Author | Steve
I’ve spent much of my life afraid.
I didn’t know it. In fact, most people who have known me over the years would say I’m confident. I thought I was too. But, God has graciously revealed to me that I have been living afraid for a long time.
It’s interesting that in Martin Luther’s explanation to the Ten Commandments, he begins each commandment’s explanation with, “We should fear…God.” As a kid, I never really got the meaning of this. Over the years, God has taken me deeper into this idea of fearing Him above all things.
I have feared all kinds of things more than God. In fact, my life has often looked like Jesus’ disciples when he was arrested – scared chickens running in all directions to save their own skin.
Over the past couple of years, I have sensed the Holy Spirit giving me opportunities to fear God more than other people or situations. I mean, I see Him doing this all the time when He invites me to believe God’s words over and against the wisdom of this world; but I’ve also seen Him invite me to make simple, bold witnesses of His love, only to shut down that voice out of fear.
A few years ago, Jamie and I were in San Antonio for a couple of days. It was Saturday morning, and we were about to head home. Jamie wanted to stop by a shop in the Mexican Mercado we had visited the day before to pick up something she had seen and liked. We got there before the shops opened, so we were sitting around watching the street vendors setting up their wares. As we were waiting, I saw a man approaching in the distance and sensed God saying to me, “Tell that man that I love him.”
Now I’m a German-Lutheran. I’ve been schooled to be suspicious of any voice that is not the written Word of God contained in the Bible. The Holy Spirit speaks through God’s word and sacraments, and I should be content with that.
But there I was, not hearing an audible voice, but with an overwhelming sense that God was telling me to tell this approaching man that He loves him.
Adding to my fear was the fact the man was one of the most massive African-American men I’ve ever seen. So I argued – with myself, with God. I made deals. As the man walked by, I breathed a sigh of relief that the moment had passed and I was off the hook. I convinced myself it wasn’t God and I wasn’t supposed to do such a weird thing, because…see – he walked right by!
It was at that moment that the man stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and started walking right at me. My heart nearly stopped. I couldn’t swallow. He came within feet of me and sat down in a chair right next to me. I could hear his breathing he was so close. Over and over in my head I heard, “Tell him. Tell him that I love him.”
I didn’t. I was scared. I was scared of what he would say, of what he would do. I was scared by the cracks in my nice clean theology that said I shouldn’t listen to this voice.
Jamie returned. The one shop she wanted to go into never opened that morning. We left empty-handed. And I left shaken and full of questions.
I know what I’m proposing here causes great fear in my theological circles – my tribe. Shoot, it caused great fear in me. I was afraid to tell a man that God loves him. Afraid for all kinds of reasons. Not a single one of my reasons stemmed from a fear of God though.
Over the next couple of years I pondered the idea that God’s Spirit might speak to people in this way; not against the revealed words of scripture or the Christ to whom they point, but actually prompt God’s people to action. Could this be what happened when an angel sent Philip down to the road that leads to Gaza?
I by no means want to diminish the revealed and recorded Word of God in the scriptures. I believe that these are foundational to the way God relates to us, keeping us from wandering off into all kinds of trouble, away from Jesus and the life He gives. That being said, I hear no shortage of comments that the enemy and our own sinful conscience can speak to us directly, but then believe that God can’t, outside of scripture. I know the arguments for God, free as He is to do whatever He pleases, binding Himself to His Word and to certain means, so that we can be certain of His promises and His love. I know this, and I love it! But it doesn’t answer the question of, “Does He speak by His Spirit to people still today, prompting them to action?”
I know its easier to just say, “Let’s stay in the safe waters of what we verifiably know.” And I think that’s where we should swim most of the time. However, all through the pages of scripture I see God inviting scared, broken people to walk a new way by the leading of His voice. And when they trust Him and follow, He breaks the fearful hold of dark things, and brings light and life to the craziest of places and people.
A couple weeks ago on our last night in Uganda, we were staying in the capital city, Kampala. Our hotel was hosting hundreds of Ugandan military leaders and their spouses for a meal. As we were eating, an older gentlemen with a cane, dressed head-to-toe in silky bright yellow shirt and slacks – the color of the ruling party – approached our table. I wish I had a recording of the next two-and-a-half hours. It was profound.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the man sitting directly next to me was the leading social philosopher of Uganda, Kajabago Karusoke. A former commander in the Ugandan military, he is a Marxist trained in Moscow who now teaches all of the highest ranking military leaders in Uganda and is an advisor to President Museveni. He was absolutely delightful, even dancing with Jamie and one of the other women in our party.
It was somewhere early in the conversation, as Mr. Karusoke was lecturing us (he actually used this word “lecture” to describe what he was doing, being that he is a lecturer at heart) about the benefits of Marxist social philosophy over the imperialist philosophy of the West, that the voice came again to me, “Tell him about my Son, Jesus.”
I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Feet away from the table I began praying. I suddenly found myself praying out loud in the bathroom of this Kampala hotel, and I looked under the stall doors to see if I was alone.
I returned to the conversation and in no time, Mr. Karusoke was scolding me for supporting the presidents of my United States and their imperialist policies. Now up till this time, all of the conversation had been about politics, philosophy and social relationships of people. Suddenly I heard myself saying, “In all my years of voting, I think I have voted for the winning president of the United States once. There’s all kinds of things about my country that I don’t support or like, especially right now. But I don’t serve presidents or kings or economies. I serve only One, and his name is Jesus. Have you heard of him?”
With no thought of our safety in a foreign country, I blurted it out. I’ve thought about it much since then. It probably wasn’t the “wise” thing to do. But the conversation after that for the next ninety minutes was real, and lively…and a little scary at times. Yet, I was never scared, if that makes sense.
A lot of what was said at that point I don’t want to share in this forum except this: what we found in this complicated man was someone who says he doesn’t believe in God, yet is very angry with Him; someone who is begging the God he doesn’t believe in to show Himself to him. And on that beautiful night in Kampala, He did…through a chicken who listened for once and some of his friends who know the voice of their God.