Welcome friends to Word-Seeds. Here we take a step into the Scripture, read the gospel for Sunday morning, prepare our hearts. This week, read here first: Matthew 5:13-20. Stop at pictures ? They are wide open spaces for contemplation in the middle of the meditation.
I sat on a bench at Wade’s Bayou watching the carps’ backs roll just under the surface. The Lake Michigan inlet looked more like a crowded koi pond. I had brought my Alpha book, Questions of Life and was reading the Chapter on the Holy Spirit again. The bench was cemented into the ground and so was I. I wasn’t going anywhere until God showed up.
I wasn’t filled with angst, I was just resolute.
About five weeks before, my Tuesday morning women’s group had begun joining Nicky Gumbel and his gargantuan Alpha class at Holy Trinity Brompton by sliding a tape in the VCR. Alpha is a type of Christianity 101 and after years without much Christian Education, they needed the basics. We all did.
The Holy Spirit weekend was approaching and it had all just clicked. This is what I had been missing. I had been living thick with doubt for eight years. In college Christians had begun annoying me with their perfect formulas and black and white question and answer books. I had more questions than answers. For one? Why would God let a little girl be abused? Yes, that one. The questions held me.
Questions are important. They are guides to the struggle. They tell you where to start the journey. But, sometimes they reveal places of deep need, tender places where the wounds reside. They are often the places where our deepest laments should begin. When glossed over, they hold us hostage.
All through seminary and the early ministry years, I had searched for God, been lonely for God, fought for God, and wrestled Him hard. I had prayed, but not trusted. Then one day I slid over. That’s how it felt, like a slide of a lever on a soundboard…untrusting to trust, just like that. I gave over the tangle of questions and rested.
How? I finally came to the point where I believed that God is fully good, always loving. I may never be able to wrap my mind around all the issues that glared at me but I could rest in His goodness.
Besides, He was infinite. I was not. I only have a brain about the size of a closed fist. I finally handed Him the frayed ends of my doubt.
A couple months later I found myself searching for more, as if I was searching under the couch cushions for that last puzzle piece.
When the tourists walked around the bench at Wade’s Bayou, I hardly saw them. I was waiting out God. Wood slats under me. Sunny day overhead. I sat. I waited. I had decided something was missing, like the Spirit and fire.
I was like a butane lighter that kept trying to fire but could never ignite.
I had grown up witnessing miracles. Cancer healed, exes slipping the rings back on, alcoholics dumping whiskey down the sink. I expected to preach Jesus and see the same things. My husband saw them. I didn’t. I was all words and no power. All wick and no flame.
Nothing was catching fire.
I waited holding onto the Alpha book. I was expectant. Besides, He promised. It’s what Jesus told his disciples. Wait. Acts 1: 4-5,”Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” I was thirsty for my own Pentecost.
Was it an hour later? I don’t know. I remember being in an entirely emotionally neutral state and looking out onto the water rippled with light when a powerful sense of the love of God encompassed me. From zero to 100 in three seconds. I bathed in that love, was showered in that love, drank in that love, was utterly overwhelmed by that love. I sat still. I was inside the flame.
Was I devoid of the Holy Spirit before? I don’t think so. I believe every Christian has the Presence of the Holy Spirit on their lives. But, this my friends was an extreme makeover. Afterwards, fruit flourished in ministry, my flailing marriage, my own interior life which had been stalled for years. What else? After Wade’s Bayou, I had the desire to read more Scripture, to be placed under His authority, its authority. I was like the thirsty who couldn’t get enough. I woke up early eager to drink more.
The gospels are filled with references to Jesus going off early in the morning to spend hours with the Father. “But Jesus Himself would often slip away by Himself to pray.” This Luke 5:16 verse is echoed in Luke 6:12, Luke 9:28, Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35-36, Mark 6:46, and John 6:15. He picked out his twelve after one such morning.
If Jesus required this in His own perfect life, this sitting, soaking, listening, sharing, why do we have such a burgeoning sense of self-reliance?
Martin Luther shared with a colleague that he had so much to do that day he needed to take the first three hours in prayer. When I was at Asbury college, I remember hearing about an Indian seminarian across the street who would try to fit his homework around his prayer, complaining he never had enough time on his knees and when did these Americans wait on God?
Over the years, I’ve seen a direct correlation between the light of Christ in my life and prayer. Sermons dusty? Sit. Wait. Pray. Marriage struggling? Sit. Wait. Pray. Maybe it’s just me who needs the waiting because I have so much to break through. I’m stubborn, prideful. It takes time to become pliable for Him. It takes listening and waiting and journaling and conversation, but a lot of just sitting still, expectant.
While waiting all of this happens:
1. We fold ourselves deep into humility. We recognize that we can’t do it on our own, without God our work is utterly empty. We lean in dependent and He breaks through the thick ice of our pride. We become a creature before the Creator.
2. Repentance comes. We get out of God’s way. What must I empty that is hindering God’s work? What needs to be confessed? What needs to be healed?
3. Wisdom comes. The Word is opened and we understand its correlation with the needs of the moment.
4. The Spirit comes. Our work is empowered.
Paul got it. He explains it to the Colossians: “Christ in me, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me,” Colossians 1:27b-29.
One of our Anglican bishops says that he believes we leak the Spirit in our daily lives. As we turn toward other sources to meet our needs, as we sin, as we depend upon ourselves, His power leaks out. He believes that the infilling is a constant need. I agree. That is why we wait. We wait for God present to transform our small offerings to God-empowered ministries.
We lift up our loaves and fish and pray they will be enough to nourish. We lift up our water and pray He will transform it to wine. We lift up our ordinary and wait to be broken and blessed.
We lift up our minuscule candle flame and ask Him to be the bellows. That’s how fires get started.
I pray for wisdom for this house mess, for Him to brood over this chaos. I pray for the Spirit’s power before I do spiritual direction. I pray for calm before I make the bedtime rounds. I pray before I write.
We wait for Him to ignite our spiritual giftings. When the Holy Spirit empowers, His fruit filters down to all areas of our lives (Galatians 5:22-25). Hallelujah because I need some serious patience around the morning rush.
He lights us and people see and they can warm their hands in our flame, but they will only truly get warm if they turn toward the Son, toward Jesus.
We just hope to light their way.
Thirsty for more?
Come pilgrimage with me. Slip your email into the connect box on the front page and we’ll journey together.
My favorite book on the subject? Terry Wardle’s Untamed Christian, Unleashed Church, a somewhat humorous and highly masculine book (sports analogies, man humor) about our need for the Holy Spirit. A must read. Perfect for clergy or laity.
pics from our trip to Italy and Wikimedia.com