The substitute Adult Bible Class teacher stood before us. He was a good man, exhibiting an open heart and generous spirit. He explained why the regular teacher was unable to be with us, then paused. “I haven’t really prepared anything because the Lord told us that when we don’t know what we should say, the Holy Spirit will give us the words.”
Another pause. “I guess we’ll just see what He gives me.” Another pause. Then he started talking. He began with a story about his youth in England and then rambled along for 40 minutes or so occasionally bringing a scripture to our attention as it came to his mind.
Abusing an isolated verse?
Was that a good example of the Spirit spontaneously giving a man the words to say? Or was it a sad abuse of a concept mentioned only once in Scripture as the Lord spoke of His apostles facing an entirely different set of circumstances?
“Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12 NKJV).
Things the Spirit does lead us to do
Some Christians place great stock in the idea of the spontaneous leading of the Spirit. That’s a fine thing. I suspect we have all sensed those urges that come to us suddenly which we may rightly attribute to the Holy Spirit.
Things like: Pray for this lady now. Send a card or phone that Sunday School student today. Visit that man in the hospital. Give this student $20. It’s possible that such thoughts could be generated by the flesh but, in most cases, one could argue that they are prompted by the Spirit.
Does the Spirit only lead spontaneously?
However, what about Spirit leading in meetings of the church, especially the Breaking of Bread? Is it right to prepare ahead of time, or should we wait on the Spirit? The principle verse in the New Testament which supports the idea of an “open meeting” is 1 Corinthians 14:26 “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (NKJV).
The wording here suggests that the believers were expected to have done some preparation: …each of you has [is already in possession of] a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation. It seems that when the Church in Corinth came together, they had what they were going to say in hand.
It could be argued that, at the minimum, an interpretation depended on the tongue, so would have to be spontaneous. That’s fine, I’m not arguing that everything should be prepared, only that spontaneity is not the hall-mark of Spirit leading. The Spirit can (and does) lead us before we open our mouths.
Just do it!
So, let’s say the Lord has given you something earlier in the week. Since Tuesday, you’ve been meditating on the thought, developing it, relating it to Scripture, and so on. Now you’re gathered with your brothers and sisters. Do you wait until the Spirit prompts you to share it? Years of experience and the Bible’s silence on the matter suggests that the answer is “no.”
The idea that the Spirit is mystically conducting the service calling forth one element after another in some inscrutable fashion is not biblical. The only advice we have is that when we come with our psalm, or teaching, or whatever, is that we should be courteous of others and speak in turn, not seeking the preeminence and leaving room for spontaneous participation of others.
Don’t torture yourself waiting for “the moment.” Get on with it, glorifying God and edifying the body.
Prepared material and planned participation at the Lord’s supper does not preclude the leading of the Spirit—it could just be part of doing all things “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40 NKJV). To make either liturgical scripting or spontaneous utterances the litmus test for either spirituality or Spirit-leading has no Scriptural warrant and, thus, should have no place in the gatherings of the Lord’s people.