I made a covenant with the Holy Spirit.
A simple (if possible) illustration of the Holy Spirit by Bible Project.
I came into this week feeling great. After an amazing weekend of climbing some mountains with some awesome friends, and seeing God interact with me through nature, I felt like I was in a pretty good "spot."
Yet day one of Holy Spirit week proved to be very challenging and frustrating for me. Questions formed in my mind that I hadn't considered before. When I asked such a question, often prefaced with a Bible verse I thought I understood, I was frequently - and gently - chastised for taking the Word out of context.
As we progressed through the week, I became aware that all of this was a part of the Holy Spirit's plan for me; to dismantle any false truths I had come to believe about who God and his Spirit is. It is nice to know that the supreme being who created the universe has a loving desire to show us who he really is for our own benefit.
Mary Jean Powers, our speaker for the week, gave us an illustration of the dangers of having the Word without the Spirit, and the Spirit without the Word. She asked us what words came to mind when we thought about the Bible without having the Spirit to lead us.
WORD w/out SPIRIT
SPIRIT w/out WORD
Circumstantial/vulnerable to deception
In both of these lists, we find what many people term as "religion" in the negative sense of the word - that is, a pressurized emphasis on works and appearances without a genuine and humble heart-intent for a relationship with God.
God calls us to the "radical middle" of these two lists - to reconcile together both Word and Spirit, and to make them inseparable. To test the spirits with the Word, and to allow the Spirit to speak to us through the Word and make it alive.
Halfway through the week we were given an exercise. We were told to find a partner and line up with them (one in from of the other, facing the same direction). Person 1 (behind) put one hand on Person 2's shoulder and had to direct Person 2 which direction to go. If Person 2 felt a push forward, he/she would walk forward. If Person 2 felt a pressure leaning to the right, he/she would go right, etc. Because all of the different pressures came from one hand, it required serious concentration for Person 2 to know where Person 1 was leading. Person 2 always had the choice whether or not they were going to follow the urge they were getting from Person 1's hand.
Here are a few insights that we collectively shared about following the leading of the Holy Spirit from that exercise:
"It's easier to close my eyes and obey rather than debate my opinion with his."
"It was hardest for him to make me stop - he values our waiting and strengthens us."
"When we are pushed, we don't feel the release of pressure (peace) until we obey."
"It's easy to assume that the Holy Spirit led us one way, and we can continue walking in that direction w/out listening to see if he wants to lead us somewhere else after a while."
Over the course of the week, I came to surrender my desire to wrap my mind around the Holy Spirit. Throughout my life I had witnessed the Holy Spirit work through me, but I admit I haven't treated him as a person who desires a relationship with me. So I decided to defer my judgement to him, to let him disciple me and teach me for himself who he was and what he wanted to do in my life and through me, as I studied the Word and listened to speakers and obeyed. So I made a covenant with the Holy Spirit to be his disciple.
THE RETURN TO SHADOW TREE
Jolly trying to stick a twig up my nose.
Halfway through Holy Spirit Week we began to plan for our return trip to Shadow Tree apartments, where we had done a week-long VBS-type outreach a couple weeks ago.
As it would be our last time we'd see them, Taylor, our DTS leader, asked us if anyone would like to share the gospel message while we were there. No one raised any hands, so I volunteered.
After our meeting, however, one of the YWAM staff had gotten a word that perhaps Michael was to share the gospel. Michael and I looked at each other, both of us fully willing to surrender the platform.
"Well, let's pray about it as we come nearer to when we go," I said.
But we both ended up getting so caught up in the busyness of our schedules that neither of us found the time or remembered to ask the Lord.
Chris comes alive during children's ministry. He has a fun, commanding presence that makes all the kids love and respect him. On our team, we all defer to him when it comes to making plans and organizing activities.
It wasn't until we arrived at Shadow Tree that I found the time to sit down with Michael and ask him about who should give the message.
We did our best to focus in prayer as kids clambered all over us.
From praying and listening we didn't get much insight from God, only an idea that maybe we should present it together somehow. It didn't seem to make practical sense, but it was all we had to work with.
So we left the area and hid behind our white van as we began to discuss how we would co-present the gospel message. We battled through tough dilemmas such as, "How do we explain that God is both just and loving to kids in a way that makes sense?" We ran by illustration after illustration on each other, and finally got something together between the two of us.
By the time we rejoined the group, our team was gathering the kids to sit down and watch a drama.
But everything was all out of whack. We never ended up having time during the week to finalize our plans for our ministry, and now it was time to do something.
"Hey kids!... okay so now we're going to... wait, what play are we going to do?"
"Let's do Facade."
"Okay - wait where's Jeff?"
"I think he's fixing someone's door."
"We need him for the play."
"So what are we going to do?!"
"I don't know!"
It was chaos. We all looked like a bunch of chickens running around with our heads chopped off. Somehow, the people we needed weren't around when we needed them. People began to disperse, searching for the missing people we needed, and becoming needed missing people themselves.
The kids sitting down started getting anxious.
"Quick, Dan, do Sin Chair!"
I stumbled my way through the funny skit with Mischu, wondering all the while why everything was going wrong. Thankfully the kids didn't mind watching my antics for a third time.
By the time I finished, there was still no new plan. Taylor looked me in the eye and said, "Give the gospel message."
I shuddered inside, having hoped that we were going to present the message after some meaningful drama, not some funny skit. I felt so unprepared, but surrendered my fears to the Lord.
Michael and I got up in front of what kids were left, and I began speaking.
Roping in their attention with a loud voice, I made brief introductions before talking about how good God is for making the earth for us to enjoy. I pointed at a nearby tree and described some of the beautiful things about it.
As I unraveled the familiar story of God's original plan, the fall, and our sin in a way they could understand, it began to rain.
More chaos. Many of the kids who had been patient all this time scattered for cover. Still, though, a few remained, listening intently through the pitter-patter of the rain splashing on the ground.
The rain intensified, and I looked around frantically. As it turned out, most of the kids and staff had gathered under the same tree I had just highlighted as something beautiful that God had made for them.
The rest of us dashed over. On my way I bumped into Sophie; she tried to say something but I cut her off, "Are you praying?!" She gently nodded. (I apologized later, and she forgave me).
So there we were, all huddled under this big tree; kids grabbing at each other, screaming, laughing, everything. I was desperate to get their attention again.
Just as I was about to start yelling over their voices, Nikki asked me, "Would you like to stand on a chair?"
"No," I retorted, caught up in my hot-headedness. A few moments later my senses came back. "Yes, actually," I said with an oafish smile.
Standing on the chair, I reined in the children's attention again, pointing out how good God was for giving us this tree that could shelter us from the rain.
I finally wrapped up the topic of how we deserve punishment from God, and turned to Michael. It was his turn to talk about Jesus. Without looking at me, he said, "Keep going."
"Wait, you want me to do everything?" I asked, the fear clutching at my gut.
Taking a deep breath, I plowed on unscripted, illustrating God's love for each one of them and how he would send his son to save us. I emphasized how we could now live an interactive life with God, with a personal and daily relationship with him.
I pointed down at my shirt and read its words out loud, "Reps for Jesus." I told them that God wants to do everything with us, even when we are playing games or working out. To explain what the word "reps" meant, I threw myself down to the ground I started doing push-ups. "Jesus is right next to me doing push-ups too!" I yelled.
Standing back up, I continued to encourage them to accept Christ as Lord, and to invite God into everything that they did. I asked if anyone wanted this kind of relationship with God to raise their hands. All hands went up - whether they were just raising them, or actually meant it, is not for me to say. I led them through the salvation prayer, and that concluded the gospel message.
It was still raining, however. I wanted God to show up in a very real way to these kids, so I began to pray aloud that he would stop the rain.
The rain didn't stop.
"God, you need come through here," was the state of my heart.
I got a few of the kids to join me in singing, "Rain, rain, go away, come again another day!"
The sun began to shine down, but the rain still didn't stop. "Come on, God, give us a rainbow. Then they will really know you are here!" I demanded.
I knelt down with Royal, one of the children, and asked him if he'd like to pray for the rain to go away. He said yes. I prayed aloud, then asked him if he'd like to say anything. He said no. I encouraged him a little more, "It's easy! You can just say, 'Dear God please make the rain stop.'" That seemed simple enough for him, so he prayed it out loud.
"Now it's really going to stop," I thought to myself.
Royal getting a ride on Josh.
But the rain didn't stop, and though the sun was shining, there was still no rainbow in the sky.
I continued to implore and demand that God would send us a rainbow. I even told him where in the sky I would like it to be. Something in me just knew that the rain was going to stop, and that there was going to be a rainbow. I walked around in the rain, looking around buildings in case there was a rainbow that we couldn't see.
One of the kids, named Jolly, wanted to go on my shoulders. He pointed for me to go back out into the rain, and so I willingly obeyed. We went out at least three times, but still nothing came.
All the girls loved Michael. Photo by Jonathan Roberts.
Eventually someone ran up to us and gently reprimanded Jolly for getting soaked.
As I put him down, the rain began to stop.
Simultaneously I heard YWAM Staff Liz shout, "Look, there's a rainbow!"
It wasn't as bright as I had hoped, but it was exactly where I had asked for it to be, nice and big.
Royal, who was nearby, started dancing with glee. "We prayed the rain away, we prayed the rain away!"
I gave him a high-five and encouraged him about how God took the rain away and how he wanted to be a part of our everyday lives.
Looking back up at the sky, I felt a slight pang as I wondered why the rainbow wasn't as bright as I had hoped it to be. It felt like God had given us the rainbow almost reluctantly, or with some kind of sorrow in his heart.
Tucking that thought away, I continued to play with the kids around me and rejoice with them.
Tony went up on my shoulders, and we walked around the parking lot, following the flow of water as it trickled from one puddle to another. Royal tagged along too.
Coming up to one such puddle, I commented aimlessly, "Look, the water is green. Why do you think it's green?"
It was a dumb question to ask, because it was a hard question to answer. The dirty brown water was getting hit by yellow rays from the sun, making it come off as slightly green.
But without missing a beat Tony exclaimed, "God made it green!"
"Yeah you're right!" I laughed.
Tony remembered my name!
We walked over to Royal, who was splashing his foot in another puddle. "Look at the bubbles!" he cried.
"Oh that's really cool!" I said, joining him and Tony in their fascination for bubbles. I smiled and stuck my foot in too, tapping the water and watching bubbles surface. Again without thinking I asked, "Do you know why there are bubbles?"
"Because God made them!" shouted Tony. "God made the bubbles!" agreed Royal.
I was stunned. These kids really grasped the main thrust of the message that God was and wanted to be involved in literally aspect of their life. They were not saying that God made bubbles in general. They were saying that God made those particular bubbles for them while we were playing in the water.
At yet another time, the three of us found a lady bug. Picking it up and passing it around, I watched Royal and Tony marvel at it as it crawled in and around their fingers. "God gave us this lady bug," Royal mused.
What joy filled my heart!
Before we all packed into the van we got to say goodbye and give words of encouragement to the friends we had developed during our time there.
We all shared stories as we rode back to base. It was incredible how, despite our poor planning, the day went better than we could have planned. The lack of presentations and skits had given each of us extra opportunities to have meaningful playtime or conversations with the kids - and it was through those personal interactions where we saw the power of the Holy Spirit work the most.
I'm also really grateful that I got to create the gospel message with Michael; even though he never ended up speaking, I wouldn't have been able to deliver the message without his help and correction. And I still thank the Holy Spirit for working through me and despite me as I spoke.
An amazing photo of an amazing dude who looks absolutely amazing. Photo of Michael Blank by Jonathan Roberts.
Yet I still wondered about my attitude towards God when I prayed for the rain to stop and for God to give us a rainbow. As it turned out, I wasn't the only one who had silently prayed for a rainbow; Sophie had asked for one too.
I eventually came to this conclusion: while my heart was one with God's - that all the children would come to know his love - I had no fear of the Lord in my heart. There was no trace of submissiveness to him; instead of humbly asking for the rain to stop and for a rainbow to come, or instead of commanding the rain to stop in the name of Jesus, I had demanded that God make the rain stop and bring the rainbow.
Demanding that God do anything is a bad idea in general, in case you didn't know.
So I confessed and repented of that the same evening. I have shared this with you freely because Christ's blood has washed me clean and I can now walk in the light - exposed and unashamed about it all.
The fact that he made the rain stop and the rainbow come anyways only shows his heart for his children. I'm really grateful that, in his mercy, he overlooked my pride and proved to the children that he is indeed an incredibly loving and interactive Father and Friend.