God, Our Teacher (even despite our failures)
Our strong teaching series in Africa had begun with topics for the growing churches:
· Our Covenant with God (How covenant differs from contract; The privileges and responsibilities of the New Covenant)
· Spiritual Fruitfulness (How we bear fruit by merely abiding; The remedy for poor soil quality)
· Disciples of Christ (A historical Jewish understanding of a disciple’s role, not merely to know what the rabbi teaches, but also to do what he does)
We prayerfully wrestled: Lord, what’s next? What do these ministry leaders need? What would You have us teach them? As we worked with various denominational leaders, we repeatedly received requests to help them understand the Holy Spirit. In Africa (as throughout the world) much incomplete and misleading information has been spread, but the leaders were really hungry to discover the truth from Scripture about this misunderstood person of the Godhead!
Activation International recognizes the necessity of the Spirit’s direction, guidance, and empowerment; thus, in light of pastors’ requests, it seemed reasonable that solid, Biblical teaching about the Holy Spirit was necessary. I am sure you can see how “risky” and “touchy” an endeavor this was!—with an audience from Lutherans to Pentecostals, from Anglicans to Baptists! Yet, with the Bible as our guide and standard of truth, we took on the challenge.
We spent weeks in study and research, compiling and writing materials that present a balanced and Biblical perspective. We worked closely with our translator to ensure no confusion and to discern if there were any areas that needed to be filled out or explained. I can honestly admit that when our paperwork was complete, it did not quite feel “in the zone,” but it was well-rounded and Biblical…and now it was time to present it.
As the conference began, we greeted our friends again and began with prayer and worship. We handed out the packet of materials for this conference and commenced with the training. From the very beginning, something felt “off.” Although we brought sound teaching with energetic and clear communication, we saw none of the usual excitement and focus. We teachers struggled and agonized, even as we observed the pastors restless and unfocused. Some of them were actually falling asleep! Never had that happened before! Usually they are so “in tune” and engaged, hanging on every word, taking notes and marking Bible passages. What’s going on, God? Is this really that boring? We are having to press them to even open their Bibles!
Though we were scheduled to teach until dark, we stopped early and returned to our guest house exhausted, confused, and troubled. What’s going on, Lord? What did we get wrong? This was miserable! Something is wrong, and…I’m not doing that again tomorrow! We asked God to show us if Satan was combatting us, but God revealed nothing to our hearts. It was a restless night.
As morning dawned, we all woke early. Over coffee, we discussed the need to abandon the prepared materials, to humble ourselves before our “students” and TO NOT TEACH. They could take the well-researched materials home to study; but today, we must stop and pray, listening for God’s direction together. Clearly we had gotten the topic right, but…this was a misaligned approach, and we could sense the lack of His presence and power on day one. We need to allow God to teach for Himself.
We went to the church early, to pray throughout the sanctuary. In humility we prepared our hearts to be used by God in more spontaneous ways (since we had no time to prepare an alternative message) in alignment with His will. We won’t push ahead of you, Lord. You lead us into your path and show us the way forward today.
Participants arrived to find their usually-sociable teachers in tearful, penitent prayer. We began with no singing, no greetings, but with a solemn announcement—"Good morning. You all can put away your packet of materials. We will not be teaching further today.” Eyes widened, and the room was dead silent. “I’m sure you all recognized that yesterday did not go well. As your teachers, we must confess to you that we prepared to teach you about the Holy Spirit, but we believe that we need to stop being the teachers and allow God to teach us all now. We want to follow, and allow Him to lead us.”
It was then explained that we would take some time to pray silently, all together in the room, first realigning our hearts with God and then seeking His face and His direction. Now, silent group prayer is not very common in most African churches, but we all needed to practice tuning our ears for God’s “still, small voice,” which so often is drowned out by our mouths delivering all our concerns.
As we prepared for a time of prayer, one pastor raised his hand for comment. Humbly he stood and addressed the group (and its teachers).
Last night I had a very troubling dream. In my dream I saw our teacher stand before us, and tossing the papers down, declaring ‘I am not going to teach you today.” When I woke from my dream, I was troubled. I could not imagine why our teachers would not teach, but as I came today, I hear those very words! I believe that our teachers are speaking the truth. This is of God, and we need to pray.
The room grew quiet, and we all spread throughout the sanctuary to pray—some on their knees, some hunched in humility, a few even prostrate on the ground. After nearly 45 minutes, we reconvened and shared what the Lord was speaking to our hearts. One Lutheran pastor revealed that during prayer God urged him to repent. His church’s gatherings are more formal and sober, and he had been judgmental and unkind when speaking about other pastors in this room, who worshiped more loudly and with exuberant action. With tears in his eyes he asked brother’s forgiveness, adding that when our teaching team comes with messages of unity in the body of Christ, they all happily listen; but when we leave, they do not continue. In fact, they avoid each other in the marketplace! His heart was tender, his humility manifest, as he publicly repented. A pastor from that “exuberant” church then responded, confessing the judgment he also held for churches that he deemed as Spirit-quenchers. One by one, pastors expressed the Enemy’s accusations and judgments with which they had aligned, and they repented with open and contrite hearts. Forgiveness was freely offered. We could almost hear the spiritual chains falling to the floor! A true sense of camaraderie was forming in front of our eyes. These pastors began to see each other not as competition, but as strategic assets for the Kingdom of God!
Day three commenced with all the chairs repositioned in a circle. Once again with no pre-planned material, we prayed in unity, and the Holy Spirit began unfolding His strategy for ministry in this district, with unity of vision and of effort for spiritual impact in their community!
Before we finished for the day, the Holy Spirit moved someone’s heart to go and bring several buckets of water. With a pitcher and towel, he went to several of the pastors who had previously confessed their animosity of him. He washed their hands and blessed them. When he put the pitcher down, almost immediately another pastor followed. Then another, and another. Even we joined in! The atmosphere was powerful and tender at the same time. God was teaching His people what we never could.
What did we teachers learn? Humility.
Even our best work, our most sincere effort, if not aligned and enlivened by the Spirit is merely human rambling. God Himself, presenting His Word through His Spirit brings life and changes hearts. Spiritual things are spiritually-discerned. God is far more effective teaching about Himself than our feeble efforts to explain Him.
So, in a human assessment, our planned conference was a “failure.” However, we learned a deep and abiding lesson: teaching about the Holy Spirit is insufficient, if the Holy Spirit is not given the chance to teach for Himself.
Plus, we modeled to the pastors what to do when you recognize you are “out of alignment.” It is so common for all of us to just “muscle through” and continue with what we have planned. We all witnessed how God moved hearts and turned the agenda in ways none of us had anticipated. He knew what was in the hearts of these church leaders. He knew what He needed to address. When we gave Him “the podium,” He taught all of us well—how to be moved by Him, to be in unity under Him, so we could move together with Him.