Last week, at our annual leadership retreat, I asked our leaders to stop talking. I invited them to find a comfortable spot, and just be quiet. And wait. Wait for God to communicate with them.
After an extended time we reconvened, and shared what happened during that silent time. For some, it was a relaxing quiet time with no particular message from God. Others reported various divine interventions. A word. An image. A sense. A nudge. The Holy Spirit acted—customized for each person.
That unscripted time with God reminded us Who is in charge, and gave us fresh direction.
Later several of our leaders pointed to our extemporaneous God times as the most impactful elements of our retreat.
It reminded me how scheduled and rehearsed the church has become. Our worship hours are meticulously timed to the minute, or second. Our Bible studies are conducted with academic rigor. Even our small groups have become predictably regimented. Nothing is left to chance. Nothing is left to the Holy Spirit.
Our carefully laid plans often leave no room for God.
But the world craves the true presence of the Lord, a supernatural brush with the divine, the reassuring touch of love from the living God. These moments can’t be planned, rehearsed or controlled. It’s God’s domain.
We’ve learned to allow such extemporaneous times in our Lifetree Café experiences. Every week I’m surprised—and inspired—by how God works. In ways we could never have planned.
David Hurlbutt, music and outreach director at a church in New York, described how God frequently surprises him at his church’s Lifetree Café ministry:
“The most amazing thing for me is watching God move so visibly in that room week after week, putting just the right people at the right tables. A dad with a son at Lifetree for the first time; the son having just received his second DUI—only to sit with one of our Friendship Team members whose son had experienced the same thing.”
David also described a woman who found Lifetree, “happened” to sit with some followers of Christ, and joined in the spontaneous conversation. She said after the hour: “I want to know Jesus like that.” David said she prayed to receive Jesus into her heart that night.
“Only God can do that kind of work,” David said. “In 20 years I’ve never been part of a ministry where I’ve trusted God more and watched his followers be used to create real God space where he moves and does the miraculous week after week.”
Want to see God work? Open up, give him time, let him loose.
Thom, Thank you for always having such well stated reminders. God tells us to “be still and know that I am God” and we all allow ourselves to be distracted doing good and often very good things and miss His best, His power and His presence. LifeTree Cafe is my personal favorite thing our church does – I love the creative opportunities to invest in the lives of ‘not yet Christians’. I love the environment that is created where everyone feels safe and included – that can only happen with careful wording and planning and LifeTree does it. I am so thankful that even first timers feel so comfortable that they open up and share – because I believe that the most fertile soil for the seed of the gospel carefully be planted in that soil and that in His time He will bring a harvest in our new friends. Than you Thom, Group and LifeTree
Keep up the good work Thom! You are challenging us to grow and go. Half the time I am agitated by your thoughts, and half the time I am inspired–but I am forced to think every time! I appreciate your ministry.
One thing I’ve found is that when people are asked to be still and wait on God, some are at a loss and say they got nothing out of it. In some instances, we actually need to teach people “how” to be quiet and listen to God. Many do not know what it means to wait on God or what it feels like to have heard from Him. We have gotten just as caught up in the noise of our world and when our services and activities are jam-packed with activity, silence and stillness have to become learned behaviors.
Great insight, Pat. People are unaccustomed to listening for God. It’s important to prepare them. We need to help them get comfortable, clear their minds, get quiet, and “be still and know that I am God.” Then we need to help them be open to however the Holy Spirit may interact. He may send a thought, a word, a phrase, a picture, a nudge. Or, he may send nothing at all at that time–and that’s okay too. Then we need to help people know what to do with a communication from God.
This reminds me of the YWAM teams and their wonderful testimonials of answered prayers and specific guidance. Thanks for reminding me to stop and WAIT on God
There are times when I pray that I sense the Holy Spirit telling me “hush…” In the quiet moment that follows, I’m overwhelmed with His embrace and I remain still, knowing that all of me is under his tender care.
Five minutes after I read your article, I stopped to get some fuel. I was trying to spend a few moments at the fuel pump in silence. The darn pump started talking to me with a video screen. It must have been much easier for Jesus to find places to be silent.
Even if we try and plan quiet God time, we can be overcome by 2012.
Found your blog through Wednesday’s Rambling Round Up.
I’m glad you brought up this important topic- over the years I’ve noticed churches scheduling everything and leaving little time for God to move! It’s sad and this issue needs to be addressed.