Be an ExampleBy Nathan Mates
As the sovereign God, he has the ability, and right to pull us out of this world and into heaven the moment we're saved. God could also have us skip the entire death and dying process, as Enoch [Genesis 5:24] and Elijah [2 Kings 2:11] did. But, for the rest of us, our lives are far more ordinary.
What's the reason for all of this? Quite simply, I believe God wants us to be examples to the rest of the world of our beliefs, our faith, our transformed lives. God could use suddenly-empty sneakers as a witnessing tool, but for the rest of us, we're grateful for those who witnessed to us over the years. In turn, we're to be witnessing to others around us, be they family members, coworkers, classmates, or people we meet on the street.
Even when we think we're not being watched, or observed closely, nonbelievers are checking us out to see if our deeds match up with our testimony. Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, said to do just that: "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." [Matthew 5:16] So, in following Jesus's words, we are to be an example to nonbelievers.
Even within the Church, I believe that we are to be an example, and also look up to others as an example. The most obvious case of that is being a disciple or a discipler-- a one-on-one set of meetings where lives are invested in, where one learn from the other's example. Jesus, once again, provides the model here: of the thousands whom he spoke to, he chose 12 to be disciples, and from those twelve, he chose three (Peter, James and John) to be even closer to.
But, more than such formal exampleship, all of us are being watched, and also watching others in the church. New believers and visitors to the church will watch people, and especially the pastor. It's only natural to want to see if the pastor is worth following, whether the worship leader is more than simply on key. To the more discerning visitor, looking to see how many people brought bibles, checking how everyone fellowships, and more is also done.
So, for every visitor in the audience, we're an example and representative of our church. But, even in to those who we've been around for years, we're an example of Christianity. Those who worship well are an example of how to worship. Those who pray well out loud are an example of how to pray. Those who have much faith are an example of that as well.
The apostle Paul, in the midst of his passage on preferring public prayers not in tongues notes this: "So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?" [1 Corinthians 14:15-16]
Paul's words reinforce this very concept: that since we are an example as we pray publicly, we should be an understandable example. The new believer, even though they may stumble over their words, can still tag along with prayers of others that they hear. It is also good to worship in the local tongue so that others may follow along.
Note that Paul here is not taking the strict line that prayer should only be done alone as Jesus seems to say in Matthew 6:5-8. Jesus is cautioning against hypocrisy and wrong motivations during prayer-- and that your prayer time done with only God should be even more plentiful, even more intimate, even more desirable than public prayer.
More of the pragmatist, Paul acknowledges that public prayer will happen-- and that he'll participate it. In advice to Timothy, Paul encourages prayer without any cautions to keep it private-- " I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing." [1 Timothy 2:8, see also 2:1.] Paul follows the example of the apostles and the early church, where Luke records many examples of prayer in small to larger groups.
Even today, I can name many people in my life (not just at my current church, but also those I've known elsewhere) that I look up to in terms of Bible knowledge, wisdom, worship, prayer, evangelism, service, reading these writings, and many other areas. They are an example to me. I hope that in some areas I'm an example to others. Over the next days and weeks, consider who you're an example to, and pray that they will continue to be blessed by your example. And, thank God for those examples you look up to and pray for them as well.