This past Sunday was an amazing Sunday. For whatever reason everything just seemed to click and flow. It didn’t start that way, at least not for me. Sunday starts on Monday for lots of preachers. That was me this week. I read the text I was planning on preaching from. I prayed about it. I started reading commentaries. I looked online at what other preachers had to say about the text. I offered a devotional on the text for our men of the church breakfast. And guess what? Nothing was happening. I don’t mean to say that I didn’t learn anything. However, I wasn’t feeling any connection to the text or what I had to say. It just felt like a bunch of ideas, but not necessarily a word from God to share.
THE FELT SENSE
I don’t know how much sense that makes to you, but after about 15 or 20 years of teaching and preaching I have a very different felt sense around those things that I know God wants me to share and those things that are just John’s amazing invaluable thoughts or in some instances worthless thoughts. Well this week every thing coming to me pretty much was in the “thought” category not the “God says share this” category. I know from experience that when this starts happening it is too much John and not enough of God in the equation. So at that point I backed away from thinking so hard. Slid into more prayer. Took a long hot bath. Jotted down a few notes and went to bed. When you are stuck in listening like this the best thing I can liken it to is trying to remember someone’s name. You know you know, but it just won’t flow. The flow doesn’t happen until you back away and stop trying so hard and then suddenly BAM!!! There is the answer. I needed to stop and wait for BAM.
The BAM came the next morning. Not all at once. But as a series of lower case “bam’s” over about a two hour period. The first bam actually occurred while I was getting ready for the morning. First an illustration that I had used in a sermon several years ago came to me. Actually, almost the whole sermon came back to me. At first it seemed unconnected but then the little bam’s started happening and I could see connections to the text. I left very early to go to the church, but then drove around for 20-30 minutes once I got there. This was very intentional. My car is my bam incubator or you could call it my thinkubator. My head gets loaded with ideas and then I need some time and space for those thoughts to just incubate toward maturity. For what ever reason driving in my car seems to create rather ideal conditions for this process to unfold. Guess what. Another bam or two happened in the car.
When I finally arrived at the church, I felt lead to go in the sanctuary and alternated between sitting and circumambulating around the sanctuary. Circumambulate is a big fancy word for walking around. Incidentally, you may not know this, but the old gothic cathedrals had transepts that were some times round and called circumambulatories. Priests and monks would often meditatively walk and pray in circles in these areas. I suspect a few of them were waiting for a “bam.” Well, a couple more bam’s came my way during that Sunday school hour of praying. I went back to my office and re-“mapped” my sermon. I don’t write manuscripts but I do draw up what are called mind maps. I put a few finishing touches on it and headed to worship. I continued to prayer through the front end of worship and allowed the map to settle in my head and heart.
Below is a embedded player you can click on listen to the end result. It was a sermon that connected for many people. God’s presence within the whole of worship was very apparent this past Sunday. Some of my long time readers, will recognize the opening and core illustration from a sermon I posted well over a year ago. The truths in it though are timeless and I know I need to be reminded periodically, so I suspect many of you do too.
SO, WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPLES TO CARRY AWAY FROM THIS POST THAT APPLY TO MORE OF LIFE THAN PREACHING?
1) Do the work!!! While I know that I told you that all of that work seemed to be initially producing nothing it was a critical part of the process. If you are trying to hearing God on a topic you need to work at actively listening first. For example, if you are praying about going to college. Don’t just drive around aimlessly or circumambulate waiting for God to say the name of a school. God may do that, but in the meantime, visit colleges, get online and look at various majors, talk to students about their experience of the schools they attended. God may very well give you your “BAM” via that type of concentrated effort.
2) Thinkubate. When you get to a place of beginning to feel confused, overwhelmed or stuck, then you need a more passive prayer time of listening. Now you need some thinkubator time. For me stepping into my car is a way of getting that grace space to just listen. You may want to take a walk or do something that is very meditative to you. Look for a task that can engage you at some light level, but doesn’t demand a lot of conscious thought. If you play a musical instrument, go grab your instrument and jam for a bit. Don’t work on a new piece, just play what comes to mind and heart. Stepping away like this for awhile release your mind for a bit so that you don’t get lost in your own ideas. Then return to praying and listening. By listening, I mean pay attention to the thoughts, images, and memories that come to you as you pray. The BAM will come when its ready. God will speak probably not in the time or the way you expect, but God will speak.
3) Cycle between Perspiration and Thinkubation. I have found that the likelihood of me hearing God is dramatically increased if I will alternate between actively working to find answers and then pausing to reflect and passively listen. One feeds the other and both create opportunities for God to speak to me in different ways. If you have stories of revelatory moments with God that relate to these principles I would love to hear them. I am always trying to refine my ability to find “BAM”, or as in the instance of this past Sunday, to have “BAM” find me, as is frequently the case.
Wishing you many Godly BAMs.