“You could tell God was active in that church.”
“The Holy Spirit is really moving at that youth event.”
“We are so thankful to see the Lord show up in this ministry.”
I heard versions of these phrases about four zillion times growing up. It was common in the small bible-saturated Indiana town I grew up in. “God’s movement” was often used to describe a time or place where large numbers of people were converted or a church or ministry was increasing in number.
This morning on my drive to work I was listening to a podcast and the phrase “God was really moving” was used to describe the growth of a ministry. Even though this phrase is familiar to me, I immediately jerked away as if I’d been burned and shouted, “God is always moving!” to the empty space of my car.
I have an army of critics in my head and so I can hear some of you rolling your eyes at this. One of my inner critics is called The Scoffer. Her response was immediately, “Geez, Sara, don’t pick a fight about this. It’s merely semantics, my dear Watson,” accompanied by a condescending chuckle.
My response to you, my dear Scoffer, is simple: 1) I don’t want to fight with anyone and 2) words are important. The smallest ways we use words are often the MOST important. They are guiding our thoughts about life, God, others, and ourselves without us really being awake to it.
So I press onward.
I wouldn’t say that I find this way of speaking about conversion to be wrong, but I think it has a special way of separating God from the world – HIS world. It limits our perception of God’s movement. It limits the Holy Spirits work to the walls of a church or the weekend of a youth retreat. It has the potential to cause us to believe that His action is limited to just the right set of circumstances and just the correct amount of faith. It could cause us to believe that only if we play the right worship song and speak with the right amount of conviction, then God will “move.”
In no way am I saying that the man speaking on my morning podcast (or anyone else who’s used this phrase) was trying to limit God. What I DO believe is that words have power and they set boundaries and we are people of severe word habits.
So in one way, dear Sherlock, you’re absolutely right. It’s entirely semantics.
I’ll introduce you to another critic who resides in my psyche. You all know her – she’s the Devil’s Advocate. She uses the voice of many of the really smart, loud kids in my Theology classes. (Please don’t call my therapist about my voices before you hear me out.)
My Devil’s Advocate chimes in with, “Oh, well don’t you believe that church is sacred and that God shows up in a special way there? What about “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you? We’re told to respond to God.”
I’m truly thankful for the Devil’s Advocate because she keeps me accountable to not committing treacherous heresy. (I still might and I definitely want you to call me out if you see it.)
To the Devil’s Advocate: Yes, I do believe God is active in church in a special way that propels us to see Him moving throughout the week. I believe the temple of God is within us and that church is a weekly mercy God gives to His forgetful bride to remind us of His presence. I believe the Spirit of God is sacredly active within a gathering of believers at church and this action spills over into our work and our friendships and our nightly rituals.
In church we are reminded of His presence. What if we continued in that posture out the doors of the church as well? Lastly, I do believe we have a responsive God who moves near to us when we move near to Him, but I believe that He is always moving near to us.
Again, I press on.
This morning after my shout of “God is always moving!” my immediate next exclamations were:
“Wherever there is LIFE, God is moving.
Wherever there is GOODNESS, God is moving.
Wherever there are BABIES and COURAGE and thriving GARDENS and souls finding space to BREATH, God is moving.”
I can imagine God’s response to our “God was really moving that night,” might be something like:
“Seriously? I’ve been moving this whole time. Yes, there are times when I make myself REALLY obvious but that’s only because you forget me so easily. I’m ALWAYS this actively near. Not a single thing in the universe is held up without My Hand and My Word saying “let it be.”
Finally, I’m NOT proposing we stop using the phrase, “God was moving.” On the contrary, I’m proposing we start using it a whole lot more. Like, WAY more. Every morning, and every evening, and in all the moments in between.
Oh Lord Jesus, make us aware of your Divinity in all things. You are redeeming and restoring and speaking all around us at all times. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear.
(Please send any and all theological concerned thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic. I want to discuss this and I am open to being completely wrong.)