barn, but wherever you are in your life you find your own equivalent to that derelict building. Some of you may be experiencing brokenness in your relationships, a marriage that is struggling to survive, or a fragmented friendship that seems beyond repair. Others of you may be confronting addictions that have ravaged your loved ones or coming to terms with the loss of something or someone you held dear. Still others may be facing your once-robust business that is now failing. Daily we each awaken to our own equivalent of that broken-down barn, and daily we have to decide how to respond to the desolation we see.
Every day, you have to determine in your own heart, "What do I think?" What do you say in your spirit when you see the effects of the harsh storms of life? What is your conclusion when you look at our broken communities? How do you respond to the hardship and hostility on your streets? And how can you help transform the places you go to and help the people you meet?
I believe God is asking all of us the same question: What do you think? What are you saying and doing about the devastations you face? God has already envisioned the beautiful home He wants to build, the kingdom He will establish. God does not look at your desolation with doubt or at your ruins with timidity. He is your Creator God, the God of all sufficiency and grace.
He is the God who doesn't do slight improvements but who can completely turn things around.
In the beginning, God entered the darkness and displayed His turnaround nature. He spoke words that turned darkness into light and filled the emptiness with fruitfulness. His power brought order into the chaos. Our Creator God turned the dust of the earth into breathtaking birds of the air and into beasts of the field. He turned Adam's rib into his helpmate, Eve (Genesis 2:19–22). God revealed Himself as humanity's turnaround God—and ever since that moment, the enemy has sought to turn back what God has destined to turn around. From his first approach in the garden to Adam and Eve, the enemy came to manipulate and try to reverse God's turn. Sin entered and sought to stop every broken life being restored and every lost soul being found.
The enemy came to steal, kill, and destroy what God came to heal, find, and restore (John 10:10). God's turnaround power came in the form of His Son, who demonstrated once and for all that there is nothing God cannot turn around. No death, no curse, no enemy can hold back God's turnaround power. The cross of Jesus Christ became the turning point for all humanity to receive their Savior. Christ took every bondage, sickness, and sin—and He paid the price to turn it around. He experienced death in order to attain life and freedom for us. God gave us the gift of a Savior who would reside within our lives. He took our lost eternity and gave us the choice to turn to Him and receive eternal life.
We are now the custodians of that same turnaround power. As God's people, His Spirit rests within us. We are commissioned to work with Him to turn our world around, to speak into the darkness and bring forth His light, and to find those who are bound and bring them His gift of freedom. We have been given authority to turn around injustice with His justice and hopelessness with His hope. Yet often, we allow our doubts to question this power and let our fears contain this freedom.
We cannot allow our circumstances to compromise what Christ paid the highest price to attain. We must awaken our hearts, stir up our faith, and begin to look again at the places God has positioned us in. We need to see with new eyes the possibilities that our turnaround God can create in the places where no one else sees potential. We must seek to be the ones who bring answers where others only see problems. We need to shake off the complacency that can so quickly enter our hearts, causing us to settle for less than His Word promises.
There is so much more for your life to embrace, so many breakthroughs for you to play your part in. We need a greater revelation of Whose we are, and in that understanding, we can grow a greater confidence of what He has called us to do.
For most of my life, I have lived in the same city in England. Although surrounded by stunning countryside, the city where we are building our church and ministry is one of the most deprived and neediest parts of our country. Our city has become famous for all the wrong reasons: escalating crime rates, one of the highest-ranked cities in Europe for child poverty, and violent racial riots that have been watched in horror on global news networks. I would be lying if I said I have always loved living in my city. The truth is that on more than one occasion, I have asked God to relocate me somewhere less desolate and desperate.
I remember as a young girl going forward to many altar calls declaring, "Here I am, Lord; send me!" Yet my apparent willingness to be sent was tempered by a less apparent agenda of the places I would be willing to be sent to—and my hometown wasn't one of them. However, the greatest turnarounds always start from within our own hearts and lives. God tested me on many occasions in my willingness to stay where I was planted. Instead of looking for a way out, would I believe in a God who could turn things around?
When I married my husband, Steve, who happens to be American, he was living in the beautiful state of Washington. With its impressive mountain range and cascading waters, it presented stunning scenery year-round, from sweltering summers to snowy winters. I thought God had finally granted me my escape route. I would relocate not only cities but nations!
Yet God did not move me geographically; He moved me spiritually. Instead of giving me a great escape, He gave me a great turnaround partner in my husband, who felt God ask him to leave his idyllic backdrop and relocate with me to my needy city, which we now both call home. God began to show us the life He wanted us to build on this desolate hillside, the barrenness He wanted to fill with life, and the forgotten people toward whom He wanted to extend His love and kindness.
Our world needs to know the power of our turnaround God. But before it can experience this, we as God's people have to be able to visualize and articulate it. Going back to our friends on the bleak hillside ... before I could get excited about their dream home, I had to be able to see what they could see. At first, I was focused on their risky investment, while they were enjoying the potential profit for their future. I was worried about the safety of their new baby, while they were dreaming of the space this would provide their expanding family. We were both looking at the same hillside but seeing and speaking out two very different conclusions.
So often it can be this way with our perspective and God's. While God is envisioning the "more than," we are focusing on the "less than." While He has seen the breakthrough, we are trying to decide if we will make it through.
Most Christians would say amen to scriptures that speak of God's turnaround nature. We want to follow a God who can make the unlivable places livable again, who can bring prosperity to the land and restore it to its former glory (Isaiah 58:12). While we love to speak of God and His incredible power, and we may say amen and even teach the lessons, that does not necessarily mean we really believe it. It's only when we start to act on what we amen that we begin to discover how certain we are of God's turnaround ability.
It was easy for me to say "go for it" to my friends' new building project because after I had said it, I could walk away from the actual responsibility of the project. The real test comes when you are the one who has to sign the contract for the land and dig up the earth, not knowing what you may find, and financially commit long-term to the investment. This is when the turnaround God is not just someone you have heard about but someone you are completely dependent upon. The depth of our understanding of our turnaround God often makes the difference between starting and completing. If we go into the desolate places to bring change only on the strength of a message we once heard, then when the desolation heightens, our commitment weakens.
As a pastor, I have seen many people commit to bring change because they were excited by the testimonies they heard. But sadly, on too many occasions, their commitment was cut short when their anticipated breakthrough didn't come quickly enough and the turnaround turned out to be harder than the "amen" in the service had led them to believe. Turnarounds don't happen overnight. God can give us one suddenly, but He also does slowly. He is committed to staying with the turn until it completely turns around, but He needs people who will commit to the process.
I remember our friends midproject, with the house going over budget and demanding overtime, and the baby coming sooner than planned. With no place to call home, the tension in their world mounted, and many people who had encouraged them to go for it now became critics, stating that they had taken on too much too soon. However, I remember how their clear vision silenced the panic during the hardest parts of their turn. They had the picture of their home in their hearts and looked at it regularly so that their temporary inconvenience wouldn't speak louder than their permanent gain.
This is one of the reasons I wanted to write this book. I have seen too many half-built homes, abandoned dreams, and unfinished projects. We embark into the desolate places with initial excitement. But if our understanding of God is limited and we do not find a deeper revelation of God's turnaround capacity, our excitement will wane. And when desolation shouts, we may be tempted to reduce our commitment, downsize our projects, and doubt the possibilities.
We need to understand our turnaround God because He speaks from a turnaround perspective. He may ask for actions that make no apparent sense to where we are currently living but make total sense for where we will be going. Have you ever felt God ask you to do something that seemed to make no sense? Maybe He asked you to sow financial seed when you were in a financial crisis. Perhaps He asked you to take on a new business venture when you were already stretched with your current business. Or God asked you as a parent to include more people into your already overstretched family. At times, God's counsel can seem insensitive or out of touch, so we misunderstand or even reject what we hear from God.
I remember the day my husband, Steve, and I went to what we thought was a regular doctor's appointment. We had gone to receive news of our recent test results. We entered the room laughing and chatting with the doctor to find ourselves only moments later sitting in complete silence at the news we had just received. My test had shown that I might not be able to conceive a child. Reeling from the casually delivered news, Steve and I left the office with our world now rocked and our faith about to be tested. During the next few months, we experienced a variety of emotions as we tried to seek God in this situation.
Then one day amid our tears we sensed God asking us to do something that seemed ridiculous. We felt God instruct us to throw baby showers for other people in our church who were pregnant; some of the people we barely even knew. I didn't feel like celebrating what I had been told I couldn't have, but I had to come to the realization that God was not being cruel to me. He was asking if I believed that He could turn anything around. If I did, then did that include my barrenness? Though I was unsure how God would bring about our miracle, I first had to start acting as if I believed God could provide a miracle. In my disappointment I had closed down every avenue for God's provision. I had closed my heart to the many ways in which this barrenness in my life could be removed. Therefore, I needed to start acting in accordance with my future and not my present.
This experience brought a new realization of why God would say in Isaiah 54:1, "Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband." In this verse, God required an action that would begin the turning. By singing and shouting for joy, the barren woman was lining up with the promise and moving away from the problem. While you are singing, you can't be complaining, questioning, or moaning. God wanted the barren woman to hear a different sound. God wants all His people to sing in the struggle because they know barrenness is not the end but just the starting point of their turns.
Jesus loved people. Yet if you always want His love to be expressed within your own personal levels of your sensitivity, you may feel let down. Jesus was criticized in the way He performed miracles, the days on which He would carry them out, and to whom He would extend them. The Bible is full of stories where God's answers seemed insensitive, where a prophet's behavior looked more crazy than sane, and where Jesus' ministry seemed careless and wasteful. One time, a prophet asked an influential ruler to wash in a dirty river, an instruction that was both disrespectful and insensitive to the ruler's position in the community (2 Kings 5). The prophet Elisha instructed a woman with nothing to go and find more emptiness that she would be required to fill (2 Kings 4). God told a starving widow who was about to use her last handful of f lour and oil to feed her son a last meal to take those ingredients and feed a hungry prophet instead (1 Kings 17). Turnarounds by nature are radical; they bypass nice and sensible, they freak out the orderly, and they do not line up with agendas. But turnarounds reveal our miraculous Savior to our messed-up world.
Isaiah 54 continues to unfold God's counsel as He instructs the desolate to enlarge, stretch, expand, and advance (v. 2). God wants not merely a slight improvement for His people but a complete turnaround. We have to be careful that we don't downsize God's ability and become satisfied too easily.
I know how tempting it can be to take a small success as the ceiling for what God wants to do. We are grateful for the two or three we have reached, but we can't allow that to become the capacity level at which we settle when God has the nations in His heart. We say size doesn't matter, but actually it does because we should be seeing people added to His church daily. We have to be careful not to downsize the Great Commission to one that is more manageable.
Excerpted from TURNAROUND GOD by CHARLOTTE GAMBILL. Copyright © 2013 Charlotte Gambill. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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