Create in me a pure heart, O God, & renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation...Psalm 51
Warning: if you hold strong conservative convictions about a woman's place in the church & vocal ministry you might want to skip this post. This is not about women's ministry as such & I will not enter into a debate on the subject or allow this space to be used for such a debate.
I joke that Quakers were the first modern charismatics. They have always emphasised the personal leading of the Holy Spirit, a personal relationship with God & the equality of the sexes in Christ ~ all reasons why, as a child of the 6os & early 70s, I was drawn towards Quakerism.
The 60s; do you remember them? It was a heady elixir of free love, freedom, & profound spiritual searching outside the bounds of Christianity. God died; the church was already dead. And then the Jesus Freaks burst on the scene. Hot on their heels came the charismatic movement. The face of Western Christianity changed forever.
I lost & found my faith in the midst of this spiritual chaos. Nothing in my spiritual training had prepared me to deal with the charismatic claims. My reserved nature found their extroverted worship distasteful. My curiosity was piqued. If I was truthful I was spiritually starved. I began the long slow process of abandoning knowing about God for knowing God.
For a prolonged period of time I stagnated in the place many Christians falter at in their walk with God, knowing something of Him, yet unable to move forward into a deeper personal relationship. Prayer was a wasteland & a pointless exercise in narcissism. I avoided prayer. Worship was arid but we are told not to refrain from gathering together so I worshiped with other believers & kept my opinions to myself.
I grew, but oh, so slowly & painfully & always with this gnawing hunger that I'd missed the point. Then God intervened, the way He does.
At the time we were worshipping at the only church on the island that held a worship service every single Sunday: very sedate; very traditional; very conservative; very, very small but full of lovely Christians. Dearest happened to be the chairman of the committee as Christmas rolled around & he had all the preaching spots filled for the holiday period & was quietly congratulating himself when the bombshell dropped.
Twenty~four hours before the service was due to start the man designated to preach the Christmas message went down sick. Dearest turned white as he put down the phone. He told me the bad news then said, "Well, it's either you or me & we both know it's not going to be me". Dearest is incredibly dyslexic. He can barely string a written sentence together & even his spoken language tends to be enigmatic & obscure. I wasn't happy but, hey, my degree is in English Lit.,. I can do this stuff standing on my head under water. How hard could it be?
I dragged out all my reference books & cobbled something together. I was not happy. All my teaching said this was a man's job, a man's place ~ but we didn't have a man, not on such short notice. I was totally unprepared for the spiritual onslaught that happens to anyone who steps out in ministry. I was incredibly ignorant.
I delivered my message & thankfully retired to my obscure corner in the last pew, congratulating myself that never, ever again... you know where this is going, don't you? Yep. From necessity the church used lots of lay people & I suddenly found myself on the preaching roster.
Now I have no idea how proper preachers go about organising their sermons but I was in a quandary. I had absolutely no intention of getting up there & sprooking my views on this, that & the other! If I was getting up there then it was imperative I hear from God Himself on what He wanted His people to hear ~ & I had absolutely no idea how to go about that! None. Not a red hot bazooka.
I knew lots; lots & lots of head knowledge. As I've said before I'm not the practical sort so the doing was incredibly problematic & time consuming. It did not help that the church kept saying I had a gift for preaching. It just didn't sit right with me. As it turns out my gift is not for preaching but sometimes, you know, I'm not the brightest spark in the tinder box. So from the time I knew I had a speaking engagement until the time I'd written up my paper I was in serious meltdown. I would, quite literally, scream at God, ranting & raving that He needed to be clear, very, very clear, as in I can't hear you, God, speak up. Shout if necessary. I was desperate. I knew, scripture says so, that those who presume to teach will be judged more strictly so I wasn't taking any chances on getting it wrong. Not if I could help it. I tell you, I'm a woos.
And God was gracious unto me. Each & every time He gave me absolutely clear, unmistakable instructions on what He wanted said. He gave me the scriptures. When I ran into difficulties He made crooked paths straight. He gave me courage when I wanted to run. He strengthened me when my courage faltered. Suddenly I found I had access to the Holy Spirit. When I spoke I knew when I spoke with the authority of the Spirit. He told me how much He loved me. Over & over.
Over time I noticed something. God was on a soapbox. The same themes repeated themselves again & again. Repent. Be thou holy as I am holy. Come out from among them...Um, yeah, I know what happens to God's prophets.
When we began home churching I breathed a sigh of relief thinking I was off the hook. No~one to preach to except the kids & they are used to me. I reverted to the form of worship I was most comfortable with: silent, focused, alive with the presence of God. I lie to myself rather nicely but God is persistent. My little spiritual dingy gets swamped. God isn't silent. His message is still coming through loud & clear: Repent: Be thou holy; Come out from among them because He promised...Afterward I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons & your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men & women, I will pour out my spirit in those days. ~ Joel 2:28~29
For now the word from the Lord is : Wait. Some things I don't mind waiting for...