It's been a month since my last post. I have no clear idea of why I dried up a bit other than I didn't have that urge to comment on what I was experiencing or thinking about; nothing felt very compelling. I didn't want to fill your reading space with blah-bady-blah-blah.
But what I experienced yesterday morning caught my attention. First, let me give a little background. On December 27th of last year I wrote a blog entitled Wandering From My Comfort Zone Last Week:
http://oldmenplantingchurches.blogspot.com/2013/12/wandering-from-my-comfort-zone-last-week.html. In it I talked about how my Lord:
"continues putting me into situations where I've never been. They are
more stretching than the ones before because I have either no actual
expertise in the task or new adventure I tackle, or I feel exposed
because doing so increasingly puts me in circles of relationship new or
foreign to me. Looking back over five and a half years, I recognize
coming to Northampton has been one continuing series of new encounters
and endeavors involving all sorts of folks I've never really been
I've learned in fits and starts to see following as His disciple includes many opportunities for stretching and deepening. Spiritual maturity is not a vitamin you can take daily with orange juice; it's a more like fitness training sessions where you're challenged incrementally to get stronger, be more flexible, endure more, and grow more ready to be of use when the Master summons you to a task, mission or journey.
Often too, God in His unparalleled wisdom will surprise us with one of those "what are you gonna do with this?" experiences. They are often unexpected, and "Oh, man! What???" unsettling. Yet they can yield astonishing growth.
Well, yesterday morning, I was on tap to give the message for my friend, Pastor Keith Tolley, at the Greenfield Alliance Church. It was to be the third time I'd spoken there. I know some of the folks because I counsel at the church one day a week. As you'd assumed, I did my preparation and felt ready to share what I'd been given. I also needed to pack a change of clothes because I'd be heading to Hopkinton right after to fetch Tricia and visit our son, daughter-in-law and grand-kiddoes. Normally, I don't wear a jacket and tie to speak as it's gotten more informal on Sunday morning in many churches. Yesterday, I just decided to dress more formally, so I'd need to change when I got to our kid's house. The morning was full of stuff to do.
So, off I went up I-91 for the half hour drive to Greenfield. About twenty minutes out I had an "OH NOOOO!" thought that I couldn't remember picking up my notes from the dining room table and either putting them in my backpack with the change of clothes, or carrying them by hand to the car. Realizing they were still at home, and I didn't have time to go back to retrieve them would normally give me panicky jolt of anxiety and thus ratchet up my ADD distractability. From past experience, I guarantee I'd be pretty disoriented.
You see, I'd never left my notes before in all the retreats, classes, seminars and sermons I'd given over the years. I like notes. They anchor my "oh, look ... a bird!" mind to what I'm trying to say. They're like a trusted co-pilot or navigator. They'd not get the chance this time.
But something remarkable and I'd almost say unique to my experience occurred. The Holy Spirit calmed me within a minute. It was physical. He quietly said I was to trust Him and speak without notes. He reminded me I had studied the passage, and it had been one of my favorite and most-used over the years, especially in retreat ministry. Within a minute, I turned from anxiety to I can do this and it'll be fine. The matter was settled as was I.
By the time I walked into the church, I at peace, engaging folks, and not fixated on trying to remember what I was going to say. Unexpected as well, as I came in, a couple of folks said warmly they were glad when they heard I was speaking and looking forward to it. Normally, from comments like that, I would've been jumping ahead in my mind to get focused...didn't happen. I grabbed a pew Bible so I had the passage to look at, and participated in worship until I got up to speak.
On I-91, I also sensed the Holy Spirit said it was OK to tell them I was sans notes, so I did. They laughed warmly, and off I went. With the Scripture in front of me and a clear mental sense of the key ideas and structure of my message, I dove in for thirty minutes. Even to me, I was being more focused and coherent; I went places I wouldn't normally, actually preaching the meaning of Matthew 11:28-30. I exposited the text and challenged them to respond to what one commentator referred to as: "an intimacy of fellowship" as His disciple, choosing to be closely yoked to Him and His teaching, because he was gentle and lowly in heart. I located the text to their experience as a church, exhorting them to come to Him, because of the the endearing humility and magnificent grace in His words to Israel in the1st century, and to them yesterday.
When I finished people were very kind and gracious to me; they affirmed I had connected with something very important to them as a congregation. One person told me she had heard that text preached many times over the years, but never in the way I had preached it. I knew people were paying attention, because a number of them leaned forward and stayed there, a few responded verbally to points I made; there was the nodding of heads in agreement and some were staring straight ahead as if considering their lives differently.
In this post, I want to get across not what I did, but what God sovereignly and unexpectedly did to teach me another facet of trust in Him. He not only calmed my anxiety almost immediately, but He spoke through me to His people. Then, He graciously let me be affirmed for it. Honestly, I could've been all over the place, untethered from my notes as I was, but He showed me, once again, He is all the power behind anything I can do in His service. In hindsight after the service, I'd left my notes at home, I had this delightfully sneaking suspicion that God had a hand in me leaving my notes at home. I know it's peculiar to say, but the sense was strong and I had to laugh. It was like, "Do you get it? Do you see what I can do in spite of what you carried as your responsibility?" The whole experience seemed another one of His invitations to be free to trust Him. Man, I desire that level of freedom!
More generally, I really am learning to be less anxious in new situations than ever before. It can be there, but not in a disabling way. My ADD is an insidious tyrant let me tell you; it sabotages and steals my "masculine voice" more often than I 'd like to admit. Yesterday, God showed me how trust in Him settles my soul into what I've been given to do with that voice, despite my foibles and ingrained weaknesses.
After the liberty, joy and pleasure I felt when I reflected on what He'd done, I eagerly want more of such abiding trust, especially if I can see God work the way He did. I recognize the next big battleground, and one of the most obdurate for me is overcoming obstacles to I being freer and more direct (with humility, grace and love) in telling others of Christ. To overcome such a stubborn hurdle would be one of the most beautiful gifts He could give me before I finish my race.
He certainly and delightfully surprised me yesterday. He can surely do it again!