The Holy Spirit first spoke to me in the middle of a church sermon. The irony is that I didn’t believe in God at the time.
You might wonder why I was sitting in a church pew on Sunday morning if I didn’t believe in God. Two reasons. One: I wanted to believe in God, but I didn’t know how to get there. And two (the primary reason): Brad and I had agreed to enroll our son Noah, who was four at the time, in Sunday school. On most Sundays it was simply easier for me to sit in church while Noah was in class, instead of in my car or in the café of the nearby Barnes and Noble. Brad and I took turns each Sunday – one of us brought Noah to Sunday school while the other stayed home with Rowan, who, as a toddler, had a less-than-churchy disposition.
It would have been cool if the Holy Spirit had worked in me that Sunday like he worked in the disciples on Pentecost, when he arrived at the gathering “like the roaring of a mighty windstorm,” settling onto the disciples in “flames and tongues of fire.” (Acts 2:2-3). Frankly, that sort of dramatic display, though terrifying, would have convinced me of the presence of God in a New York minute.
But that’s not the way the Holy Spirit worked in me. In fact, I didn’t even realize it had been the Holy Spirit at work until more than two years later, when I looked back at that Sunday and thought, “Huh … would you look at that.”
What happened that morning in church was that Pastor Greg preached a sermon called “Just Walk across the Room.” It was a message about evangelizing – a call to the congregation to reach out and invite what he called “unchurched” friends, relatives, neighbors and acquaintances to experience God.
The irony, of course, is that while I was sitting in an actual pew in an actual church, I was as unchurched and faithless as any unbeliever on the street.
After I got home from church that morning, I walked immediately downstairs to our basement office, sat at the computer and typed a vague email to Pastor Greg. I simply told him that the morning’s sermon had grabbed my attention, and that perhaps I should stop by his office to talk sometime. The following week I met Pastor Greg in his office and we talked. I admitted to him that I didn’t think I believed in God, but that I wanted to and didn’t know how.
“I believe that God’s with you, that the Holy Spirit is in you, working in you, and has brought you here today,” Pastor Greg had answered that day, looking me straight in the eye as I squirmed in my chair. “And I believe that’s evidence that you’re not as far lost as you think you are.”
I’d like to tell you that when I heard those words, I broke into a rousing chorus of Alleluias and heard the voice of God thunder through the roof of the church.
But the truth is, nothing happened.
While I was relieved to have finally unburdened myself, I also frankly thought Pastor Greg was full of baloney. I simply didn’t believe him. I didn’t even know how to respond to his confident declaration, so I nodded a lot, muttered something along the lines of, “Wow, that’s great, good news, thank you.” And then I drove to the mall and bought a pair of sandals.
But as it turned out, Pastor Greg was right. The Holy Spirit was at work in me. Not in a roaring wind or in tongues of fire. Not in a way that was obvious to me at the time. But working indeed. It just took me another two years to recognize it.
Has the Holy Spirit ever worked in unexpected ways in you? Think back over your life for a minute. Can you think of an experience you’ve always brushed off that might, in fact, be the result of the Holy Spirit’s work?
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