I sat at a concert about a month ago and listened as the man standing before us, guitar in hand, dredged up the whole of his soul and threw it down in rhythm, chord, meter, and lyric.
I desperately wanted to raise my hands and join him in the soul-pouring. I adored the song. I adored the performance. I worshiped with him as he sang. My soul resonated with every word, every chord.
And I spent the entire time in angst, torn between the desire of my soul and my inhibitions. That is so not me, I thought. And so not this crowd.
I grew up in the kind of church where the movement of the Spirit sometimes resulted in an “Amen!” from the back row, but rarely anything more. I’m a stiff-upper lip type; emotionalism is about as far from me as you can get. While I know that there is genuine response to the activity of the Spirit that is not emotionalism, the times I’ve been in worship services where there is a more visible response to the Spirit’s moving, I’ve watched, detached, analytical, and probably a bit cynical.
My relationship with the Holy Spirit person of the Trinity has always been a bit stand-off-ish. God the Father—yep, absolutely, I get Him. God the Son? Sure! Who wouldn’t want to spend time with Jesus? But God the Spirit? He’s a little tougher to get my head around.
I’ve read the Upper Room Discourse in John’s Gospel. I can quote you the stuff Jesus said about the Spirit. It’s the actual living with Him that’s rougher going for me.
At various times in my life I’ve encountered people who seem to be so much more attuned to the activity of the Spirit than I am. I’ve sometimes felt envious. Sometimes felt overwhelmed. Sometimes been in awe. But an easy, back-and-forth, listen-response relationship with the Spirit has never really been my thing.
He likes to bring that contrasting conjunction into our lives, doesn’t He?
God’s been doing something in my heart in recent months (well, God’s been doing lots of things in my heart in recent months, but I’ll save some for other posts—this one is about the prompting of the Spirit). I’ve had more conversations about the Holy Spirit, about His activity today, about His role in the life of the believer. And I’ve been more acutely aware of moments like the one in the concert, where I felt the prompting of the Spirit, but didn’t know what to do with it.
Enter this past weekend. I was at an event, a fundraising banquet for a Christian organization. I was seated with folks I didn’t know all that well, and I took a moment to hide in my cell phone right as we were getting settled. I looked at Facebook. A friend had posted a request for prayer.
I’m not very good at following through on promises to pray. So most of the time when such requests come my way, I lift the person up there and then, and then go on about my business. In Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light, Grandfather describes prayer as taking someone into his heart and putting them into God’s hands. I love that description. And that’s what I do—I take a moment, take the person into my heart, and then put him into God’s hands. And that’s what I did when I saw that post.
But here’s the thing. The request didn’t leave my heart. Over and over throughout the meal I was burdened by it again, distracted from the conversation at my table.
I began to have a conversation with myself inside my head. One voice thought that I should tell my friend about this strange phenomenon. Another voice thought that it would sound like a meaningless platitude. The first voice insisted. The second argued back.
I finally settled the conversation with a plea to the Lord. If He wanted me to say something to my friend, I told Him, He would need to tell me what to say.
There was special music in the program, and I listened to the words of the songs, hoping to find a snippet I could pass along to my friend. Nothing. The Director of the organization got up and shared about the ministry. I listened to the stories, wondering if one of them was what I should pass on. Nothing. Then the keynote speaker got up to preach. And he opened up Hebrews 11 and said he was going to talk about faith.
Of course he is, the cynic in my head scoffed. It’s a fundraising banquet, they’re asking people to step out in faith and give.
From time to time, the Spirit joins the conversations in my head. He joins like He did Elijah outside the cave – not a fire, not a wind, not an earthquake, but a whisper.
He whispered, “I’ve been talking to you a lot about faith recently. Haven’t you been listening?”
The voices in my mind shut their mouths in surprise.
Finally, my soul found her voice. “You want me to tell my friend what You and I have been noodling together about faith?” she asked the Spirit. “But the prayer request was for something else entirely!”
“But we’ve been talking about faith,” the Spirit repeated. “Tell your friend about it.”
Later, in the car as I was trying to pull together my thoughts into a semblance of order for sharing, I heard the still, small voice again as the lyrics of a song played, “Share this, too.”
I wish I could say that I hear that whisper more often. I’m sure He’s spoken, in His quiet way, plenty of times in my life—and I haven’t heard because I’ve been too caught up in the noise, or I have ignored Him because I’ve been too caught up in my inhibitions.
These have been strange days for me. After that night’s encounter with the still, small voice, I’ve had more—like I’m suddenly tuned to the right frequency. But the stranger thing for me is this: I’ve been willing to raise my hands, to shed my inhibitions and pour out my soul because He prompted me to do so.
That is so not me.
But it is lovely. And in it, I see Him.