The human mind is weird. Perhaps, more dignified, I should say that the human mind is mysterious. Frankly, we understand only a fraction about that thing with which we understand everything else. Shortly after I awoke this morning, my own mind recalled images of something I have only seen once in my lifetime, and I wanted to tell you about it. Today I share something a little odd, but also rich with meaning, that I witnessed among the believers in Tanzania on my trip there a few years ago when we gathered together for the training of East African pastors and church leaders.
African churches have ushers just like American churches. Ushers in America are typically tasked with passing things out when believers gather together, and also collecting things in those same gatherings. Usually ushers are the ones who ensure that guests are seated, space in our auditoriums are properly utilized, and financial offerings for God’s work are collected and placed where they belong until appointed people process and deposit those offerings. I’m unsure if African ushers do all of these same things, but I witnessed a task assigned to them that is not assigned in any American churches that I am personally aware of.
African ushers carry sticks.
These sticks were not uniformly molded, well sanded and aesthetically appealing sticks. These men and women carried sticks that looked like they were picked up as they walked through the fields to come to the place of gathering. While preaching one day during the training, I noticed that a few of the congregants were having difficulty staying awake during the session after lunch – this happens at any conference I have ever attended as lunches and lectures are a lethal combination to human alertness. To my amazement, one of the ushers, with the eye of an eagle, spotted a few of these nappers and walked over and poked them in the arm or in the side with the stick he brought. The slumbering saint immediately straightened up, back from the dead, fully alert, and reengaged in the learning of the biblical text alongside his fellow attendees. The poked pastors said not one word of protest about being jabbed with the business end of a two-feet-long branch from an umbrella tree. There was no awkwardness in the outdoor pavilion around what had just occurred. No snickering, no judgmental looks from those who had kept their own eyes opened. There was a natural flow to the process as the Minister of Poking kept patrolling the congregation, looking for others who needed a little Kingdom prodding. For the remainder of the week I was keenly aware of men and women standing in the middle aisle between chairs or observing from a position on the sidelines… and they all had stick in hand, looking for someone to rescue from missing out on God’s work. A little poke did the trick each time and the unpoked people never seemed to notice. The pokee was not laughed at or even embarrassed. He just woke up and got back in the meeting with us. This was a cultural phenomenon for sure as I have never seen it in U.S. churches, in Europe, the Caribbean or in Central America where I have attended services over the years. The Ministers of Poking. I think I like the idea.
“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” – Romans 13:11
God loves us too much to let us slumber our usefulness away. He has created you for lasting significance and has left each of us here for a purpose. I squandered the first 24 years of my life, swatting God’s poking stick away so I could continue my life-nap. The pokes became more frequent and more intense. At the time it felt more like trouble than rescue, but now I see Him in the memory of those African ushers. God wants us to rest in His Son for sure, but He does not ordain that we nap through life as if there were no current opportunities and expectations. I would venture to suggest that He has been poking some of you for a while with His stick of circumstance. Perhaps while you have been blaming the devil for some of the pains and provocation in your life it would be good for you to consider that God is walking up and down the aisles of your life… and poking you Himself.
He wants you to see what He is showing.
He wants you to truly hear what He says.
He wants you to receive what He offers.
He wants you to forsake what He has prohibited.
He wants you to engage where He is blessing.
So God pokes you.
But we like to snooze. So for us, there is a season of poking needed. When we are roused we will be very grateful that He interrupted our slumber. Wake up, friends. Time is short. When He pokes you, sharpen up lest you miss the great thing He is bringing. His stick is actually two – two timbers – one vertical and one horizontal. God pokes us with the Cross of Christ and says, “Awaken, child. This was given to you. It will keep you from sleeping away your appointed days.”