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.