“Jesus, we have a schedule for today’s service, but we ask your Spirit to take over and run your own program.” I have heard this petition to God more times than I can remember. Many from the Pentecostal culture I grew up in, like to recall the glorious times when the Spirit would “lead a church service” by causing many unplanned things to spontaneously and unexpectedly occur. As far as the way this looked, I’ve heard many different reports including sermons that broke off mid-thought leading into fervent prayer, or one preacher/prophet taking over for another and etc. Some preachers even say writing down notes in unspiritual and back in their day they would pray for a few hours, then get up and preach, by this showing the Spirit is leading them. Regardless of the exact manifestations today, many people often like to say that the Holy Spirit is free to take over our program and replace it with his own program (though by program they mean “church service schedule.”)
God can change our plan…
I wholeheartedly agree, often we come to Jesus and have our own intentions, desires, and ambitions, and in those cases it is very merciful that God takes over our desired plan and replaces it one that is pleasing to him. God often lets us make mistakes to teach us to rely on him, not on ourselves. God specifically wills and intends for us to make our mistakes with our own will, in order to lead it to good, take the story of Joseph, for example. His brothers willed or meant to do evil and God willed/meant it for good (Gen 50:20). While the brothers chose their actions by their own volition intending to produce evil, by a great paradox God had already chosen them to do that very action with an outcome intended for good (to save Israel from the famine, causing the heritage that brings us Jesus to be saved. God clearly intended to bring Jesus to this world before Josephs brothers planned to hurt Joseph). Thus, when we chose to do bad things, God already chose it for good as is, or with changes (Rom 8:28). However, this is not the topic I want to address, instead I want to point out our small view of God when it comes to changing our church plans.
But He also designs our plans
Even in schedules and preaching I fully acknowledge that at many times the Holy Spirit will bring to mind things/ideas that are not scripted. Yet in my experience, there are many people who view written communication, schedules, and outlines as un-spiritual, or at the least purely human and not in any way associated with the divine. I’ve had friends listen to a sermon and critique it by saying it’s not led by the Holy Spirit because “he has everything written down.” The last church service I made an outline for, started with one of the elders (at a visiting church) pray invoking God to change our mere human schedule and replace it with a Spirit led one (implying, as always, that what we have produced by thinking and writing is not Spiritual). I have translated a few sermons where the preacher clearly had no outline and managed to touch on every bible character, and this is often applauded as spiritual merely because it’s spontaneous. What? Let me ask you a few question about God.
- Does not God plan and control everything?
- Did God not create, predestine, foreknow, ordain, all the things and events in history?
- Are the scriptures not filled with thousands of prophecies that have been fulfilled exactly and specifically?(there are close to 2500 total and 2000 have been accomplished!)
Think about it! God has a very good record. Of about 2000 “schedules” that he designed to happen up until now, all 2000 have went exactly according to schedule (the rest are “scheduled” for later). That is one good track record.
The things that God did were not spontaneous and unplanned, in fact Gods word is against that idea, saying God won’t do anything without revelation (Amos 3:7- this doesn’t mean God won’t give you a job promotion without a “personal prophecy,” in the OT there is no such thing as personal prophecy and this refers to big concepts such a sending Jesus to die for our sins). And surely God has revealed (scheduled) the whole history of the world through his prophets who wrote the bible. God designed and wrote down everything that he did, before doing it. God did not wake up one morning and randomly change his mind, altering human history this way and that.
The problem? We believe in a small god who can only interrupt our plans, not shape our plans.
Here is the heart of the issue, we cannot (or don’t want to?) fathom a God that is so superior and mind blowing that he actually predestines and plans everything. It’s scary to think that all of the little things we plan are somehow part of Gods big plan (Prov 16:9). Many pastors can accept random interruptions to the church schedule as “spiritual things,” claiming that “this is the work of the Spirit,” yet they cannot imagine that God is so sovereign that he would actually be in the pastors office the day before when the church service schedule is being written.
But instead, God is a sovereign God who controls all things. God controls the entire universe: Ps 103:19; Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11. God controls all of nature: Ps 135:6-7; Mt 5:45; 6:25-30; Amos 3:6. God controls angels & Satan: Ps 103:20-21; Job 1:12. God controls nations: Ps 47:7-9; Dan 2:20-21; 4:34-35. God controls human beings: Pr 16:9; Pr 21:1; 1 Sam 2:6-7; Psa.105:13-14; Gen. 39:21; Isa. 40:23-24; Gen 20:6. God controls animals: Ps 104:21-30; 1 Ki 17:4-6. God controls “accidents”: Ex 14:24-25; Pr 16:33; Jon 1:7; Mt 10:29. God controls free acts of men: Ex 3:21; 12:25-36; Eze 7:27; 1 Chron. 5:22. God controls sinful acts of men and Satan: 2 Sam 24:1+1 Chr 21:1; Gen 50:20; Judges 14:4; Exodus 14:17.
Pre planned Music is spiritual
Some musicians frequently sing songs claiming they did not plan and therefore the Spirit led them to do it. We look to them as to super spiritual conservatives or a modern prophetic singers/etc, though in fact the singer may be merely overwhelmed by emotions and overexcited by the attention (and of course this only happens as allowed by God, but he often doesn’t restrain us from our bad choices in order to teach us our mistakes). In truth, a band who spends hours practicing for the glory of God may be much more “spirit led,” for the Spirit himself was leading them to learn and practice the song all the while.
Pre planned Preaching is spiritual
Some people often claim the spiritual part in a sermon is when they say things they intend or plan, but they may just be rambling for thirty minutes. I’ll be honest I have heard a lot more spontaneous ramblings and road-trips-through-the-bible-with-no-point than spontaneous and yet biblical sermons. And while we’re expecting the Spirit to be unexpected, the pastor who spends 10 hrs carefully crafting and practicing his words is led by the Spirit the whole week as he meditates and lets Gods word permeate his mind.
Pre planned schedules are spiritual
Some elders repeatedly say the order of services is human and we can put God into a box. Then in turn this can allow confusion (Paul often rebukes the church for it, two chapters, 1 Cor 12 and 13 were written specifically to rebuke the church for allowing disorder, including people spontaneously using their gifts). And if not confusion, this wastes peoples time as unplanned events (that can wait until next service) often cause interruptions as people are fumbling to set up extra equipment/microphones and etc, while the congregations is silently sitting and waiting. Instead the pastor who has the program written down and humbly follows it, to ensure things run as smoothly as possible, is led by the Spirit, for was it not God who placed every single person on that schedule? If we think that, then we think of God not as an all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, all sovereign God who holds the universe in his palm, but as if he is a being that runs around and tries to tweak little things here and there.