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How God Uses Ordinary People To Do The Unexpected

It has become a habit that God uses ordinary people to change the course of history. The Bible is filled with these examples.
god uses ordinary people
Listen to this devotional

Note:
This devotional is part of a series entitled “How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary: Lessons from the Book of Acts.”

I will never forget when I first saw the video of Dave Wottle winning the 800m in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

I was too young to watch the actual race when it happened but saw the video when I was in middle school. I loved running track and the 800m was my favorite race. 

Dave Wottle was 6 feet tall and weighed 146 pounds. He wore a now-iconic golf hat for his races. He looked so … ordinary. He was just a skinny 22-year-old kid from the very ordinary town of Canton, Ohio. 

But, he pulled off what is now known as arguably the greatest comeback in athletic history. He unexpectedly came from way behind in the 2 lap race, to overtake all of the runners and win the gold medal.

I love it when ordinary people do unexpected things. It helps me to believe that no matter how unremarkable I may feel, God can do something extraordinary with me.

Another example I’ll never forget is 5’7” Spud Webb winning the 1986 Slam Dunk Competition over Dominique Wilkins. All of us “shorter” people everywhere stood tall and proud.

It has become a habit that God uses ordinary people to change the course of history. The Bible is filled with these examples.

In fact, the entire book of Acts is a narrative of story after story of how God uses people to shape the world.

Now when the men of the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Court) saw the confidence and boldness of Peter and John, and grasped the fact that they were uneducated and untrained [ordinary] men, they were astounded, and began to recognize that they had been with Jesus. [14] And seeing the man who had been healed standing there with them, they had nothing to say in reply.

Acts 4:13-14 AMP

The established leaders were stunned at the boldness of the untrained, unqualified, and ordinary men Peter and John. Their only explanation for what they saw was that their time with Jesus had completely transformed them. 

Let’s just take a moment and go through a list of some of the unqualified and ordinary men and women God chose to work through to do the most unexpected things.

  1. Noah – He drank too much, but, God used him to build the ark to save the world. (Genesis 6-9)
  2. Abraham and Sarah – They were an old, washed-up couple who God used to build a nation. (Genesis 11-25)
  3. Joseph – He was an entitled teen who went through God’s classroom, training him to save both Egypt and Israel. (Genesis 37-50)
  4. Moses – He was a stutterer who was God’s spokesman and leader. (Exodus 3-4)
  5. Rahab – She was a prostitute who God used to help his spies and overtake Jericho. (Joshua 2)
  6. Jonah – He was the escapist who God brought back to save Nineveh. (Jonah 1-3)
  7. Esther – She was the adopted orphan who became Queen to save Israel. (Esther 1-8)
  8. Peter – He was the quitter who God brought back to start the Kingdom. (Matthew 26, John 21, Acts 1-2)
  9. Paul – He was the enemy who became the most prolific Christian in the New Testament. (Acts 7-9)

As you can see, there is literally nothing we can do to disqualify ourselves from being a candidate who God chooses to work through. This inspires me because I can so often feel like I have sinned too much, or missed my opportunity for God to work through me. 

Pick one or all of these characters and do your own Bible study on them to build your faith that God can work through you no matter what. 

Brothers and sisters, consider who you were when God called you to salvation. Not many of you were wise scholars by human standards, nor were many of you in positions of power. Not many of you were considered the elite when you answered God’s call. 

[27] But God chose those whom the world considers foolish to shame those who think they are wise, and God chose the puny and powerless to shame the high and mighty.

[28] He chose the lowly, the laughable in the world’s eyes—nobodies—so that he would shame the somebodies. For he chose what is regarded as insignificant in order to supersede what is regarded as prominent, 

[29] so that there would be no place for prideful boasting in God’s presence. [30] For it is not from man that we draw our life but from God as we are being joined to Jesus, the Anointed One.

And now he is our God-given wisdom, our virtue, our holiness, and our redemption. 

1 Corinthians 1:26-30 TPT

While there are no qualities or failings that disqualify us, there are some common “ingredients” we can find in the people God uses to do the extraordinary. As verse 30 describes, these qualities do not come from man and are not talents, but all are drawn from a close relationship with God. 

Here are 4 ingredients that come from God that enable him to use us to do the unexpected: 

Courage

Winston Churchill said that courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all of the others. Courage was the quality for which the first century Christians prayed. 

And now, Lord, take note of their intimidations intended to silence us. Grant us, Your servants, the courageous confidence we need to go ahead and proclaim Your message [30] while You reach out Your hand to heal people, enabling us to perform signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus. 

[31] They finished their prayer, and immediately the whole place where they had gathered began to shake. All the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began speaking God’s message with courageous confidence.

Acts 4:29-31 Voice

Too often I let fear and intimidation silence me.

I need, like the Christians in this passage, to pray for God to give me courageous confidence. While most of us are not facing what these early disciples were dealing with (imprisonment, beatings, and possible death), we can still be silenced by our fear of criticism, conflict, and responsibility. 

But, LORD, you are my shield, my wonderful God who gives me courage.

Psalm 3:3 NCV

What the New Testament Christians knew, and what we are reminded about in the Psalms, is that courage does not come from sheer willpower or fortitude, it comes from being close to God. 

My fears get the best of me because they stir up my emotions and then those emotions carry me away. I get focused on myself, on people, or on my circumstances – anything but focusing on God. Focusing on God and his power and love calms my emotions and fears and I am able to think clearly again. 

Focusing on God and his power and love calms my emotions and fears and I am able to think clearly again. 

However, the goal of courage is not just to be calm, but to take action. 

The New Testament Christians prayed for courage from God and then took action. They went out and spoke God’s message with courageous confidence.  

Reflection questions

  • Do you pray for courage from God?
  • What are some courageous actions you have been too afraid or discouraged to take on?

Willingness

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” [10] After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Acts 16:9-10 NIV

Once God communicated with Paul about the needs of the people in Macedonia, Paul immediately changed his plans. He was willing, flexible, and ready to meet whatever need God showed him. 

In a thorough reading of the book of Acts, it is clear that Paul and really all of the New Testament Christians understood that being a Christian was not all about them. It was not about their personal comfort, growth, or their own plans and agendas. 

Their enthusiasm and willingness to be used by God to accomplish his purpose led them to grow (Acts 5:12-16), sacrifice (Acts 5:32-37), take risks (Acts 11:19-21), and reach out (Acts 18:1-26). 

How about you? Have personal agendas, ambitions, and desire for comfort hijacked your willingness to live for God’s plans?

Have personal agendas, ambitions, and desire for comfort hijacked your willingness to live for God’s plans?

I have found that the older I get, the stronger the pull becomes to settle, and shape Christianity after my desires instead of God’s desires. I fight that temptation every day because I never want to lose my enthusiasm and passion to do something great for God. 

It is not enough to be coerced into sacrifice for the Kingdom of God. The New Testament Christians were energized by the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves. 

Reflection questions

  • How have you started to shape Christianity around your desires instead of God’s desires?
  • What can you do in your relationship with God to recapture your willingness to enthusiastically live for God’s purposes?

Teachability

Being teachable is all about cultivating a hunger to learn. Do you have a hunger to learn?

They found that the Jews of Berea were of more noble character and much more open-minded than those of Thessalonica. They were hungry to learn and eagerly received the word. 

Every day they opened the scrolls of Scripture to search and examine them, to verify that what Paul taught them was true. [12] A large number of Jews became believers in Jesus, along with quite a few influential Greek women and men.

Acts 17:10-12 TPT

The people who lived in Berea are described as being hungry to learn as they were open-minded and eagerly received God’s Word. When I was on the track team, our coaches would often refer to me and my teammates as either being coachable or uncoachable. They were evaluating our desire to get better, learn how to win, and our attitude toward taking input. 

When I was a freshman and a sophomore, I was less coachable because I thought I was already good enough. I didn’t always like how my coach talked to me, so I avoided hard conversations with him. 

As I grew into being an upperclassman, my desire to win also grew, and I knew I needed my coach’s help to improve. I didn’t care how he talked to me as long as he could help me get better. I was hungry to learn. 

My challenge now is to carry that hunger into spiritual pursuits. There is so much I don’t know, and there are so many areas in which I want to “win.” I want to be a better husband, and father, a more fruitful Christian, and more effective leader. No matter how young or old we are as a person or as a Christian, we must always cultivate a hunger to learn. 

Reflection questions

  • What areas do you need more spiritual input so you can grow?
  • Is your hunger to learn stronger now than it was at the beginning of the year?

A deep sense of purpose

The final ingredient of people God can use to do extraordinary things is a deep sense of purpose. 

Get up now, and stand upright on your feet. I have appeared to you for a reason. I am appointing you to serve Me. You are to tell My story and how you have now seen Me, and you are to continue to tell the story in the future. 

[17] I will rescue you from your Jewish opponents and from the outsiders—for it is to the outsiders I am sending you. [18] It will be your mission to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. 

This is so that they may receive forgiveness of all their sins and have a place among those who are set apart for a holy purpose through having faith in Me.” [19] King Agrippa, I did not disobey this vision from heaven. 

[20] I began in Damascus, then continued in Jerusalem, then throughout the Judean countryside, then among the outsiders—telling everyone they must turn from their past and toward God and align their deeds and way of life with this new direction.

Acts 26:16-20 Voice

As we read the passage above it is clear that Paul understood that God had him on this earth for a clear purpose. He had a life mission. He knew he was sent to people to open their eyes and to turn their hearts to God. 

No matter what he faced, Paul obeyed the vision he internalized from God. HIs vision drove his every decision, every move, and every relationship. Paul’s internal engine never stopped because he was convinced that God had a vision for him to fulfill. It was a vision beyond his own life, but one that would change the future. 

When we as Christians lose our sense of purpose and vision, our internal engine stalls. We don’t wake up with the same sense of destiny and enthusiasm, but rather can turn Christianity into an uninspiring set of rules we must follow. Paul was always ready to recall why God picked him and what God picked him to be. 

Though Acts 26 is later in Paul’s life, he remembers God calling him like it was yesterday. Our daily interactions with God need to invigorate and renew that vision so that we can awaken and live with a deep sense of purpose.

Our daily interactions with God need to invigorate and renew that vision so that we can awaken and live with a deep sense of purpose.

The book of Acts is filled with stories of how God uses ordinary people to do unexpected things. When we are courageous, willing, teachable, and have a deep sense of purpose, he can write new stories with our lives. 

Reflection questions

  • What is your life’s mission?
  • Do you awaken God’s purpose every morning when you spend time with God?

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