Learn from the "Nobodies"
- Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
- Published Nov 16, 2006
The following is a report on the practical applications of Jim Palmer's new book, Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God (and the Unlikely People Who Help You), (W Publishing Group, 2006).
You might expect to learn spiritual wisdom from a pastor, a speaker, an author, or a ministry leader – all “somebodies” in the church. But did you know that you’re just as likely to discover profound truths about God from “nobodies” like a disabled girl, a tire salesman, a waitress, and a hip-hop musician?
Here’s how you can look beyond organized religion to let spiritual nobodies teach you more about God:
* Recognize that God works in extraordinary ways through ordinary people. Know that God doesn’t need a person to be brilliant, famous, wealthy, or beautiful to use that person in significant ways. Realize that it’s not necessary to accomplish something spectacular to make a powerful impact for the better. Understand that some of your greatest epiphanies may happen when encountering ordinary people in ordinary places, like a park or grocery store. Be aware that God reveals some of His deepest mysteries off the beaten path of organized religion. Ask God to help you notice Him at work all around you.
* Learn from a jazz drummer: Don’t be afraid of moving beyond the predictable. Know that you can’t control God, predict Him, or reduce Him to Someone who simply makes you feel comfortable. Let go of your planned agendas and make time to listen for God to speak to you however He chooses. Understand that getting to know God is more of an art than a science. Give up the idea of using a formula to approach God. Instead, simply spend time with Him and seek to grow from your encounters. Embrace mysteries and expect surprises. Trust God enough to allow your spiritual journey to go wherever He leads you, even if you don’t know where it is until you get there.
* Learn from a hip-hop artist. Be honest about your thoughts and feelings when you’re struggling. Realize that God knows them anyway and wants you to express them rather than hiding behind a façade of perpetual happiness, as too many church people do. Don’t settle for shallow or simplistic conversations or pursuits. Don’t rush to judge and condemn people. Instead, be willing to accept and try to understand people as they are, even when they’re angry, hurting, and broken. Know that Jesus loves people just as they are, and as one of His representatives on Earth, He wants you to do the same. Realize that you can’t truly get to know people simply by their appearance; make time to build genuine friendships with them. Listen as people pour out their desperation, remembering that doing so is an important part of honestly seeking God and the hope He offers. Don’t be afraid of people who speak their mind, cast off rules, confront hypocrisy, upset the status quo, and don’t care what other people think of them. Understand that God may actually be using them to get your attention and motivate you to think about something important. Remember that your own sins aren’t any worse than someone whose sins are more obvious. For example, pride is just as bad as cursing. Know that people in rebellion are passionate, and that God can transform that passion into something good by directing it the right way. Stop caring about your image or reputation and feel free to be yourself, knowing that God can handle any messiness in your life and use it to accomplish good purposes.
* Learn from a waitress. Recognize that all work God leads you to do has great value, whether or not society views that work as prestigious. If you’re doing mundane work that seems unfulfilling, remember that God will honor your efforts to serve faithfully at whatever task you undertake. Know that sharing God’s love with people you encounter in your secular workplace is just as much a ministry as what professional clergy do on the job. Let your experiences help you build meaningful relationships with others through the wear and tear of real life. Pay attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to reach out to certain people in certain ways as He leads you. Know that God will use even small acts of kindness to bring great encouragement.
* Learn from a disabled person. Understand that God would still love you just as much even if you couldn’t do anything for Him, like teach others Scripture or serve someone in need. Rest in the fact that your value is not contingent on what you do; God loves you simply because of who you are – His child. Stop striving to earn God’s love and know that He is already pleased with you. Trust God to always care for you. Depend on Him to give you what you need and desire most. Receive His love with a grateful heart.
* Learn from children. Don’t be afraid of mysteries. Instead, open yourself up to them, knowing that they will help you discover more about God. Look beyond mere rational knowledge to a greater reality that is too powerful to be contained and analyzed. Understand that you can learn about God beyond the boundaries of traditional religion. Be alert to how He is speaking to you through all of your experiences. Do more than simply try to follow moral principles; seek to actually connect to God as you worship. Ask God to renew your sense of wonder at how He works and your sense of joy as you experience Him at work in your life.
* Learn from a dog. Just as a dog is a trusted companion willing to sit with you no matter what, you can count on Jesus to be there for you. Know that Jesus is with you in every circumstance, loyally seeing, listening, caring, and hurting with you and for you as you go through tough situations. Trust Him to sustain you.
* Learn from a mechanic. View every opportunity you have to help someone with a physical or material need as a chance to help that person with a spiritual need. As you work to fix a problem or perform an act of kindness for someone, let God’s love flow through you so the person will see Jesus at work as you interact with him or her. Try to make Jesus known through the everyday flow of your relationships. Care for all people, just as He does, and give your best to each of them. Remember that God isn’t just at church; He is present everywhere. Know that secular work done in the power of His love is just as powerful as formal ministry work.
* Learn from a homosexual. Acknowledge that you can’t overcome a challenge without God’s help, and that there’s no quick and easy formula for healing. Understand that when you’re engaged in a tough struggle, you need more than just behavior modification – you need complete transformation (that only God can give you). Be patient with yourself as you go through the healing process. Rest assured that even though you’re not yet completely whole and free, God still loves you completely. Stop trying to find ultimate fulfillment in other places and accept and embrace the unconditional love God is offering you. Don’t worry about trying to meet unrealistic conditions or time limits that other people place on you for completing the healing process. Know that God will keep patiently working to transform you as long as you trust Him.
* Learn from a young daughter. Don’t let your faith stay in your head as simply an intellectual pursuit. Do more than just choosing to believe. Let your faith travel down to your heart by engaging your emotions in your relationship with God. Be open, free, spontaneous, and unpretentious as you pray. Don’t keep yourself so busy with religious activities that you don’t have the time or energy to truly connect with God Himself.
* Learn from a widower. Whenever people you know experience a tragic loss, don’t try to rescue them. Instead, simply come alongside to share their burdens. Even if no particular flash of insight comes to mind when you’re trying to think of something appropriate to say, know that just being available to be present and listen helps tremendously. Rather than trying to meet people’s deepest needs yourself, point them to Jesus, who is truly able to meet them. Understand that God is not offended by human doubt and fear; feel free to express all your thoughts and feelings to Him. Trust God to bring something good out of even the worst situations.
* Learn from a liberal. Recognize that God doesn’t want you to see people in terms of “us” and “them.” Instead of viewing people as conservatives and liberals, see them simply as people God made and loves. Don’t label people and make assumptions about them without truly getting to know them. Realize that you share a stake in the same issues with people who disagree with you politically. Rather than arguing with each other, seek to learn from each other. Join them in your common concerns, working together to come up with solutions to the world’s needs.
* Learn from a former child prostitute. Know that God grieves as He watches injustice that takes place on Earth. Understand that God hates to see humans mistreat each other, but He has given us free will because it was the only loving thing to do when creating us. Don’t turn away from injustice; do something about it. Remember that God is counting on Christians to reach out to a hurting world and change it for the better. Take that responsibility seriously. Ask God to break your heart with the things that break His heart. Realize that Christianity is far more than just a self-help philosophy. Stop thinking in terms of what God can do for you, and start thinking of what He can do through you to help others. Refuse to tolerate injustice and take action against it every day.
* Learn from a pastor and priest who’ve left their denominations. Realize that what denomination you belong to doesn’t matter to God; what He cares about is whether or not you have a close relationship with Jesus. Don’t haggle with Christians from other denominations. Recognize that they are your spiritual brothers and sisters. Decide to live in love with them. Instead of criticizing them, learn from them to enrich your own spiritual journey. Appreciate how the different ways they worship make God’s kingdom more diverse and beautiful. Understand that what matters is not so much what you do, but why you do it. Rather than worrying about your worship style, focus on the state of your heart when you worship.
* Learn from an abandoned boy. Understand that the people who have hurt you are also wounded themselves. Consider that they may have wanted to love you, but simply couldn’t because they needed healing. Don’t let bitterness over what you’ve suffered poison your heart and block your intimacy with God. Instead, rely on God’s help to forgive those who’ve hurt you. Know that Jesus has forgiven them, so you must also forgive them. Don’t depend on your own limited strength as you try to heal. Rely on God’s unlimited strength to discover the freedom you need to find peace and walk confidently into your future.
* Learn from a tire salesman. Don’t become so preoccupied with grand pursuits that you miss seeing people whom God wants you to help every day. Rather than focusing on trying to do something spectacular for God, simply focus on sharing His spectacular love in ordinary situations. Ask God to help you notice people He wants you to help. Allow people in need to interrupt your plans, and do your best to serve them as they bring real needs to you. Know that helping with even32 small needs makes a huge difference in people’s lives.
Adapted from Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God (and the Unlikely People Who Help You), copyright 2006 by Jim Palmer. Published by W Publishing Group, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Jim Palmer founded and currently leads the Pilgrimage Project, an emerging church in Nashville, Tennessee. His background includes inner-city service and international human rights work. He has a M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He and his wife, Pam, live in Nashville, Tennessee, with their daughter, Jessica.