Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. Psalm 31:5
It occurs to me, there are two prayers which every church leader (and most especially every pastor) really must learn if he/she is to survive the daunting and often painful responsibility of shepherding God’s people. The first one is, “Lord, not my will but thine.” The second is, “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus demonstrated the very different circumstances for each.
Jesus prayed, “Not my will but thine” in Gethsemane. There was still much for him to do. There were still “discussable” options available to him. His own choices were still in play and there was still plenty of discernment and judgment to be exercised on his part. He made it clear what he wanted and he was exploring options, because there were options. But he also made it clear that he wanted the option his Father wanted. This is what we pray when there are critical leadership decisions to be made and we want guidance. We may be in pain, we may feel in the dark, we may be frightened of the path we are on and of the direction it is headed. We are stressed, to be sure, but we can legitimately see more than one option and we do not necessarily trust our own judgment in the matter. We know what we want (we think), but we suspect God may have something else in mind. We can say to God, “Seems to me it would be a good thing for this certain thing to happen…do this for me, unless you’ve got something else in mind.”
But do you see, my leader friend, that the second prayer (“Into thy hands I commit my spirit”) may be along the same …
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. Acts 16:26
I’m intrigued by this story in Acts 16, not only because Paul and Silas did not leave through the open door of their jail cell, but also because they were apparently able to convince all of the other prisoners to stay as well. Just a few chapters earlier, Peter left jail under similar circumstances (I know, I know, he had an angel directing him to leave and that is definitely a distinguishing feature!), and I cannot help but wonder if I might not have interpreted an earthquake and chains miraculously falling off me as a sign from God that I should leave!
I think there is a lesson here for the church. Discerning God’s direction for a church is never quite as simple as walking through every door that seems to miraculously open…never merely a matter of seeing God in isolated circumstances. That is true because, as it turns out, there is usually more than one possible interpretation of circumstances! The danger in discerning God’s will in that case is that we all tend to see what we want to see.
What about the scenario where a wealthy church member walks in and agrees to write a check to cover some dream the pastor has always had? Is that necessarily God speaking? What if your church has prayed and asked God to pave the way for a relocation and someone leaves the church a large tract of land in their estate? Is that God saying “move”? If the pastor has always dreamed of starting a half-way house ministry in the house the church owns, and the city planning …