I’ve been meditating a bit on letting the Holy Spirit be the teacher. There’s an interesting corollary to letting the Holy Spirit teach—letting other people learn.
You see, what we often want to do is to “let” the Holy Spirit teach other people what we already know, and what we think they need to learn. If they don’t learn that fast enough, or heaven help them, if they don’t ever learn what we know, we’re likely to start questioning which spirit they’re listening to. Letting the Holy Spirit teach involves not just trusting God, but also trusting other people to be able to hear from God. I think we frequently trust the Holy Spirit just so long as he doesn’t slip his leash. By which, of course, we mean that he has failed to keep other people in the proper order as we see it.
So I’m going to tell a story. This happened in 1999 just before I married Jody. I traveled to England with Perry Dalton and a fairly stellar group of speakers. (I’ll name Perry, but not try to list all the others.) We were to offer pastors’ conferences at a number of Methodist churches. I was very easily the least famous person on the team, and I didn’t figure I’d be doing all that much talking. Yes, there was the moment of pride when I told myself I had plenty of notes to use in speaking and I’d love to use them, but I reconciled myself to just going along. That wasn’t hard. After all, I was going to spend three weeks traveling all over England and Wales. What’s not to enjoy? Just for fun, I should mention that not a few of our friends suggested that I was getting cold feet about the upcoming wedding and had fled to Europe! But I came back, and Jody and I are coming up on our 14th anniversary this November.
The first conference—and no, I don’t remember the name of the town—was quite a rousing event as I remember it, though my expectations about not speaking were fully realized. Until, that is, it was time for the closing meeting of the evening. Now those who read this and know Perry will be unsurprised at this. As the singing finished for the final meeting Perry comes up to me and says, “Get ready. You’re going to wrap this thing up.” Getting ready involved something like 30 seconds. So I got up and wrapped things up. I don’t remember a thing I said, and I believe I can safely say that nobody else does either.
Then I closed with a prayer exercise I use. I invite people to begin in silence and listen for the Holy Spirit to direct them to somebody else in the room they should pray for. This exercise tends to scare conference leaders. They’re afraid of the chaos that might result, the crazy things people might do. And this fear is not unfounded. We’ve all encountered crazy people doing crazy things and blaming it all on the Holy Spirit. “God told me,” is often an excuse for the worst sort of silliness and abuse. On the other hand, I’ve done this many, many times, and have never regretted it.
It went well that time as well. People prayed for one another. There were the inevitable questions for me from people who are concerned about the rules. What if the Holy Spirit tells two people to pray for the same person? What if I’m supposed to pray for more than one person? What if I’m supposed to sit in my seat and pray for everyone?
Then it was over. Nothing spectacular.
As we were about to close, an elderly gentleman asked to give a testimony. (Knowing Perry, he may have been calling for testimonies. I don’t really remember.) The gentleman was grinning from ear to ear. He was fairly bubbling with joy and excitement. Then he started to talk.
He pointed to the first speaker. “I was reluctant to come here this morning,” he said, “but I did. I listened to your presentation, and I just about left. It did nothing for me.”
He pointed to the second and told him that his had done nothing for him either. He was so joyful, however, that nobody could really take offense. He said at lunch time, he had almost decided not to return to the conference. He went through the list of afternoon speakers and said the same thing about each one.
Then he said, pointing to me, “And you, young man, yours was all just rubbish to me too. It did nothing for me. But then you called for prayer. I was certain nothing was going to happen. I had a particular thing I wanted to hear about from the Lord, and I was sure this was going to be a failure. Then I felt someone put his hand on my shoulder and start to pray. It was my own pastor! I was disappointed. But then he started to pray, and I heard precisely what I’d been waiting to hear all day today and for a long time. The Lord sent all of you here all the way from America just so my pastor could pray for me!”
The question, of course, is whether those of us called to teach can handle having what we say called rubbish, and being sent on intercontinental flights so God can use other people to do his work.
Or is there too much pride?