It’s tempting, once we’ve planned, and confirmed or adjusted that plan in practice, to think that we are done listening to the Spirit – that everything is prepared, and now we can simply follow the plan. If the Spirit has been guiding us in our planning, then surely we can just trust that plan completely. No more adjustments necessary.
But our planning and practice are not only listening moments in themselves, they are also the preparation that frees up brain-space so that we can listen in the very act of leading – and adjust accordingly. Because rarely is the Spirit done at this point. He’s still moving, still refining, still longing to speak to us and through us.
And here that argument about spontaneity comes back. Because there is an element of dependence that we need to cultivate – despite good and thoughtful planning. A willingness to move with the fluidity of the Spirit. A willingness to abandon some of our preparation, no matter how prayerfully and carefully it was done, and to move in step with a Spirit that is always doing something new.
Now, I will say this: never have I felt that the Spirit has asked me to completely abandon the preparation we made together. Often, however (although not every week), there are small adjustments that are necessary in a given moment.
Recently, for example, having planned and practiced the service with my ears open – in the very act of playing “O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus” the last line of the second verse jumped out at me: “how for them he intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne.” I continued with the rest of the hymn, and moved on to “The Same Love” in which we sang of Jesus calling us to the cross – in which we learned of the strength of his love to get us to that uncomfortable place. And that one line kept tugging at me. So, somewhat clumsily (and with no warning to the person putting words on the screen), we moved back to that one line about Jesus’ intercession for us. And ending with that one line, somehow became beautifully enabling. The love that is calling us to the cross, is the not only the same love that set the captives free, but the same love that is interceding, is praying for us, even as our hearts are stirred to answer that call. It was something I missed in my planning. Something I missed in my practice. But I’m so thankful that my planning and practice enabled me to be awake at that precise moment when the Spirit needed to gently push my preparations aside and do something new.
I’m not sure if anyone other than myself was moved by that moment. But I suspect that at least one person was. I have often found that those moments when things have necessarily needed to change at the last moment, there is something going on under the surface. Your other ear, of course (as we will learn in the next few posts) should be open your congregation – but they might not tell you everything. Sometimes the deepest struggles are those unspoken. So, no matter how carefully you plan and no matter how wide open your ears in both directions as you do so, sometimes something needs to happen at the last minute: to comfort, to reassure, to challenge, to empower, to simply transmit God’s love more clearly.
Sometimes I have brought back a song we sang earlier, rather than singing the closing song we had planned. Or I have skipped a planned repeat and moved on – or I have added a repeat in a different tone. Or there is the simple (and, for me, the most clearly heard) command to “pray now.”
Those weeks that I am most attuned to the Spirit as I lead are inevitably the weeks I have prepared well and thoroughly, and the weeks I hear the most from those worshipping with me.