Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

When God speaks

UNLIKE THE APOSTLE Peter, whose shadow the sick tried to maneuver themselves into in the hope of finding healing (Acts 5:15), I’m not known for seeing dramatic results from my prayers for the ailing. That doesn’t stop me, though. And some folks have said they have felt much better afterward, it’s just not at the level of seeing blind eyes opened, that sort of thing.

Which has something to do with the way I responded when I felt God nudging me in church one morning. I had one of the occasional experiences I have of shortness of breath and a feeling that I am going to explode if I don’t say or do what I feel the Holy Spirit telling me to.

This isn’t the only way God speaks to people, of course, and it doesn’t happen to me much. Usually, my sense of His speaking is much more impressionistic. But this was one of those undeniable, unexpected interruptions I have come to recognize.

In this instance, it was an undisputable conviction that I should go over to the other side of the church to a woman sitting on the front row—in a wheelchair. She was a dear, longtime member of the congregation who had been incapacitated by a stroke several years earlier. She may have been robbed of her speech and ability to walk, but she still loved to worship, raising her hand as others around her sang.

During the songs at the start of the service, I looked across the sanctuary. When I saw this lady, I knew I was supposed to go over to her, stand in front of her and put out my hands, inviting her to stand.

My first reaction was, But what if nothing happens? I am going to look foolish.

What a great man of faith. I rallied slightly, but not enough. What if something does happen? People are going to think I am showing off, I thought.

Though these two responses were at odds, they had a common denominator: it was all about me. I was more concerned about what people might think about me than what God wanted me to do.

I let this inner dialogue continue for a few moments, and then the sense of urgency, of urging, ebbed away. To my embarrassment, I have to admit I felt a sense of relief. A minute or so passed, and I glanced over again to the other side of the church—where the woman I had felt directed to go over to, improbably, stood up on her own. I, meanwhile, almost fell down.

Her surprised husband took her arm and helped her shuffle a few feet forward to the altar, where she knelt as the music continued. When it finished, he then aided her back into her wheelchair.

Stunned and shamed, I was left to wonder what might have been. I don’t believe her actions mean that when we ignore God’s leading, He will just make things happen anyway. The woman’s rising was only brief; who knows what might have happened if I had done as I felt led?  Of course, God doesn’t need us to do anything, in one sense, but it’s also true that in some ways He limits Himself to working through His body on earth—us.

I believe her movement that morning was, if nothing else, a small grace to me, a reminder that when God speaks, we should listen and respond and trust Him for the rest, not let ourselves be stilled and stalled by the fear of man.

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