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Holy Spirit disruptions: Closed doors/stop

Lynne Baab • Thursday August 19 2021

Holy Spirit disruptions: Closed doors/stop

I’m in church one Sunday, and the minister announces a guest preacher, who will talk to us about evangelism. Oh no, I think. I am very weary of that topic. I am committed to being a witness to Jesus’ presence and gifts in my life, but I am not gifted in evangelism. (I describe the way I make the distinction between evangelism and witness here.)

The preacher opened with some material that I considered to be a bit pushy about evangelism, but then he described the way he engages in conversations with people who are not Christians. He often mentions something about the Christian life, and if the person doesn’t act at all interested, he stops there. He said one of the most important skills to learn as an evangelist is to discern when doors are closed and when to stop sharing the Gospel.

Wow. When people describe stopping as a skill or spiritual practice, I always feel my creative juices flowing. Stopping is a key concept that lies behind so many spiritual practices, including Sabbath keeping, fasting, and simplicity (as I wrote about last week). I definitely hadn’t expected any creative thoughts about stopping in a sermon about evangelism!

A friend who is gifted in healing prayer recently described the process of discernment she engages in when praying for healing for others. Listening for God’s word to stop is a key part of that discernment.

The Holy Spirit disruption of perceiving closed doors and stopping is similar to the disruption of waiting, but not identical. With waiting, we stay alert, usually because we desire to do something and we expect God to give us the go ahead at some point. With stopping, we simply stop. Of course, we want to be alert to God’s guidance at every moment. But stopping allows us to let go of alertness in that area of life, at least for a while.

When we keep a Sabbath, we don’t spend the whole day waiting for God to tell us when to get busy again. We stop for the whole day, and that stopping is so restful because we don’t have to be alert to God’s guidance about when to get some work done. When we fast, we set a time period ahead of time. Certainly God can disrupt our time period, but generally part of the peace of fasting is that we know how long we’re going to be going without food, social media, some form of technology, or something else.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks to us directly to stop, telling us the door is closed. This happened to Paul and Timothy when they tried to go into Bithynia, a region of Turkey. The language used in Acts 16:6-7 is thought provoking: “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” and “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” I want to have the space in my life to listen for God’s voice through the Spirit. Part of why I want to hear God say stop relates to the general overload of everyday life. Why would I want to work harder on something than is necessary? Stopping sooner often gives freedom, which I long for.

Spiritual practices make space for us to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking, including guidance to stop. Prayer, scripture reading, Sabbath keeping, fasting and other spiritual practices are often a form of stopping in themselves, and they also help us stay attentive to hearing God’s voice to stop. A win-win!

(Next week: “There was another in the fire standing next to me.”  Illustration by Dave Baab: from an old photo of Dave and his sister Connie fishing. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to get an email when I post on this blog.)

I spoke at a conference about bringing spiritual practices to life, with lots of illustrations and stories. The recording is uploaded to YouTube. It’s 41 minutes long.

Some of my previous writing on stopping:

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