Ash Wednesday I boarded a plane for Mexico. I had been looking forward to this vacation for months. I was tired, and not because I had to be at the airport for 4:00 a.m. I had been tired since November. The doubt and uncertainty that had been working away at me the past few months had worn me down. A big part of the sermon series on spiritual disciplines that I just finished preaching focussed on silence, solitude, and Sabbath; but I had failed to practice what I preach (as is often the case – I’m pretty open about that struggle). So the first day of Lent I boarded a plane in desperate search for some rest, but even more so I was in search of more direction from God.
Fasting through Lent
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]
I needed some sort of confirmation, but none would come on the flight.
The last Sunday of Epiphany I asked my church to join me in fasting through Lent. Specifically, to fast on Ash Wednesday and every Wednesday after (I know you liturgical types are saying it should be Fridays but whatever – us Baptists do what we like), and to pray specifically for our local congregation. I wanted the people to seek out God’s direction for us as a community of faith: What is He calling us to? What are we missing as a congregation? What is He already at work at in our midst and beckoning us to participate in? These are the types of questions I asked the people to pray about and, of course, to sit in silence listening.
At 6:00 a.m. on Ash Wednesday I sat in my seat as our plane left the runway and the cold & snow. I put in my headphones and began my prayer. I sat in silence. I prayed some more. I sat in silence again. For a good part of my four-hour flight I kept this up as I sought God and His will for my church. At times I felt as though I was being “told” something, but I was filled with uncertainty at the same time. Is God prompting, or am I simply telling myself what I’d like to hear? Nothing seemed certain. I needed some sort of confirmation, but none would come on the flight.
I arrived in Mexico earlier than expected. I was even more tired than when I left. When I settled into my room I put on my headphones again, went to the balcony to lay down, and I listened to the day’s prayer at Pray As You Go, and prayed through with it. I was hoping something there might give me some sort of confirmation. Within minutes, though, I fell asleep.
On the 10th I prayed to be filled with boldness – to not be ashamed of the Gospel; I prayed for direction for the church – that if we are called to proclaim good news in our community then I would see what that looks like; I prayed for God’s presence in my life & ministry. And I heard nothing.
On the 11th I prayed for the church and gave thanks for how God has moved us; I prayed again for its future; I prayed that we would find joy in Kingdom work, and that we would be “brave & reckless” in our faith – that we would not be afraid to do the things that don’t make sense if God is calling us to it; I felt God was pressing that we be a “little more reckless” in our work – I prayed for confirmation that this was indeed what God was saying; I prayed, listened, and I heard nothing.
On the 12th I prayed that my old self would be put to death; I prayed that the angry drug addict that still lurks within me at times would once and for all be gone (when stress reaches a maximum my first thoughts are often to use in order that I might escape – I haven’t but the temptation is real very often); I prayed again for confirmation and, again, I heard nothing.
On the 13th I prayed again; I prayed, but not that much – most of my time I sat in silence, seeking something, anything. And I heard something.
All you need is tequila
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]it’s an important reminder for the rest of us that wisdom and discernment plays a large part in hearing from God.[/pullquote] In Part I, I felt God clearly answer my prayer through Scripture. I wrote about how the first thing that I saw seemed to be a clear answer to prayer from God. It was a clear confirmation. Now, a few weeks later, after days of prayer through Lent and seeking and hearing nothing, I opened my eyes, and I saw something.
“What do we do, Lord? How do we move forward? What are You calling us to.”
When I opened my eyes, there staring me in the face was a shot glass which said, “all you need is tequila.”
Maybe that’s not a bad answer to prayer for some people! But it’s an important reminder for the rest of us that wisdom and discernment plays a large part in hearing from God. We can’t just simply go looking for signs without discernment, or we’ll find “signs” in everything we look to. It’s a dangerous way to live our spiritual lives if we don’t take the time to check our answers against Scripture, and with the help of wise counsel. So, again, there I sat without a confirmation; at least the shot glass gave me a laugh. Maybe God was trying to lighten the mood a bit?
That evening my in-laws and I decided we would check out a church in the neighbouring town the next morning.
Hearing from God in church? Who woulda thunk it?!
I enjoyed the church service. It was a bilingual service, with a contemporary feel to it; the sanctuary was filled with a mix of locals, ex-pats, and tourists just like me. Near the end of the service, as the closing songs played the lead pastor invited those who wanted prayer or “to receive a word” to come to the front and receive it. I thought of going up to get some prayer – I really wanted to go up actually – but I decided to stay back and let those who “really need it” go and get it. I’m a pastor after all.
I stood in the 3rd or 4th last row, in front of my seat on the aisle. I stood quietly, my eyes closed as I prayed for those going up; and, again, I prayed for confirmation.
I sensed somebody beside me, or an arm around me – I can’t quite remember which, now. I opened my eyes to see the lead pastor standing beside me. I smiled, and he smiled back, and then he leaned in to speak into my ear …
“My friend, I just feel God impressing upon me that you are so clearly called to ministry. I don’t know if you know this already? Or if you’re doubting it right now? I just sense it so clearly – so strongly.”
I wasn’t shocked (too much). Actually, no, maybe shock is the right word. Like after a car accident, where you sit there confused and dumfounded.
“I’m a pastor,” I replied through a smile.
Within seconds I am being led up on to the stage by the pastor where he, his wife, the youth pastor, and leaders from the church surround me and lay hands on me. The lead pastor had the congregation outstretch their arms toward me, and then he began to pray.
Everything that I had prayed about, and everything that I had sought confirmation for, in the days leading up to Sunday were answered in their prayers – everything. A pastor & people who never met me before, who didn’t know me or anything about me, prayed & prophesied over me, and through their words I found confirmation from God. They declared that I would be filled with God’s Word and with boldness to declare it; they prayed that I would be filled with the Joy of the Lord (something that I begin all my prayers with), and that my church would be filled with joy in doing God’s work; they prayed that God’s presence would be with me wherever I go & preach; an elder prayed about my past and that whatever was holding me back from it would be put to death – that I would be reminded that I am no longer that person but a new creation in Christ; they prayed over my gross, hairy feet, that I would go and proclaim the Good News with boldness and recklessness.
Why not me?
Maybe you’re reading this and wondering why God never speaks to you so clearly. Maybe you haven’t been waiting days to hear from God, but for weeks, months, or even years. Where is God? He is present. His Word promises that His Spirit is with His people. I’d encourage you to not give up hope, but to continue seeking God. Seek Him through prayer and fasting, through silence, through discernment with others, and through worshipping Him in community with others who are just as desperately seeking & serving Him.
Too often we place ourselves in isolation. Solitude is a good spiritual discipline to practice, but solitude also assumes that you are already in community. Sometimes we take a scrapbook faith – bits from here, and bits from there – and we declare ourselves capable to follow God on our own. We are not designed for isolation. We are called to experience God in community; if you refuse to be in community with others, whether because you’ve been hurt in the past and are unable to forgive, or because you think you can do it on your own, I’m not so sure if you’ll ever experience God how I do, then. Maybe you will – some of the desert monks did, I suppose. But are you a desert monk?
I believe strongly that God still speaks to His people today; I believe it because I’ve experienced it. If you’ve been waiting and waiting, keep waiting. But try waiting in different ways than you have. Incorporate the Word and worship into your prayers; incorporate silence & solitude (not isolation), and fasting; and incorporate the wisdom & discernment of a spiritual community that can pray and listen with you.
Do not give up hope; continue to draw close to God and He will draw close to you. You just might find that it comes in the strangest of places, like church.