They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other. But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”. (Acts 2:12-13)
The desire on the part of leaders to run services, programmes and events that people refer to as “amazing”, is understandable. After all, we serve an amazing God, so naturally we want our efforts to reflect that reality and evoke amazement among those who attend. Surely, it’s not wrong to strive for excellence that results in amazement, is it?
The simple answer is, “No”, but there are two temptations we must be careful to avoid.
The first temptation is to seek the “amazed” response, not for God’s glory, but for our own. In other words, it is easy to deceive ourselves into believing we want people to think God is amazing, whereas, in reality, our real desire is that we want people to think of us as amazing!
Keeping our motives pure is not easy, but help is found in these verses, because Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, tells us that the people were not just “amazed” but were “amazed and perplexed”!
Why were they perplexed? The answer is found in verses 7 and 8: “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages!” Galilee was a small and lowly region of Israel far from the bigger cities such as Jerusalem (see John 1:45-46 and John 7:52). In today’s lingo, we might have called them “country bumpkins!” What perplexed people, was that the amazing things they were seeing happen, were being done by unamazing people.
The lesson therefore is this: if we want people to be amazed by God, we must be willing to wholeheartedly embrace our own “unamazingness” and make it evident for all to see. Our goal is that people’s amazement is expressed as follows, “It can’t possibly be due to them… it must be God!”
The second temptation we face, is to rely on our own excellent programming and skill to evoke amazement leading to spiritual fruit. Yes, our hard work and skill may amaze people at some emotional level, but it will not necessarily produce any lasting spiritual fruit unless God is working through us and through our programmes.
True wonder amazement of the kind described in Acts 2, is not about professionalism or excellence. What amazed people, and ultimately led to three thousand conversions, was not human skill, but a perplexing sense that God was somehow at work.
When people are amazed at what we are presenting, they are likely to describe it as entertaining or exciting. When they are amazed at what God is doing, they are more likely to use words like powerful and profound.
More importantly, when God is at work, people are left feeling somewhat perplexed, as they reflect on the fact that the degree of impact upon them far outweighs the apparent quality of what was presented.
A good example is worship. A skillful worship leader and talented musicians may get people up and singing, clapping and even dancing, and these same people may later describe the worship experience as “amazing”.
Yet, when God is truly at work, people are amazed and perplexed by a sense of God’s presence, as they join in heartfelt worship to Him. The standard of the music and singing may not be considered excellent, but nonetheless, those present encounter a sense of something happening for which they have no human or logical explanation.
For some, it might be a deep joy bubbling up within them, while others describe it as a profound sense of peace or a sense of being loved. Many have found that tears begin to flow leaving them amazed and perplexed, saying things like, “I am not sure why I am even crying”.
If then, this sense of amazement is God’s work and not our own, do we have any part at all to play in it? Yes, we certainly do!
It is significant, I believe, that Pentecost occurs after a time of heartfelt prayer, for here is the key to Holy Spirit-inspired amazement: faithful prayer that produces the unmistakable presence of God when people meet together.
Again, it is good to strive for excellence – God deserves our very best. Yet our faith that God will change hearts should never be in our own ability, but in God and His tendency to do His most effective work through people who are aware of their own weakness.
Is it possible that a church that tries to be “amazing” through dependence on its own polish and performance, ironically undermines the very sense of amazement God desires to instill in those present?
Reflection and discussion
Share any experiences you have had in church or amongst believers, that produced a sense of spiritual amazement or wonder in you. To what extent were such experiences due to “excellence”?
There has been a move among churches and ministries in the past to be “seeker-sensitive” by altering what they do to make it more understandable and relevant to the unbeliever. Is this ever justified? Explain.
What priority does prayer take in your preparation for meeting together, compared with your planning and practice?
If God withdrew His presence from your gatherings, what difference might you notice?
What do you sense God saying to you? What changes are needed to make your church or ministry one that inspires “amazement”?