Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. Matthew 3: 13-16 (NIV)
The event was a big success, but her shoulders drooped in disappointment. After hours of planning and preparation, all she could see were the missteps and miscues, moments that did not go as expected. The Spirit of God had shown up powerfully through testimonies and teachings, through sparked conversations and relationship building. But last minute changes by others clouded her view and momentarily discouraged her.
As she shared her frustrations with me I realized two important things. First, I have been in this same place of misplaced discouragement more times than I can remember. Second, our programs and plans do not produce God’s power, they are only meant to focus our attention and remove distractions. They are meant to make space for the Spirit to move.
We each have a purpose in the kingdom of God, a role to play, a perspective to contribute. Some are meant to lead, some to follow. Some are designed to be on stage, others to manage the behind-the-scenes details. Both are important and necessary. But both need to be prepared to step aside at any moment and let God direct the action, let the Spirit choreograph the plot twists and turns that make our stories interesting and fruitful. We need to make space for the Spirit to speak life into otherwise scripted seasons and routines.
Take John the Baptist, for example. His whole life purpose was to call people to repentance and baptize them, demonstrating a cleansing of sin and faith in the coming Messiah. John embraced his role fully and was in the midst of baptizing repentant sinners when Jesus appeared on the river bank. But Jesus didn’t have sins to repent. The idea of baptizing Him was totally ‘off script’ from John’s point of view. And in that moment John had a decision to make. He could hold tight to the specific part that he expected to play, or he could allow space for the Spirit to accomplish something different through him that day.
It’s pretty common, isn’t it, to get caught up in the good and necessary things that we do? To become so focused on our schedules and plans that we find ourselves frustrated or confused when faced with a detour or change of routine. And yet it is in those moments that we have a decision to make. Will we hold tight to our plans and expectations or slide over a little and make space for the Spirit?
It is important in those moments to consider how we define ‘success’. Success typically implies a favorable end to an effort, the accomplishment of a goal. If our personal definitions of success focus on perfect execution of process, procedure or plan we are likely to resist the move of the Spirit or become un-necessarily discouraged when our goals are disrupted. Don’t get me wrong, these things are important, they help us establish order and get things done, but in the end they are only part of a much bigger picture.
Life in God’s kingdom is more of a multi-act play than a two hour motion picture. Our days should develop a rhythm of obedient activity balanced by periods of waiting. Waiting expectantly and watching for what He might do. It is in these moments of pause, of letting go of our personal agendas that we can make space for the Spirit to move and God’s amazing purposes to be accomplished.