My family has been attending the Lebanon (MO) Church of the Nazarene for nearly 2 years now, since I was transferred to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. From the moment we first attended, we have found a warm welcome and now feel right at home with our new church family. We are blessed by our new pastor who has been here about a year now, and very much enjoy the worship services and ministries of the church. God often works through and in the worship services as our song leader is very sensitive to the moving of the Holy Spirit and often has an appropriate and encouraging word to share. The pastor is faithful to God’s leading and brings sermons that if not inspiring us, “piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow” (Hebrews 4:12, KJV).
Before becoming an Army chaplain, I pastored for about 10 years in civilian churches. As a pastor, I have always clung to Paul’s admonition about worship to the Corinthians, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40, KJV). I told my music teams to stick to the order of service unless they were (very) certain that God wanted them to go in a different direction. I would time out the elements of the service to ensure that everything was just right. I would cringe when people said things about their services like, “our service was so good the pastor didn’t even get to preach!” I’d want to shout out, “but preaching is part of worship!”
But sometimes, God wants to do something that isn’t in our order of service.
This was the case in my church this morning.
It started out like any other: the opening hymn followed by the greeting and announcements by the pastor then another hymn. But after this hymn, it started to veer off course (the place where I would begin to get nervous as a pastor!). Our dear pastor’s wife got up to speak about how God had spoken to her over this past weekend at the “Come to the Fire” conference at Olivet Nazarene University. While she admitted that she was not comfortable speaking to us from the platform, God spoke through her anyway. Her words were meaningful and connected with us. As she finished up, my wife got up to share as well (she, too, was at this conference). If you know my wife, you know she would rather weed her garden than speak in front of a group of people; but as with our pastor’s wife, she allowed God to guide her words and they again connected with us.
The pastor, now realizing that God had other plans for the service, asked us to sing “Come, Holy Spirit” and invited us to respond as God led. Several moved to the altar seeking God’s touch. Following this prayer a humble and sincere young man got up and asked to speak. He affirmed our pastor’s leadership and added that we were blessed as a church to have 3 other ministers in our congregation. He invited all of them and their wives, and our pastor and his wife to the altar and prayed for them all. Again, God spoke through his words and prayer and many were blessed.
Still, though, God wasn’t through working.
One of those ministers stood up to testify and spoke of the verse in Luke where Jesus admonished his disciples, “if you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13, NIV). He focused in on the “asking.”
This was confirmation to the pastor of the direction he should go. He admitted that a sermon didn’t seem right and expounded on the passage in Luke. He shared with us that in moments like these, when God has come on the scene and His Holy Spirit is present, moving and working, then He (God) has done all that He can do. What is left is for us to ask.
Many of the other events of the service and the order of them have become scrambled in my mind, but I remember that many more people made their way to the altar to seek God, to ask for an outpouring of His Spirit, to praise Him. I’m not sure how many came (as I was at the altar, too!) but I felt as though most of the church was in prayer.
God met with us this morning. He had greater plans than ours.
As much as I like (need?) things to be done “decently and order” I love it when the Holy Spirit has other plans. Many churches choose to resist His moving, needing to have the service completed in an hour. Some churches try to stir up the Spirit and get lost in emotionalism. This morning, our church chose to yield to the Spirit and let Him do His thing.
I’m sure God has more to do in my life and the life of our church. And I know that every service can’t be like this morning’s. But when God does move again, I want to be there, I want to be open, I want to receive.