Friday, July 13, 2007

The Spirit says...

"We don't make decisions on the basis of strategic planning as in businesses. Big decisions in the NT church, and in our churches, are made because God spoke. For example, “The Spirit of Jesus wouldn't let them” go somewhere."
David Stroud - at Together on a Mission
Now, clearly most decisions that the church needs to make are led by Scripture. God is already telling us the big stuff and a lot of the little stuff. His Spirit still speaks his gospel-promises on the page. But, equally many details are unwritten. What are we to do in those situations? Some say, it doesn't matter - do whatever you want within what God says. There's freedom! You don't pray about what socks to wear after all. Socks are pretty trivial. God counts the hairs on our heads but it's hard to see that it's going to matter all that much what's on your feet. Some things are significantly more important - 'big decisions' - if our brothers and sisters in the first century prayed about them, figures we should too.

And when we pray what next? Do we just trust that God silently guides us, or do we expect some response? In Act 16 the Spirit kept Paul and his team out of Asia, Mysia and Bithynia. Consquently they ended up in Troas where Paul had a vision of a man calling them to Macedonia which they interpretted as a call to preach to the Macedonians. How do we square that with scripture - aren't we just called to preach to all peoples? Back in Antioch the church was worshipping and fasting and then the Holy Spirit told them to set Paul and Barnabas apart to go and preach. How did he do that? And what do you do when God says that two of the five prophets and teachers who were leading the church have to move on?

The Holy Spirit is given to empower the church to witness. That includes the words to say and it seems the decision to go and make Jesus famous worldwide. He has promised that the knowledge of Jesus will fill the earth. He has promised that Christians will be gathered from all people groups. That means it will happen. But, God's promises are never reasons for passivity, they produce action. There's no basis for a charismatic paralysis that can't act, God keeps his church moving. The Spirit teaches us what to say, the Spirit teaches us where to go. To go, and claim God's promises.

God has made the big picture clear but the detail needs to be filled in. He's already done the detail - but we need to know it. What if God's detail clashes with ours? What if existing and good plans need to be re-written? What if God speaks to re-write them. To break up a good leadership team? To change our direction? Closing one door and opening a different one. What if the God of order spoke to mess up our existing strategy or structures? What if God wants to tell us a better way that what we thought was the best and only way? Which makes me wonder, what that might that look like in the church-serving gospel-advancing ministry I'm involved in with students?

It's about the in between bit. We have the promises. And we know that people must go and preach. In between comes the praying. Complicated eh! God's people taking hold of God's promises by God's grace. That's pretty much a paraphrase of Calvin's definition of prayer. The Spirit spoke to give clarity on details like 'the who' and 'the where'. Important details. Anyone could go anywhere but God sends the right people to the right places at the right times - Paul preached that evangelistically in Athens.

Maybe I don't hear more because I don't ask much. Surely it's not that hard to follow God's commands like 'earnestly desire prophecy'? If God offers detail it'd be nice to have it. And we might not always hear right but I think that's why in Acts 16 Luke adds 'we concluded' - which implies some measure of testing went on. On the frontline of mission it's not like it's a tough one to work out. End result : they went and preached Christ. God wants to build his church. He will build his church. I want to be part of that.

It's fair to say Together on a Mission has got me thinking. And it's got me believing.

What will it look like for the gospel to advance effectively on campuses across the South West? In Cornwall. In Plymouth. In Exeter. In Bristol. In Bath. What is happening already that we should be thanking God for? What has to start? What has to stop? What flames need to be fanned into flame in the team we have serving in the region? What can will the Spirit fan into flame in the students, our missionaries, on the ground? Where does God not want us to go? Where does God want us to go? I could sit and plan strategy ahead of going, though that's tricky - I lack information! But, what I do have is access to God. Confidently able to pray by the blood of Jesus. And I have his promise that he is unswervingly committed to the spreading of his glory worldwide. I can pray. And I can be well prepared to preach Christ. Will you pray with me?

7 comments:

  1. Hmmm - interesting stuff. But one big problem - how do you decide what is "big" as an issue or not?
    Very struck by Derek Bigg on that question. E.g. is your choice of supermarket a big issue to seek guidance on - quite possibly! Where do you draw the line, unless you don't draw the line...? Thought provoking post - thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree it is the gapping hole in the David Stroud quote and my argument. Anyone got any ideas?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sorry, but I can't help it. This bit from Paul in 2 Corinthians 2 always gets me:

    Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia.

    God opened a door... but he goes the opposite direction!? How do we square that with the way we often use that language...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good question Scott... and your thoughts?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think (and this came through in the over-arching message of the whole conference - particularly through Rob Rufus) that the Holy Spirit's presence is available to us every day, in the stillness of our own lives as much as it is when there's a decision to be made with a lot at stake. I would say that when we make ourselves genuinely open to the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives, we will definitely hear Him on the big things, and probably a number of small things too. It's one aspect of there being less of me and more of Him in my life.

    The question isn't about drawing the line at hearing God about the "big" things, it is simply "how can I have more of God?" This means we don't need to ask the question what a "big" thing is, because if we're open to the Holy Spirit we'll definitely know when He's talking to us about the big things, and probably in smaller things too.

    For example, God spoke to me significantly about direction for the future last year at Together On A Mission. I knew it was a big decision and one I needed on God's leading on but the way He directed me was totally surprising. My decision about what was a "big" thing or not was totally irrelevant because God broke in! And I think that's often the way of it. When we're atune to the Spirit of God, His voice to us, in the big and the small, becomes more and more obvious.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dave,

    Not many thoughts... just questions! How do we distingush between open doors and open doors?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Luke- thanks for your comments. I'd love to read more of your experience of how that works in the day to day of life. I'm thinking of how we articulate the experience of living in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    ReplyDelete