Last night, we had our monthly dialogue event. As has become customary, our Muslim friends left it right to the wire to even think about discussing what topic we might cover. By right to the wire, I of course mean Saturday evening. Which, of course, leaves me no time to sort anything on Sunday and we had people stopping with us over the weekend and I wasn’t available to prep anything. So, what is one to do?
Here is what: you wing it. Or, at least, wing it with a lot of prayer. I used what time I had to pray that the Spirit would help me to say something useful. I asked the Spirit to help me think of useful verses of scripture I could talk about. I prayed that I would have reasonable answers for those who asked questions.
Now, of course, in one sense, winging it is fine. After all, I want to tell them the gospel. And I know the gospel pretty well. So, standing up and saying some essential gospel things that might point someone to Jesus, that’s not so hard. It is very much within one’s sense of ability.
But in another sense, I like to be prepared. I do not have a leaden view of the Spirit’s work that makes me think he only operates extemporaneously. I believe the Spirit has given me certain gifts and is with me as I use them, even if they are employed well in advance. I believe the Spirit will be with me as much as I plan in my study, and I turn my mind to think about the things I want to say, as he is in the moment.
At the same time, I’m not so leaden about the Spirit’s working that I don’t recognise he can operate extemporaneously that way. I recall the time when, for a few reasons, I effectively had to stand up and give a 15-20 minute extemporaneous talk on the Trinity and that doctrine’s specific impact on Christian people. Is that the sort of thing I relished? No. But was the Spirit with me as I stood up to say whatever I did? For sure. And I was so encouraged by the people who told me afterward how helpful it was, despite how I felt as I delivered it and how unprepared it all was. but the Spirit works this way too.
So, yes, as I write this I am about to go and wing a talk to a bunch of Muslims at a local mosque. I am going to do my best to present something intelligible, something biblically faithful and something helpful that will point them to Christ. I am relying on the Spirit as I do it, trusting that he will go before me and prepare hearts. I don’t like the thought of putting the Spirit to the test – which is very much not what I think I’m doing – but I recognise the Spirit is bigger than last minute plans. God in his sovereignty determined this meeting would get planned last minute (against my best efforts). In his sovereignty, he determined I would be so tied up that I had no ability to prepare. But in his sovereignty, and by his Spirit, I trust he can overrule in all those things and cause helpful things to be said and useful answers to be given.
I have no interest in testing the Spirit, refusing to do what I should so that he “can work”. That, I don’t think is wise nor glorifying to God. But you bet I don’t have such a low view of the Spirit that, where needs must and entirely against my best efforts, things come upon you and you are suddenly required to speak clearly about the hope we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we just have to operate on a wing and a prayer and trust in God’s Spirit and sovereignty as you do.