John Buckeridge wonders if he heard God’s prompting.
After a week away on holiday I was sitting at church last month feeling guilty. Away from my regular routine, I was painfully aware that apart from a snatched prayer or two I’d dropped my devotions, along with my briefcase, for the week. I said sorry to God and told him I wanted to worship Him and draw near.
A few minutes into the service and during a worship song, I sensed that God may want the congregation to collectively pray for the nation of Zimbabwe. I began to wrestle with this in my head. The internal row went something like this… “How can you consider asking the meeting leader if you can lead the church in a prayer for something so random – especially when you don’t feel close to God?”
“But what if this is what the Holy Spirit wants? Maybe this is a direction God wants the meeting to go in. Zimbabwe is a nation in crisis...”
“Look you need to sort out your devotional life first, then maybe you’ll be in a right place to hear from God. Till then keep quiet.”
“But my heart is beating fast, this impression isn’t going away. I don’t want to quench the Spirit.”
“Just feelings…What is one prayer going to do anyway? And besides this is so random you are going to look very silly.”
Despite everything, somehow I walked to the front and as the song continued, told the meeting leader… “I know this seems left-field, but I think we should pray for Zimbabwe during the meeting.” I half expected, half wanted, to be told to sit down, but instead was advised, “That may fit later on.”
Later, sure enough I was invited to the mic. After praying for peaceful regime change and for relief to reach the millions who had little or no food in Zimbabwe I sat down, feeling stupid. Inside I was telling myself, “That prayer was well meaning but it was a red herring, it didn’t fit. You should’ve kept your head down.” At the end of the meeting I was feeling wretched and looking to make a speedy exit. A lady walked over to me with shining eyes. She told me her name was Lucy, explained it was her first time at our church and that as we sang ‘that’ song she started to cry as she thought about her homeland. Yvonne, a member of our church sitting nearby, noticed she was upset and asked if she was OK. Lucy explained and Yvonne suggested they pray about it together – which Lucy really appreciated. Later I popped up and asked the whole congregation to pray for Zimbabwe – you guessed it – Lucy’s nation of birth. “I can’t wait to phone home and tell my folks what happened today,” said a thrilled Lucy.
The lessons to learn? God cares about individuals and their hurts. He knew Lucy was worried and needed assurance that in all the mess and confusion He cared. Secondly, God will speak when, and to who, He chooses - and those people He speaks through are not necessarily particularly holy or close to Him. They are flawed people. Just like you and me.
I have so much more to learn about hearing from God. I hope you find Roger Harper’s article (page 14) on listening to and hearing God’s voice, helpful. And finally, thank God for people like Yvonne in my church and Marge in Jeff Lucas’ church in the States – read his wonderful column about stepping out of the comfort zone and showing practical love on page 74.
John Buckeridge is the senior editor of Christianity magazine.