The wind caused the mountains to break apart. It broke large rocks in front of the Lord. But that wind was not the Lord. After that wind, there was an earthquake. But that earthquake was not the Lord. After the earthquake, there was a fire. But that fire was not the Lord. After the fire, there was a quiet, gentle voice. – 1 Kings 19:11-12
Presbyterians Cry Quietly:
Tuesday evening this week our church hosted a “Healing and Wholeness” service, designed particularly for those who have lost loved ones during the past year, and generally for anyone wanting prayer, anointing, and the laying on of hands – for whatever reason.
The evening was a powerful experience. My friend Gayle posted the following about the service, along with a link to a video:
“I know of quite a few friends who are struggling and suffering with health issues and loss of loved ones… may this help you find some peace and comfort in knowing that you are always loved and that God is always with you… even in your darkest moments. This is a service that our church provides to the community twice a year… I attended and served last night, and it was awe-inspiring to be there. I hope this helps those who may need it. Remember you are loved… always and forever.” – Gayle Akerman
Gayle described it well. And as I sat there, quiet tears filling my eyes having just been prayed for and hugged by any number of people, I thought about the work of the Holy Spirit and the deep, authentic way God has moved – and continues to move – in every congregation where Rebekah and I have served. And I found myself wanting to share my observation that God is not limited by the narrow frameworks so many Christians like to construct.
- God is not limited by the narrow frameworks so many Christians like to construct.
These frameworks are constructed not only in an (ill-advised) attempt to contain the experience, but also to make the moving of the Spirit (and this sounds terrible as I say it out loud) in a way proprietary.
Oh. My. Goodness.
So the following memory popped into my mind. Rebekah and I were living in Florida, worshipping and doing life with the amazing community there at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon. It was a remarkable congregation, full to overflowing with life, growth, young families, transformed lives, and a sense of community-wide joy that we will always treasure.
The “Joy of the Lord” was a defining characteristic of life and worship together.
Then a friend from England and his wife came to visit. They attend a Pentecostal Church where it is the tradition and practice to raise hands, shout out during worship, dance in the aisles, ramp up emotions, and express religious fervor in more visibly demonstrative ways.
Our Presbyterian church was – as I said – a place overflowing with joy and love and light and an authentic passion for the gospel, filled with the Spirit and growing in every way. But our tradition and practice was not – is not – expressed with quite so much motion, surface/visible emotion, and noise.
So my friend’s wife said, “If your congregation loves Jesus then why don’t they show it? Where is the life? They need to be filled with the Spirit!”
I tried to explain 1) how these are people whose joy runs deep, 2) how our community was and is transformed because of the love of Jesus, and 3) how the town of Brandon was influenced and blessed in so many ways through the expression of that love as the Presbyterians quietly went about their practice of deep faith day by day, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people (Acts 2).
- But she didn’t get it. Her understanding of the work of the Spirit was limited to the particular religious rituals practiced at her church.
Of course, this is something we are all guilty of:
- We often dismiss other people’s experience of God when it does not look like our own.
A “still small voice” church:
Here at the Presbyterian Church on Capital Boulevard In Wake Forest we are more of a “still small voice” kind of a church: “After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper…” (1 Kings 19)
But it is a whisper that so fills our faith community with light and love and power, and it is a whisper that moves in and among us in such a way that we are absolutely animated by the Spirit and we live for Jesus.
You can jump up and down in church, dance in the aisles, and make loud ecstatic utterances all you like, but if the church and the community around it are not saturated with God’s love then what are we but noisy gongs and clanging cymbals?
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1
So yes, I was in the sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church Tuesday evening and God showed up. God filled us up. It was a quiet, still, love-saturated filling.