Over at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, after a few week’s with, guest blogger, T, continues his series on gifts of the Spirit. The first article can be found here.
In the second article, T asks about ‘promptings of the Spirit’ and shares a specific example in his own life.
Our church back in Gainesville, Florida, would occasionally have “worship nights.” They were some of my very favorite gatherings. About once a quarter on a Friday night, we’d gather for a couple of hours and the only things on the agenda were worship and prayer. On this Friday, I was sitting near the front, and Kim and I were among the first to arrive. It was one of those nights that I was truly grateful, even excited, for the opportunity to worship God with the church, even before the first song began.
I don’t remember the song, but at some point the theme I was affirming as we sang was willingness to obey God, even though it can sometimes be costly. As I affirmed this to God, and was even considering my own limits for obedience, I felt the urge to turn around. Sitting directly behind me was Jon. Jon was one of the people in the church that I most admired, but kind of from afar. The things I heard Jon say in church or elsewhere were routinely marked by depth, truth and heartfelt compassion, but we were in one small group and he led another, so he lingered on the top of the “people-I-want-to-know-better” list at church for a while.
On this night as I turned around, Jon had a familiar intensity on his face as he worshipped, and with his eyes closed. This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and I turned back around. As I did, I felt an unexpected conviction to turn back around, push my chair out of the way and strongly embrace Jon. Just for clarification, what I felt wasn’t empathy, at least not then. I wish I had reason to be empathetic; Jon was just worshipping God (just like I wanted to get back to doing). If I could describe what I was feeling at this stage it was fear and inner turmoil. My first line of inward defense was to dismiss that this was any kind of leading from God. I will summarize the outcome there by saying that however I reasoned about it, I could not persuade myself this wasn’t God’s unction, despite my best efforts. A simple unction to “do this” had come (as I was pledging obedience to God, no less), and it pretty much only had fear stopping me.
I was stuck. I soon discovered that going back to singing praises and offers of obedience to God were just impossible, unless the goal was hypocrisy and misery. I wanted to get to know Jon better, but not like this! What would he think of me? What if he recoiled? For the next several minutes, I would look back every so often just to see if he had at least opened his eyes so that he would at least see it coming. No luck. My last line of defense was compromise. If Jon wouldn’t open his eyes, I figured I would say something (anything!) and give him some warning or explanation or at least a “hello” first. But as I started to say something my guts burned with conviction that I was compromising out of fear, and not being obedient. After another bit of inward wrestling, I just did it. I pushed the chairs aside (Jon still didn’t open his eyes; the music drowned out the sound) and put my arms around him firmly but gently. I felt like as I did it, that I shouldn’t be in any hurry to let go.
Not only did Jon not recoil, he practically collapsed. His arms—weakly at first, then with great energy—embraced me in return. And he just wept. I must have held him as the singing continued for thirty seconds or a minute at least. By the time we released to look at each other, both of our eyes were wet, but we were both beaming smiles. I knew God was in this, but I still had no idea what exactly had been going on. Jon explained.
Jon had grown up on the mission field with an authoritarian and judgmental father/minister. Jon was in his thirties now and had walked through years of healing from it, but that week he had talked with his dad who had now finally been fully explicit that Jon was a thorough disappointment. All the healing Jon thought he had from his dad opinion of him just melted that week. Jon explained that he was in such misery over it that week, he almost didn’t come that night. He had little “worship” in him. He said he had decided to come with only one prayer that he had been praying repeatedly, prior to and throughout the meeting, but with little hope for any suitable answer, “I just need to know what You feel about me.” When told me that, I wept, but out of repentance for how close I was to blowing the whole thing off or changing it for my fears. Incidentally, Jon and I became close that day, and every time we see each other, even many years later now, a smile comes to both of our faces.
This is a beautiful story of what it really means for God’s people to learn to hear, discern and obey the voice of the Lord. For those of us who believe God still speaks, reveals and prompts His people today with specific words and actions, we all will have experienced some time of questioning or doubt of whether we have truly heard the voice of the Lord. And, I would venture to say that we have all missed or bypassed these promptings. But stories like this remind us that even ‘prophetic actions’ accomplish the same purpose of spoken prophetic messages:
the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation (1 Cor 14:3)