The still small voice is unrelenting. All through the worship service the pattern of familiar prompting reverberates: Find Steve. Talk with Steve. Pray with Steve.
I know of nothing extraordinary that would make this conversation necessary. But with a kind of grudging grace, I seek out the Spirit’s nominee and find him pensively alone in the church foyer.
Struggling to disguise my awkwardness, I finally murmur the question I’ve been framing for the past hour: “Is there some special reason I felt so impressed to pray for you this morning?”
This remnant movement still hungers for the evidence that we are Spirit-led.
His eyes brim instantly with tears, and he wraps me in an unexpected hug.
“You haven’t heard, have you?” he asks, brushing away the tears. “Janet was just diagnosed this week with stage 3 breast cancer, and we’re trying to make sense of all that’s happening.”
The voice at the other end of the phone line is passionate and pleading. “And Father,” he’s saying, “I don’t want to pray for just the surface of Bill’s life—that he will be safe in his travels; that his health will be good. You know, Lord, there’s something he’s seeking You about.”
Stunned, I listen in rapt silence as he intercedes for me about a matter that only this morning I placed before the Lord. No other person knows: there’s no plausible explanation for why my friend 6,000 miles away could pray with such specificity about something I believed known only to the Father and to me.
Like all committees, this one was composed to illustrate the church’s collective embrace of godly diversity. Women, men; seniors and young adults—White, Black, and Brown—crowd around the too-small table. They are charged with hammering out a policy to guide a movement begun with simple structures and a great wariness about “man-made” legislation.
But something happens for which no member prepared, nor even—some confess—could have expected. Prayer happens—deep, pleading prayer—as one by one agendas we brought with us are set aside. We speak in careful, moderate language of positions we don’t personally endorse. We listen better than we ever have. We try proposals, waiting for the language that will make consensus possible.
Ninety minutes later the shyest member of the group offers the summation: “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .” (Acts 15:28, NRSV).1
This remnant movement, born in the windstorm of the Spirit’s undeniable activity, still hungers for the evidence that we are Spirit-led and guided by more than our collective acumen. We read the stories of 150 years ago—narratives all charged with healings, miracles, and unexpected outcomes—and ask ourselves if we are truly the descendants of a generation who lived much closer to the book of Acts. Somberly we wonder, “Would we know if the Spirit left us? Or would we go on opening the doors and planning the events for those who love routine and sameness?”
The great good news is that the Spirit never leaves His own—that even in our moments (weeks or years) of personal and corporate unresponsiveness, we don’t cease to be the ones with whom He strives. A hundred signs are all about us—some as personal as the answers to deeply private prayer; others found in thoughtful, calibrated decisions taken by the leaders who serve us or the tens of thousands of local congregations that are collectively the theater of grace.
According to the apostle John, the churches of his era received the counsel sent—yes, seven times—from heaven: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev 3:22, NRSV).
Now would be a good time to be paying close attention.
- Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Ó 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.