With seven grandkids and their parents we recently went on a schooner to experience a real sailing adventure. Grandkids from age six to fifteen seemed to be a good age for such an experience.
Of course, to experience “a real sailing adventure, wind is required. Alas, for us, the two-and-a-half-hour experience was underwhelming because of the lack of wind. The word doldrums came to mind as we waited and waited in anticipation.
All that was needed for preparing for the adventure was complete. We had been instructed how to help; the main sail had been raised along with the foresail, jib, and gaff top sail. All was faithfully executed to prepare for the sudden movement forward. Then we waited. Nothing.
Then this morning I read Second Chronicles seven and was reminded of the good theology and church history I was taught decades ago that related to preparation and God’s appearance. Chapter seven of Second Chronicles describes the dedication of the Temple that Solomon completed with such careful detail resulting in magnificent golden reflections throughout. It must have been remarkable to see. Even the “bath” was a sight to behold as it was held up by twelve bull statues and contained 18,000 gallons of water (the size of an in-ground swimming pool!).
Everything was prepared. The people gathered together, and the ark was brought into the Temple while musicians sang praises. The sheep and cattle were sacrificed and then the king prayed a humble prayer of blessing, praise, and dedication. Themes of the prayer include forgiveness, covenant faithfulness, and the love of God.
When everything was done in conformity to the Covenant, then the Glory of God appeared, and it was beyond human; it was a divine work. “The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it” (7:2). The only response to such a divine appearance was to give thanks: “He is good; his love endures forever!” (7:3).
And this is the way it is. The glory of God, sent by God’s Spirit, comes like the wind. The Spirit of God is like the wind (Genesis 1:2, John 3:5-8). We cannot control the wind, though we wish we could. God is God, not our servant, and neither is he a doting father. He is God for whom we prepare and, if needed, for whom we wait.
Even so, the lesson from Second Chronicles, as well as from Acts and from church history, asserts that we are not merely passive observers. We participate in God’s glorious work in history by preparing for the wind of his Spirit and for his glory to be revealed. We prepare, like Solomon, through humble obedience. We prepare daily, by being attentive to what needs to be confessed, corrected, forgiven, and to who needs to be loved, healed, and sheltered. Our obedience in love is the preparation needed.
God is God and he will send his Spirit according to his perfect timing and will. And his Spirit will bring the renewal, revival, correction, and the purity that God desires.
Jonathan Edwards was the first great theologian of the Holy Spirit in the United States. His classic “A Faithful Narrative of Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred of Souls in Northampton” (1737) says it well: “But when the Almighty will work by such means, or without them, who can hinder him? He acts with sovereign liberty and irresistible power . . .” (p. xxvii of the 1832 edition). I still remember reading that fascinating history with his thoughtful theological reflection when I was at Gordon-Conwell in the 1980s. Some readings never leave you.
We preach. We call people to confession and obedience. We love people with the love of Christ and then we wait for the wind of his Spirit to be poured out.
Individuals wait for the Spirit in patient obedience. Churches wait in patient obedience. And even seminaries and Christian colleges are called to obey, prepare, and wait.
When we try to manufacture a revival of God’s Spirit, we may do something that looks good, but it is not really a divine work. It may be a human work trying to look divine.
Gordon-Conwell is now in this period of repenting, preparing, listening, and waiting.
Veni Sancte Spiritu. Come Holy Spirit!
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.