Ready For A Surprise?
In December, we held a revival meeting in Philadelphia. Drawing together a great variety of Quaker sub-cultures, several fellow ministers and I invited Friends in the Philadelphia area to set aside time to open ourselves to the living Spirit of Jesus. We sensed Christ leading us to hold a space for healing, reconciliation and deepened connection with the Lord. We felt inspired to call for revival.
I think it is safe to say that the results of this experiment in Truth surprised all of us. Perhaps some of us came fearing self-righteous finger-wagging, but what we encountered were confessions of spiritual struggle and our deep need for Christ’s saving power in our lives. It may be that others of us came expecting spiritual entertainment — a human show that could be assessed and critiqued like a concert or play; instead, we encountered Christ in the mundane — shared food, joyful songs, gathered silence and heartfelt testimonies to the healing power of the Spirit.
As for me, I came expecting to preach. For almost a month, God had been working within my heart, giving me the elements of a powerful message. As I prayed over a period of weeks, I sensed the Lord giving me this Scripture passage, that song; I felt Christ preparing me for the word I was to speak during my travels in the ministry. As we settled into the silence of waiting worship, I felt sure that the Spirit would use me to deliver an extended sermon.
But I was in for a surprise, too. Early on in the worship, another minister rose and spoke beautifully to the condition of those gathered. The message he delivered captured the visceral experience of being in the depths of despair and what it means to be saved by a loving and mighty God. I was so grateful for the faithfulness and power with which my friend spoke.
But, I was also devastated! When my co-worker began to speak, I realized immediately that the message that had been building in my heart was no longer relevant. I had been preparing all this time and the word that was given to me seemed so clear. Now it felt like I had nothing to give. I felt empty and embarrassed. As a visiting minister, it was expected that I would preach, but I had nothing.
I did eventually deliver a brief message, though it had nothing to do with the sermon I had previously received. My words were few, halting and spoken in the fear of the Lord. The Light revealed to me how feeble my words were and I dared not venture too long a commentary on the word of God. I felt so small before the greatness of the message.
It can be like this when the Holy Spirit is present. Sometimes, revival means that the preacher must be stripped down and humbled so that Christ himself may teach. I have read stories about the Azuza Street revival that ignited the Pentecostal movement, where it is said that the evangelist William Seymour often kept his head covered in an empty packing crate behind the pulpit. This was a prophetic sign that it is Jesus — not human leaders — who has authority to teach the church. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to get out of the way. Jesus will speak through those whom he has prepared, though it confounds our expectations. Revival means being surprised!
Are we as Friends prepared to allow the assumptions of 350 years to be melted down by the refining fire? Will we embrace our spiritual nakedness and be re-clothed in Christ Jesus? Are we willing to abandon all our broken cisterns so that the Lord may give us living water? Are we ready for this holy surprise?