Pastor Wendell commented in a meeting this morning that 'evangelicals are yearning for a spiritual experience - so hearing their pastor speak of wrestling with God increases their confidence of God being at work in our midst.' What a great observation! It can feel cold if church becomes highly repetitive. It can feel like 'man's ideas' if a church is well-programmed and highly relevant. The kind of spontanaity combined with the announcement of a late-night wrestling match with God is somehow comforting that God is at work.
It does raise the issue, though. How do we hear from God? How do we know if it is God? How far in advance can God speak? God speaks in many ways - through his Word, through community, and through personal interaction. This week was a dramatic example of discomfort and hearing a clear message from God in a very personal way. But God can speak in a lot of different time frames. Sometimes it is four days in advance. Sometimes, it is months in advance. Sometimes it is immediately before the message. Sometimes God speaks 50 years in advance.
God has a vision for this world...for human interactions, for messages, for churches, for businesses, for campsites, and for families. Sometimes he grabs your gut in a sponaneous moment, but you know what I find? Most often it is through a long obedience in the same direction. People who hear from God are listening to him all the time. Some will hear from God in a moment and know it is his voice, then spend the rest of their lives obeying that voice heard in that moment. God is alive and at work within every person who will allow him to speak to them. He speaks to kids, older people, business men, and stay at home moms. He is truly alive and at work. Will you listen to him? He will let you on the inside track of his plans for this world and his plans for you.
On another note...but tangentally related. People have inquired about how this compares to other weeks. Is it normal to hear from God about a message, or is this unique? Really, it is not a huge amount different from a regular week...just this time it was a totally different subject. Normally, we plan message series 10-12 weeks in advance, listening to God for broad themes a long time out, then getting more specific as time gets closer. We are constantly going to God's Word for guidance and submitting our process to a community of people who design services in conjunction with listening to God. As for my part, I spend many hours every week in preparation and prayer. Good exegesis of the text, topical studies across the Bible, stories that illustrate well and gaining a deeper sense of 'what is at stake?' Hopefully, by Thursday, a pretty good message has been written. But you can find me nearly every Saturday night working through my message, praying through the sanctuary/gym and looking for modifications from God. Probably 1/3 of my message, on average, changes every Saturday night! Most of it is God leading me to cut stuff..
Some weeks, there has been a dramatic change on Sunday morning or the middle of the night Saturday. But usually, it is close enough to the initial theme, or set of verses that God led us to originally that nobody ever knows there were any changes. Since it is still 'on theme' I rarely speak of it on Sunday. Interestingly, this Sunday, many people seemed to be grateful to hear a bit about that process!
Anyway, for those who are interested about the spiritual side of message prep, there you go!