Ready for the Opportune Moment

December 8, 2011

The fourth reason why individual Presbyterians must be equipped for stand-alone discipleship is that we never know when we will be called upon to make a defense of the gospel or a biblical point of view. The impact of a well-placed word literally at any moment cannot be underestimated. But if we are ill-equipped to give that word, ignorant of the things of God, slow to pick up on where a conversation is going, or otherwise tongue-tied, we may miss an important opportunity. Over many years time, I have been awed by those occasions in a committee meeting or one-on-one conversation when a simple word has actually redirected the course of decision-making. I have often felt that “bad” things happen in presbytery because good people simply freeze in their seats and do not object or give another point of view for the consideration of the body.

Many factors keep presbyters from participating in Presbyterian discussions: belief that someone else is “appointed” to speak on evangelicals’ behalf, brain freeze (the adrenaline rush that shuts down one’s frontal cortex), misunderstanding of one’s orderly options at the moment, and just plain fear. But the one obstacle I would like to help my readers avoid is that sick feeling in the stomach when one senses something fishy going on, but is baffled about what it is exactly and confused about possible remedies. By the time one’s wits are gathered, it is too late. The moment has passed, the vote has been taken, and a erroneous transaction has gone unanswered.

One’s readiness to jump into a conversation or to give witness to the truth is a combination of miracle and method. The miracle part of this dynamic is based upon the promise of Jesus himself in one of his disciple-equipping sessions. The Lord is preparing his disciples to stand on their own two feet when he is gone. He says: “When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mk. 13:11). When we are on the hot-seat, under pressure, we can ask and believe that the Holy Spirit will speak through us, providing the right words in the right tone, in order to accomplish God’s purposes.

Three years ago, in our first trial (Naegeli et al v. San Francisco Presbytery, the precursor to Parnell v. SFP), I testified for four hours, during which time I was asked biblical, theological, historical, and polity questions from those who opposed the fidelity/chastity ordination requirement. Every possible argument, (mis)quotation of Scripture or John Calvin, and trap were thrown before me during that time, and miraculously I was able to give reasonable answers and not fall prey. The Holy Spirit was palpably present in my mind, to remind me of papers I had written 25 or 30 years before, guiding me in my responses, and otherwise showing up in my time of need. I believe Jesus’ promise; the Holy Spirit spoke through me that day. I count this in the miracle category.

The method part of this entails preparing oneself with increasing knowledge of God, the Word, and whatever else will equip one for authentic and accurate testimony. The apostle Peter, not one to shrink from the opportunity to give witness after the resurrection of Jesus, exhorted Christians to “[a]lways be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). In the first chapter of the same epistle, Peter instructed believers to “prepare [their] minds for action.” Our forbears in the faith recognized that one must undergo preparation for salty speech, learn their lessons well and accumulate a body of knowledge and insight—a process itself invigorated by the Holy Spirit—so that when needed, one’s speech is grounded in the Word of God.

Among the many disciplines that aid in the “moment of truth” is Scripture memorization. It is almost passé to talk about it, but stop and think:  one does not always have one’s computer Bible program at hand; one does not always have a Bible close by; one does not have time in a pinch to look something up. I learned a long time ago as a musician that I didn’t really know a song until I had memorized it. This discipline enables me to fully own what I have learned and, as a part of me, it is sharable at any time. One of the most inspiring moments in pastoral ministry for me occurred when I visited a dear, retired pastor in the hospital maybe three weeks before he died. He was well into his 90’s, had been hale and hearty until just a few months prior. On this pastoral call, he was uncharacteristically depressed. His wife said he could no longer read, so it would appear his greatest source of comfort was no longer available to him. But that couldn’t be right, I said, because he had memorized Scripture for years! So his wife prodded him, asking him to recite something from Isaiah 6 (the account of Isaiah’s call to the office of prophet). She uttered just five words, “In the year King Uzziah . . .” and his eyes flew open, and he began to recite the entire chapter from memory. He was there in the Throne Room, enthralled and blessed and transported into the presence of God. I will never forget this moment. When I am on the threshold between this life and the next, I want to be able to summon Scripture from memory just as he did. And even before then, when the need arises, to be able to recall accurately what God has said is a great gift, blessing, discipline, and life-saver.

You never know when you are going to need what Jesus has planted in your heart. So get ready!


2 Responses to “Ready for the Opportune Moment”

  1. Thank you for this reminder – I have had exactly the experiences you wrote of at the bedsides of the elderly faithful (I knew a stroke patient who couldn’t speak anything but the psalms) and the prompting of the Spirit in challenging conversations. I have gotten out of my practice of memorization (more challenging, of course, as I get older) and need to return to it.

  2. Donna Schumacher Says:

    Oh yes Mary I so agree. It is so very important to memorize God’s very words to us. It gives us the opportunity to mediate on them & glean incredible truth for ourselves and those He brings across our path. How vital to have it deep in our hearts and that is exactly where it goes when we sayit to ourselves over and over again, slowly. It gives us time to truly think about what it means. Thank you for reminding us of how important this is.

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