Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Led by the Spirit?

Following on - a little - from the last post and Roland Allen's observation that Paul had no preconceived plans and only went where the Spirit led has set me to thinking about our own present predicament in the Church.

First I think it is a mistake to look at the Bible as a book on how to do mission. Not that it does not contain valuable teaching and principles on the subject. Basically in regards to mission it may tell us how God did it then but not how to do it now. For that every generation has to go to God and ask that question again and again. If Jesus has given us his Spirit as the Father promised then we must not substitute what is past and from another time and context for going to that same Spirit ourselves and doing what He tells us.

Second, that was the whole point of Jesus telling the disciples to wait for the Spirit before they did anything. Not just because they needed the power, but because they needed the guidance. In fact in one of the key passages from John's Gospel (Chapter 14) where Jesus talks about the work of the Spirit, much of it is about him teaching, counselling or helping and representing Jesus (John 14:16-26) whom the disciples followed, literally, during his earthly ministry.

Third, in the Old Testament God tells us that:
“ thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Clearly there is a disparity between God's ways and our ways which, unless he reveals them to us, we will always be trying to do things our way rather than his.

Isn't that what the Church is trying to do when it tries to find ways of attracting people within its doors?

Fourth, even Jesus in his humanity relied on God showing him what to do. In John's Gospel he says:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me."  (John 5:19-20, 30)

Are we more capable than Jesus? Are we less needy? It appears so for we try and do things ourselves relying on our own human inventiveness and ingenuity. It is interesting to note too that Jesus' promise to do greater things than he is not greater miracles - we cannot rise form the dead - but greater in terms of scale and number. But that depends on whether we too, like him, express the same reliance on God.

The point I am trying to make is that we have not yet tried very hard to find out what God wants us to do other than in some general sense i.e. love everyone, preach the Gospel etc. We have not tried total reliance on God or throwing ourselves completely on his mercy. We have not tried inquiring of the Lord. We pray - certainly - but only asking God to bless what we have already come up with. We ask God for success but only for our schemes and ideas or our (biblical) educated guesses on how to grow a church or reach a difficult neighbourhood.  But has God actually showed us or told us how? And would we recognise if he did?
Clearly Jesus expected this to be the Church's course of action and the book of Acts is testimony to the fact that they very much relied on God telling them what to do or where to go. But over the centuries the Church lost the art of listening and when it became powerful and wielded influence and authority over the countries in which it operated, it stopped listening to God and relied on its own very human and very worldly resources. Which is why we find ourselves in a mess in the West today. We are reaping what we have longed sowed and as the Church slows down and begins to grind to a halt it is beginning to see the poverty of its past existence as the spiritual emptiness of its ceremonies and traditions etc becomes all too apparent. This is what happens when you substitute hard work for hard listening. When you do rather than pray. When you lead rather than be led.

Now I may be wrong and chasing shadows. Besides how can I prove that this line of thinking is right and my interpretation correct? One thing. It is hard. That is why I think I am right. If it was easy and a sort of short cut to instant success then I would be wary. It is because it is hard and I don't know how to do it - how can you actually find out what God wants you to specifically to do - that I believe that this is what God wants of us. It is the only way that makes sense of Jesus' insistence that nothing progresses until the Spirit comes to show the way. It is only way that resurrection can be so positively reinforced in the churches' life in relation to life rather than just to death and sin. It is the only way the Church can live and not die, grow and not shrink, give glory to God rather than grasp it all itself.

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