I lead an on-line Bible study called Biblical Joy. It’s for persons who desire the discipline of an inductive and interactive learning experience but don’t have time for a small group. (Too view this blog site go to JOY) Right now we are studying The Book of Acts and the experience of the disciples at Pentecost. Those rough, backwater Galileans were amazing the citizens of Jerusalem with their insight, power and passion as the Holy Spirit poured out God’s message through them. But some discounted them, deciding that they were not spirit-filled, but drunk. Our mutual observation in the Biblical Joy group was that we often discount any messenger or mentor who does not fit our pre-determined idea of who is qualified.
This is often the case in some circles of the Church. I now have a B.A. magna cum laude in religion, an M.Div. summa cum laude and a D. Min. with a 400 page dissertation on transformational leadership to back in up. Generally, I no longer fight the battle of legitimacy or authority. But in my profession, many make educational experience and academic titles a litmus test. Or the professional rank of licensed vs ordained. And many church people, especially among the over 40 crowd and people with professional or business backgrounds give me credence that they would not extend others who lack my credentials.
One of the most profound influences in my life was a Louisiana preacher with an ill-fitting suit, who had only obtained a third grade education, served a little church in the bayou country, and whose ordination was considered by some to be an impulse by a country church instead of the product of intense doctrinal scrutiny and readiness for ministry testing.
His name was G.B. Miller.
I first met G.B. I took a youth camp team to work in Mississippi and Louisianna. He and his diminutive wife, Edith served the Bethel Church of God near Bethel LA. It was a country church, almost impossible to find unless you knew where you were going. It was the days before Mapquest and personal GPS’s but I think Bethel would have stymied both tools. Bethel was a lively, old-fashioned, intergenerational church that loved to sing gospel music, thrived on passionate lengthy sermons, and embraced the church pot luck dinner as if it were a spiritual gift. Later I returned with my family to preach a set of southern revival services. It was a tall order for a young seminary-trained pastor still not thirty and certainly wet behind the ears. It was during my people-pleaser years and I was going in part to represent my largely “Yankee” denomination that had entered into a partnership with Bethel and its sister churches in the Mid South.
Sinners rarely came to southern revivals, but a whole lot of saints packed them out. My first evening there were well over 100 people packed into that little church, many from sister congregations come to hear the Word preached by that young Yankee. It had the air of a family reunion and I felt more like a new suitor seeking the hand of their daughter than a person who was a part. My anxiety level was high.
Just before the service, someone came to Brother G.B. with the word that their sister, a stranger to me known only as Sister Smith from North Carolina, had been critically injured in a traffic accident. When it came time to pray, Brother Miller asked me to offer the intercessory prayer for her healing, which I dutifully accomplished in my best praying preacher personna. Then I went about the nervous business of delivering that sermon intended not to save anyone’s souls; but to impress them with my denomination’s spirituality. It came off pretty well because God was at workj and preaching is one of my gifts.
The next night I actually was eager to get to the pulpit, basking in the warm reception of people who had welcomed me as one of their own. Then something unexpected happened, returning to my state of pastoral and professional anxiety. “Sister Smith died,” Brother GB told me just as the service began.
As the service began, my thoughts raced with that insecurity. “Boy, they are really gonna question my spirituality tonite. I prayed and the lady died. Guess he has no “in” with God.
G.B. took the podium to introduce me, but just before he did that he said. “Last night, Brother Dunn led us in prayer for Sister Smith who had been critically injured in an auto accident. Well, God answered Brother Dunn’s prayer and healed her, healed her perfectly, by taking her home to be with Him in heaven.
Up until that day I had possessed a fairly utilitarian view of prayer. We want, we ask, God provides. And most of my answers had to do with solutions confined to temporal circumstances and immediate physical needs. Brother G.B. opened my prayer vista into a whole new realm where my prayer life and my confidence in prayer could grow. And where my understanding of the purpose of prayer could mature.
(c) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn