Years ago, when I was a young pastor in my twenties, the Lord used me to start a new outreach church within a community devoid of healthy churches. Most of the people who came to our outreach ministry had little or no church background. What church experience community members had, they disliked passionately. As a result, I made it a point to promote Christ rather than our church. In my sermons and many conversations, I tried to work-in a key-phrase to emphasize my perspective: “There is a real God working in our real lives”. I was surprised, however, by the negative responses I often received. Many people did not recognize God’s work in their lives. To them, God was distant, abstract, and seemed to lack consideration of their personal needs or concerns. I realized that many people in my congregation did not perceive Jesus Christ as alive, real, and personally involved within their lives…this troubled me deeply. I did not know it at the time, but God was about to reveal himself as very real and very involved within the lives of our congregation…but it would take the power of a simple flower to enable us to acknowledge God’s gracious faithfulness.
As I wrestled over how my church members could be helped to perceive Jesus as “a real God at work in their real lives”, the Lord impressed upon me two different biblical lessons:
- People are naturally forgetful and need help remembering – People today are no different than the people if Israel, as soon as God did a great work among them, they would forget and begin to once again complain. Psalm 106: 21 states, “They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt….”
- Our highly programmed church services don’t often allow people to publically encourage one another with prayers and praises of how God is working in our daily lives – The Psalms exhort God’s people to sing to one another “new songs”; new songs are songs of praise for how God is actively working in our lives. Psalm 40: 3 states: “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord”.
I shared my concerns and insights with my church board and we began to brainstorm how we might create a church culture that would help the congregation see God as real and active in their lives, encourage people to share their “new songs” with the congregation, and keep people from forgetting how God had worked in our lives. The result was the Flower Power strategy.
Our church purchased a giant grapevine wreath with nothing on it and hung the wreath in a highly visible part of the worship center. Below the wreath, we positioned baskets filled with silk flowers and blank tags. Every week I challenged the congregation that if they had a sincere prayer concern, they were to take one flower for each prayer concern, write the prayer concern and date on one side of the tag, and tie the tag to the flower. They would then take the flower home or to their office and keep it in a prominent place as a reminder of the concern they were bringing before God in prayer. Each week we also reminded the congregation that when God answered the prayer, they should write on the back of the tag how the prayer was answered, and the date it was answered.
At first, people would sheepishly come to me on Sunday mornings with their flower and quietly tell me how God had answered their prayer. I challenged them that God had given them a New Song testimony that was meant to be shared and encouraged them to share publically in the worship service. As people shared their testimonies and the congregation clapped and cheered at how God had worked, they would make their way down from the stage to the wreath and wrap their silk flower and tag into the grapevine wreath. It did not take long before our praise and thanksgiving celebration each Sunday revolved around these events and our wreath blossomed with New Song testimonies about how a real God was actively at work in our real lives. Our congregation emerged into a people who naturally encouraged one another regarding God’s faithfulness. Visitors to our church were drawn to the floral wreath and were in awe at what they discovered tied to each flower. Often, when I would become discouraged, I would find myself tearfully standing before the wreath reading the many stories of God’s faithfulness. The flowers included stories of how God had enabled people to move into their first homes, find the perfect job, and healed their marriages…there was not a single divorce during my five years serving this congregation, The flowers also included stories of how family or friends came to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, been delivered from alcohol or drug addictions, and even how individuals had been physically healed.
It’s amazing how a simple flower can so dramatically remind us of God’s power.