When the Spirit Leads: The Answers We Never Heard
by Edwin Torkelsen | 15 February 2018 |
For many of us the third person in the Godhead is probably the most problematic one. The problem is not the Spirit’s, but ours. How do we understand the Spirit; or more specifically, in what ways do we expect the Spirit to lead us?
When we face problems, be it in our personal lives, in the local church, or in our World Church, we turn to the Spirit and pray: “Please, Holy Spirit, be present and lead us as we handle our difficulties.”
I am sure the Spirit hears our prayer, and am also sure of the Spirit’s willingness to answer. But it happens the Spirit’s Way. The challenge is, are we willing to be lead the Spirit’s Way?
While still a teenager I had a long and serious conversation with the Lord. This is the short version: God, here I am. You have given me my brain, and certain skills and talents. I want to serve you. Use me the way you see best. Help me to make the right decisions in my life. Amen.
The first item on my wish list was like Adam’s: I felt lonely. I needed a wise and compassionate companion that was in every way equal to me, and who would have some of the many strengths and skills I lack.
I was still in academy. I started to review the local possibilities. How about that one? No answer. This one is very attractive!—or at least so I think. No answer. Hey, Lord. See that girl? Long black hair, very sweet. No answer.
In the process I also discovered that I was not on the short list of any of those females. Fortunately, I would say now.
One sunny fall Sabbath afternoon I spotted a girl I had never seen before. She was not a student in the academy. Bright green coat, beautiful face, very elegant. She stood out. I asked some questions and found out she was visiting her cousin. I asked the cousin about her. She went to her cousin. Edwin is interested, she told her truthfully! Edwin who? The cousin’s cousin had no idea who Edwin was. The cousin came back to me. “Edwin, she is very interested!,” in a cleverly deceptive yet sweet fashion.
In May of this year the cousin’s cousin and I will have been married for 52 years.
Did the Spirit send me how-to-do instructions? No. Did the Spirit answer me the way I expected? Definitely not. What I heard was nothing but complete silence.
Did the Spirit lead? Did the Spirit answer? Absolutely! I see it now, in hindsight. He said, Not this one! But I did not hear it. He said, Be patient! But I did not hear it. He said, Don’t be in such a hurry, wait a bit! I did not hear that either. In the end the Spirit said, This is the girl—go for her! I did not hear that at all. But I went for it, because the Spirit was leading. Today I see that very clearly. Today I also see clearly why the Spirit had said of others “No, no, definitely not!” But I did not hear or see it then. I expected him to answer me My Way.
But, as always, the Spirit did it the Spirit’s Way.
Holy Spirit, Lead My Local Church!
Sometimes I fall victim to thinking, ‘This church needs some leading by the Spirit!’ Some fellow members think the same way. However, we do not always see the problems, nor their solutions in the same light.
Why can’t the church pastor, the elders, and the board simply adopt my point of view and do it “My Way”? They never bother to ask my opinion, and I don’t bother to tell them. May be that keeps the door open for the Spirit to lead the “Spirit’s Way”?
In one church some are Male Headshipped; others are not. Both sides claim that the Spirit is on their side. All are still friends, though.
Sabbath school is always opened with several prayers; several probably because some may be unsure if the Spirit was listening to the first one. In one class nobody says a word, except the leader who quotes Selected Messages from the Bible, Ellen White, and Church Manual. Everybody nods piously in agreement. In another class discussions can be heated at times. The heat is usually generated by persons with similar character traits, but opposite ideas. Some who inadvertently wandered into one class may decide to seek refuge in the other. After a good sermon and a good potluck most people go home and feel that it has been a blessed Sabbath.
Christ promised to be present through the Spirit whenever two or three gather together in his name. Sometimes we don’t notice the Spirit’s presence. But when I see the fruits of the Spirit, like the effects of the wind, abundantly evident along with the good food in the potluck, I rest assured that the Spirit was present and was leading us in both classes, and even through the sermon. When I see that Mr & Mrs Opinion A and Mr & Mrs Viewpoint B go camping together with their kids, I realize that the Spirit is leading and has answered our prayers for unity. Despite differences in identifying horns on beasts and the schemes of the Papacy, however it is important to do. We are led the Spirit’s Way, often discovering it only afterwards.
Holy Spirit, Lead Our World Church!
I wonder, maybe the Spirit sometimes answers us by asking a counter question: ‘Aren’t you guys now asking too much? And possibly even the wrong question? Stop and do some thinking, folks!’
I have tried to do some thinking. That is always a risky business, for many reasons. Ravi Zacharias has a radio program series that he has called “Let My People Think.” The programs inform us a lot about what Ravi thinks, and if I were allowed to be the judge, he does a lot of very sensible thinking well worth listening to and learning from. So I accept the challenge.
The first thought: There is no “World Church”! There are only local gatherings of God’s children who come together, trying to do some thinking.
The second thought: It is impossible for the Spirit to lead a World Church if that entity does not exist! Yes, I know. This thought is close to heresy. At least in Rome.
The third thought: Christ promised that the Spirit would visit groups of two and three. He said nothing about two thousand or 20 million.
The fourth thought: Joseph Goebbels was very successful deceiving the thousands, even millions; he was far less successful deceiving the two-and-three groups.
The fifth thought: Women are often more sensible than men, because they focus on the two and three. Men tend to be enamored with the thousands and the millions, which I suspect may have to do with the intoxicating effects of pomp and circumstance and power: the wine of Babylon.
Maybe I’d better stop thinking. Maybe we should just read the Church Manual. All the answers are there. Not many open questions in that book. Questions can be disturbing. Some may rob you of your sleep. Answers are comfortable. They seldom keep you awake. Sometimes not even in Sabbath school.
How can the Spirit lead us if we already know all the answers? We don’t think we need to be led anywhere if we imagine we’ve already arrived. Leading presupposes that we are willing to move, from where we are to somewhere else. We should do some serious thinking before we ask the Spirit to lead us. That prayer is risky. The Spirit may lead us where we don’t want to go.
Ellen White, who knew the Spirit well, has warned us: “[As a people] we are certainly in great danger, if we are not constantly guarded, of considering our ideas, because long cherished, to be Bible doctrines and on every point infallible, and measuring everyone by the rule of our interpretation of Bible truth. This is our danger, and this would be the greatest evil that could ever come to us as a people.” (MS 37, 1890).
“The greatest evil”? So, when the Spirit leads, we will have no choice but to move!
The JC and the GC
The Jerusalem Council (JC) was not the first General Conference session (GC). The JC demonstrates what happens when the Spirit leads believers to move, which is what a GC session ought to be about—movement!
Here is a list of a few clues (telegram style):
The Jerusalem Council faced a serious issue. The issue threatened to split the Early Church. The issue was about allowing the Spirit to lead.
There were two parties, A and B. A was against allowing the Spirit to lead. They had arrived. B was for allowing the Spirit to lead. They were ready to move.
Wise leaders knew that taking a vote solved nothing. It would only create winners and losers and continued strife. The wise leaders suggested: Let us hear how the Spirit has been leading in foreign lands. The assembly listened carefully to the reports from those on the ground in the foreign lands.
Then they all engaged in discussion about what all these new things meant. While doing this, they all grew in mutual respect and understanding as they explored different points of view and perspectives.
Gradually the Spirit moved them from stalemate to consensus based on understandings and perspectives that were not identical, but complementary. Finally they all realized that the Spirit was leading them to move away from thinking either-or to both-and. Suddenly they discovered that the Spirit was moving them into a Spirit-centered unity in diversity built on mutual respect for differing opinion. A stroke of genius that none except the Spirit could do.
Overwhelmed by joy, they realized that the Spirit had brought them the rich fruits of the Spirit in a divine unity in Christ that allowed them to follow where the Spirit was leading them, both among the Jews and among the Gentiles.
Did they discover how the Spirit was leading them the Spirit’s Way?
They sure did. Afterwards.
Edwin Torkelsen is a retired historian who worked for the National Archives in Norway. He also taught Medieval History in the University of Oslo, and was an Associate Professor of History in the University of Trondheim with a special interest in the development of the ecclesiastical, jurisdictional, theological, doctrinal, and political ideologies of the Medieval church. He is a member of the Tyrifjord Adventist Church in Norway.