Perhaps the most fitting compliment to give to Friday’s Saddleback Church, Rwanda Prayer breakfast, led by the Church’s founder Rich Warren, and his designated successor, Andy Wood, is that even non-believers could have related the sermon to their lives.
If the service, attended by Rwanda’s first lady, as the guest of honour, had a theme, it was to surrender all you have and all you are, to God, and allow him to work his miracles through him. Not a message with which any atheist would identify, and yet both pastors managed to deliver a message that had relevance to believer and non-believer alike.
God’s call to Moses served as the example of how, if you surrender all you have and all you are, and say to God “use me” as Pastor Warren put it, then God takes all you have put in his hands, from yours, and returns it all to you, imbued with his miracles.
As a shepherd, the soon to be prophet Moses, valued his flock as his source of livelihood. Even without his flock, he could be identified by his shepherd’s staff, which he always had to hand. When God directed him to leave his flock and throw down his staff, he was asking Moses to put his identity, any power or influence, and all that he had, in God’s hands.
For anyone who believes in the divine, almost everyone at the prayer meeting, the idea of putting their lives in God’s hands, will have come naturally. They may not however, have considered the added meaning, or interpretation they were hearing, from the Saddleback Church leaders. They may not have thought to ask of themselves, what, as Rick Warren asked them, is in your hand, what is your identity, what is your influence, your income, and are you ready to surrender it to God?
“If you will surrender it to God, if you will lay it down, submit it to God, submission, God will do amazing things with your life” he said.
“I’ve had the privilege of visiting 165 nations, and training over a million Christian pastors, around the world, in about forty-five years. I would never have imagined that as a teenager” he added, “I would never have guessed that one day, I would get to speak to leaders of Rwanda, and be a good friend of Paul and Jeanette Kagame, and all the things that have happened in my life, I would never imagined, but I one day, said two words to God, ‘use me.’”
It was a sermon as relay, with Rick Warren passing the baton on to Andy Wood, his designated successor in the leadership of Saddleback Church.
Wood spoke of his feelings in his first visit to Rwanda. “To see what God has done in your nation, to see over the last thirty years, and hear the stories…I had the privilege of going to the genocide memorial, and just hearing stories, and seeing the forgiveness in your hearts, as a people. I know that God is so incredibly pleased.”
“You know part of what I believe in anointing and favour from God, is that if you want the favour from God in your life, you have to live in a way that God blesses, and one of the things that God blesses more than anything else, is a heart of forgiveness. The kind of heart that looks into the eyes of someone who has harmed you, and says, ‘because of the grace and mercy I’ve been shown, I forgive you’”.
“Matthew 5:9…blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall become sons and daughters of God. And this is a nation of peace makers, you are now called sons and daughters of God. I believe this is a nation that is blessed by the hand of God, because of your forgiveness, and the biblical values that are ingrained in what God has done…”
And It was Wood, whose words would resonate with the non-believer, as with the faithful.
How do you respond to your real or perceived limitations? When should you, or should you not, throw in the towel, when confronted with seemingly insurmountable difficulties?
Wood draws on the example of the New Testament story of the feeding of the five thousand, when, exhausted, the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away, because of the late hour, and because they had no way of feeding them.
In their limitation, says Wood, “the disciples are about to push away one of the greatest miracles in the New Testament. And so often in our lives when we find ourselves in a place of limitation, a place where we are squeezed, a place where our capacity, our experience, our wisdom is not enough, our tendency often to try to get out that uncomfortable circumstance, to get out of that pressure, to get out of that place where our limitation is exposed, and often times in doing so, we almost miss God’s greatest miracles in our lives…”
For the non-bible readers, when the disciples suggest to Jesus that he send the crowd away, so people can go to the nearest towns and villages, to find something to eat, Jesus’s response is, “you feed them…” The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, is recorded. Before that however, the disciples are thrown a challenge by Jesus, exposing their limitations.
“Limitation is an invitation from God. God never exposes your limitation to shame you, God always exposes your limitation, as an invitation…it’s an invitation to trust…”
“Amazing, inspirational messages,” is how the First Lady described the two pastors’ sermons, in her guest of honour remarks, closing the meeting.
“Mine must be a message of gratitude for incredible service, Pastor Rick, and a very warm welcome to Pastor Andy. To our dear friend Pastor Rick, you have been a loyal and treasured friend, over the years, and stood with us, through trials and triumphs, through challenges and victories. I am certain that you are as proud of our progress as we are.”
“Pastor Rick Warren is not just a man of God” she continued, “he is a man of action, he is a man of commitment, of fairness, of empathy, of peace. Thank you, Pastor Rick, for believing in Rwanda, even when it was unpopular to do so. Despite the darkness that made our history, you saw the light in our determination to overcome. I am certain when I say that our progress as a nation is a victory for you too. You have loved this country faithfully, and be assured that this country loves you back.”