“…It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating Him to scrutinize himself.” John Calvin
Standing in the living room, mid-sentence in prayer, I heard the Lord’s voice interrupt mine. “This is going to be an awesome August.”
I know there are many you find suspect the idea of God speaking to us in audible ways. Certainly there are those who’ve heard a voice they ascribed to God and as a result did things that were definitely more sinister than holy. Then there are others who mistake the mental echo of their inner voice with God’s. I’ve surely been in the latter category. But with emotional maturity and spiritual discipline I’ve come to recognize when it’s God dialoging with me. That day in July was such a time.
I hurried to my home office and wrote those prophetic words down, excited about the uncertainty of their meaning. I simply trusted God to be God and was going to get out of the way. Now that August is over, I can testify that the Lord was true to his word.
One of the greatest ways August was awesome was in the way Jesus reminded me to keep the main thing the main thing. Nine years ago I received a commission to return from North Carolina to Mississippi following seminary. I knew then that my mission was to be part of a spiritual revival God was sending to Jackson, a revival that would also impact the social and political dimensions of our city and state. Admittedly I’ve been irregularly timid about that, at times fearing what others would say about this “weird” Christian who’s too smart to be weird. To be sure, I’ve long struggled with insecurities. Thinking myself to be unattractive and inadequate in my youth, I’ve often sold myself short and hesitated taking risks in education and in the Kingdom. Growing up relatively poor, at least in my earliest years, in a railroad town with few opportunities contributed to that sense of inferiority. And so did the constant and unfair comparisons I made of myself with others I thought to be “better” than me. What made things worse is that I came to know the Lord and accepted his gracious invitation to eternal life through the noisy crew of believers whose ecstatic lives were deemed by many religious people as superfluous spirituality. In other words, we heard that it doesn’t take all that, “all that” being jubilant worship, intense prayers coupled with fasting, and a life of holy modesty and expectation of divine interventions. Being peculiar in the Bible Belt is a rather odd adventure.
But the Lord has a thing for weird. In 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, Paul wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
I therefore gladly trust the Lord to order my steps, and he has not led me wrong yet. From about 2000 until now I’ve had fifteen years of walking by faith, seeking Christ’s wisdom for where to go to college and seminary, who to marry, how to pastor, and so on. Trust me, I haven’t always gotten it right, especially when I try to “help God out.” But when I didn’t lean to my own understanding, God blew my mind.
I needed that reminder this August. It’s so tempting to be pulled toward every direction and to get lost in others’ expectations of ourselves. But I’ve regained my focus. Mystic Howard Thurman wonderfully stated, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” What makes me come alive is being an instrument of God’s peace and power, reforming his Church through his Word so that the Church can be the agent of salvation and renewal in communities desperately in need of love, light, and life. I am a preacher, pastor, and theologian before I am an advocate, life coach, or anything else that is important but not ultimate. That doesn’t mean that I won’t or don’t do other things: I’m still proud to be a professor, administrator, civic leader, and my greatest joys and responsibilities come from being a husband and father. We can drive in different lanes but we better know where we’re going and who’s getting us there. Thus I refuse to feel guilty if I can’t make every event, serve on every board, or speak on behalf of every movement that requests my influence. I must be selective and know that “no” is liberating. I’m sure this is true for you as well.
One way this truth was reinforced was through my participation in Stronger Together: A Night of Unity. I was humbled when Jerry Mannery, Executive Director of the Mississippi Mass Choir, called to get my insight about whether this was a good idea. I told him, in essence, that it was a God idea and that God’s hand was on it and gladly helped him bring his vision to pass. It was a night to remember and mutually uplifting. Nearly four thousand saints from myriad denominations and races came together under the shadow of the Cross to demonstrate that we are many members but one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12). Baptists and Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Pentecostals, Methodists and Mennonites put aside differences to keep the main thing the main thing. God was glorified that night. And I was edified. Nine years later, after hearing God tell me I had to return home, I occupied a seat in a historic event that reminded me of my calling to bring together saints of all races, nationalities, and denominations for the glory of God and for the edification of Christ’s kingdom. A special blessing for me was to briefly tell how Mt Helm Baptist Church shares our history with First Baptist Church. One hundred and eighty years ago enslaved Africans worshipped in the church’s basement. That night I was able to stand in the pulpit once forbidden to my ancestors. What a mighty God we serve!
God is doing a new thing in Jackson. God is doing a new thing in Mississippi. I prayed and fasted during August and with renewed energy I feel like running on to see what the end is going to be.
May an awesome August give way to a spectacular September, not only for me, but for all who love the Lord and expect from him great and mighty things!