GOD’S SUFFICIENT GRACE
Purpose still calls in the midst of the storm
Tyheth Monsčan Kwabena
DIRECTIVES STRAIGHT FROM HEAVEN
And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. ~1 Samuel 15:22
In January of 2002 I was in desperate need of a brand new start. I began the year by attending a special New Year's Eve church event which was a breath of fresh air. However, after the ball dropped and the festive energy of the holidays fizzled away, it was time to get back to reality. I was a newlywed who had only been married three months at that point which meant I had a great responsibility on my hands that, honestly, I wasn’t completely prepared for.
An Eventful Night
As it is the custom of many churches, my church was participating in a New Year's fast. In fact, prior to the new year, we were already in a season of prayer and consecration. The focus of the consecration was Praying the Word of God. It had already been several weeks since we would meet together for prayer and bible study. I cannot recall how long this particular portion of the consecration was to be, but all I can say is by mid-month my world had changed.
January 15, 2002 was a Tuesday night and was one of the regularly scheduled weeknight fellowships. After being delayed for some time at home I finally was able to make my way towards my church’s location. I didn't live that far away. The route to the church was just a straight car ride of about ten minutes with no traffic.
Suddenly while waiting at a red light I heard an inner voice speak very clear instructions to me. I no doubt knew that it was the Holy Spirit. At this point in my spiritual walk I was becoming more familiar with this voice or as some would refer to as an inner impression from the Lord. At certain times I had either successfully listened to it or failed to do so. The Holy Spirit had given me a heads-up that when I arrived at church things were not going to be in order as I expected. I remember so vividly how the Holy Spirit informed me that at my arrival those who were scheduled to serve that evening were not going to be in place. The time of prayer that I thought I was late for hadn't even started. I remember hearing down in my spirit that I should not focus on being the lead adjutant on that evening. I was to stay focused, go into the sanctuary, get on my face and remain in prayer or stillness without interruption. I was always told that the Holy Spirit is gentle. I was also instructed to not be rude and ignore the group of usher's and pastoral assistants who would be crowding the vestibule when I entered the building. I was to greet everyone kindly and keep it moving.
Surely enough, everything that I heard in my innermost conscience played out before me. Although I had received these instructions and warnings not long before I still was shocked for a moment as I entered the building. It’s not because I didn't believe what I heard, but because it happened so fast.
Here’s a spiritual truth. The Holy Spirit has been sent into the life of the believer to be a Helper. The Holy Spirit has the ability to show us things to come so that we would not be taken off guard.
I entered the building to discover that indeed the pre-service prayer had not begun and people were trying to get themselves prepared. I offered a general greeting to the group and refused to entertain any explanations of why things weren't up and running on time. Afterwards, I entered into the dimly lit sanctuary and got on my knees. Why the urgency to pray? Why am I receiving these specific instructions? To be honest, I was so concerned about not being distracted that it was hard to even pray. So I mostly kneeled in stillness or at least tried to.
Not long afterwards, I could hear the rush of footsteps entering into the sanctuary. The audio visual person was quickly queuing up the prayer music for meditation. The person who was responsible for leading the prayer that night finally arrived grabbed the microphone and went full throttle. No usual soft sweet tones of adoration to God building up to a soliloquy of thanks and praise before the rest of the congregation joined in. The prayer leader just went straight to the meat. At that point there was no need for the music. Meanwhile, I would remain on my knees with my head tucked deep between my arms on the cushioned chair. I was even more anxious and was expecting to hear amen and sense when the lights were turned on at any minute. I mean, everything was late and evening worship should have been starting at any moment. It didn't work out that way though. The time of prayer was not abbreviated, but would continue on until the arrival of the pastor. Here's when the testing began. An issue stirred up that...let's say eventually got out of control. One of the ushers came to me to ask that I would intervene in the matter, but I refused. I said to her that she and everyone else in uniform that night spent enough early Sunday mornings with me in training. They should know what to do... so go handle it.
After several respectful interruptions which were to no avail the usher came back a final time frantic. Like I said earlier... things got out of control. What am I to do at this moment? Should I remain kneeled down at this chair and let whatever has already spinned out of control “do what it’s gonna do?” The answer to that question should have been a no-brainer. Everything up until this point had speedily come to fruition so the only thing to do was to stay on my face. Okay, I'm gonna to keep it all the way real with you. Folk were fighting out there y'all (smh). I mean, we were the thriving church on the block and I couldn't allow for our reputation to be attacked. Could I? I do understand that there is no perfect church because we the people aren’t perfect. In other words, we all have our process to go through. However, I have always been sensitive when it comes to anything perceived as negative in the eyes of the unbelieving public involving the Church. Not just my local fellowship... any true church of Christ.
I was now at a pivotal point and my next decision would reveal exactly what was more important to me. Years later I was reflecting on the events of that very night and realized that there was more being revealed than just my having a zeal for protecting the reputation of the ministry. I’ll touch on this in a moment. I was annoyed and the scales of reasoning tipped in the direction of my emotions rather than staying in the zone of obeying the Spirit. I quickly rose up from my knees to see what in the world was happening outside of the building. By the time I exited the front door it was over. Nothing to see here. Everybody go back inside. So I made an about-face and quickly assumed my former position, but immediately I knew something was wrong. Remember, I was already anxious not understanding the reason for the instructions that I was given. I didn't feel anything supernatural happening, neither did I hear any further instructions from that still small voice on the inside. There was no spiritual high to recapture. All I had before making that very wrong move was my act of obedience. Here's the thing though. Partial obedience is synonymous to not obeying at all.
It is possible for us to do what we believe is right for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time.
In the Old Testament (1 Samuel 15:10-23) King Saul was given instructions to totally annihilate the Amalekites. This wasn't to be a regular “men going to war” thing. Everybody, women and children included, and everything was to be destroyed. What did King Saul do? There are two things to be expected when kings go to war. The victorious king would usually take the losing king as his prisoner. Sometimes they would march them into their city chained to a chariot. This is called a triumphant entry. Another thing that is to be expected is for the spoils of war to be collected. In other words, everything that is of value is taken. Sometimes this will include the best of the people. Those who are highly skilled and intellectual. Being able to do this would add to the popularity of the winning king and of course increase the economic power of the Kingdom. I'm sure King Saul felt that he had a lot to prove. When you read the earlier portion of Saul’s story it is obvious that he never got over the fact that the people once chanted “Saul killed his thousands, but David his ten thousands.”
Somehow I was convinced that I was doing the right thing by going out to defuse a bad situation happening right in front of the church. While walking down the aisle I probably even prayed for the wisdom to go about doing this correctly. Surely, nothing was wrong with trying to reestablish the peace and prayerfully lead the parties involved to a place of reconciliation. That would have been a noble thing right? Sure it would have, but the timing wasn't right because God had already said no. In God's infinite wisdom God knew what was going to take place that night. In so many words he still said, okay Mr. “Lead Adjutant”, it's not your job to do anything about it tonight. By the way, Adjutant is a military term used for a person who is the administrative assistant to a high-ranking officer. In a church setting this can also be true, However, the position can come with the responsibility of teaching and maintaining ecclesiastical order. I had the lead responsibility of maintaining order. I was the one others looked to and expected to be an authority in these matters in the absence of the pastor. If I didn't do anything about what was going on, at the end of the night my leader may have reprimanded Me. Did you catch the emphasis on the three I’s and the one me?
I'm talking about ego...pride. A few moments ago I said that the scales of decision tipped toward my emotions. What I really should have said is that the scales tipped toward my ego. It is true that I am sensitive when it comes to the reputation of the Church at large, but years later I realized that it was my attitude of self-importance that blurred my focus. I was back on my knees for only a few moments before there was a disturbance now happening inside of the sanctuary. What had taken place on the outside was actually the physical manifestation of a spiritual disturbance. Once again I left my position to go and address two individuals who were behaving in a very contrary manner. It didn't go so well not that things dramatically escalated again. Let me clarify. Usually, especially in the black church, you have what is known as a call and response type of worship. One of the disciplines of corporate prayer is that the congregation would respond to what the prayer leader is declaring with phrases of agreement or simple amens. This is an act of getting and remaining on one accord.
Well, there were a couple of people who were not only speaking loud enough that you can hear them over the amplified voice of the facilitator, but they were on a totally different page all together. They were chanting their own thing and operating under a different influence. They refused to respect anything that I had to say about it. Knowing that they were a part of the foolishness that broke out before, I had no problem asking them to dismiss themselves from the fellowship that night. I didn't put them out physically. I informed them that if they could not refrain from being a disturbance it would be best if they would leave. Finally the main lights were turned up and the worship service was officially beginning. I felt so empty inside. I knew I had messed up. Quietly, I was wishing for the opportunity to start over again. There was no going back.
Things went left real fast
For the rest of the evening my time was spent behind a B3 Hammond organ. I was also one of the musicians of the church. At the conclusion of the worship service I decided to hang around so that I can submit an oral report. People love drama, you know. I felt that it was important for me to give a more formal report of what happened from my perspective. For some reason it was a busy night even after the service. It took a while before I was able to get into the pastor's study, but I waited for the opportunity. It was very late when staff, visitors, and the pastor’s family members finally dispersed. At this point I just wanted to show my face and tell the pastor he can expect a call from me. He let me know that he was already bombarded with various versions of what happened, and he appreciated me for staying on top of things. It was a weird moment. However, it was late and I needed to get home.
It was a pretty mild night for January. I was able to tolerate the cold much more back then.
The waist level light leather jacket that I wore was enough for me. On my way home I stopped at a gas station to fuel up. While I was there I grabbed a king size Snicker bar and bottle of Pepsi and proceeded to the car wash a couple of blocks down the road. I had the car washed and waxed and then I took care of the rest of the detailing myself. A few blocks later I was home. By this time it was very late and I went through my nightly routine as quietly as possible. Before getting into the shower I experienced a sudden sharp pain in my left trapezius muscle. Those are the muscles between the shoulders and neck. The pain was beyond excruciating. It was a crippling pain. The pain hit me so hard that my ears were ringing. I thought maybe I strained my neck muscles from looking in one direction from the organ most of the night. Most of the ministry was happening on the floor amongst the audience and not near the platform. I was looking to my right as people were being prayed for and receiving words of comfort, exhortation, and edification.
I thought it would be beneficial if I allowed the hot water to run over the sore side of my neck while I was in the shower. I even set the shower head to a pulsating position. I felt a little relief, but the effects was still evident from the initial shock. I'm finally in the bedroom and I apprised my wife of everything that transpired on that evening since she and my step-daughter were not in attendance. I was definitely ready for bed and was lying down comfortably when... BANG! The pain struck me once again in the same area and this time the damage was evident. I could neither feel or move my left arm. Immediately, I remembered some information that I had just learned in an article and said to myself, “I know I'm not having a stroke.” This time the pain was not letting up and a decision needed to be made. I was not personally accustomed to hospitals. I of course visited people, but hadn't stayed a night in the hospital since I was born. My upbringing was full of answered prayers and casting the devil out when illness struck. I've been committed to fasting and praying. My heart and mouth was filled with the good treasure of God's Word. We're going to see God work tonight were my thoughts.
The pain was relentless and the hour was getting later. This was obviously more than just some muscle fatigue. I needed to seek medical attention. So off to Long Island Jewish hospital we went. The pain persisted, but I was able to walk into the emergency room. I realized while walking through the cool night air I didn't feel so bad. However, once I entered into warmer environments the pain flared up again. It wasn't so busy so I was able to walk straight into the Triage and communicate my experience to the nurse there. After vital signs were taken it was time to fill out some paperwork. Leave it up to me to find humor in the midst of a serious situation. I felt like I was on a television show when they asked for my insurance card. Here I am. I could barely sit still because of the pain. I had a sudden loss of the use of my arm and was experiencing weakness...DO YOU HAVE INSURANCE SIR? This is crazy. Yes I do. Give me a minute to get the card out of my wallet. I still had the use of my right arm and hand but it was a struggle to get my wallet out of my inside jacket pocket. Oh that pain. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.
Finally, I was able to retrieve my insurance and ID card. I pushed them through the opening of the glass window. Some paperwork was given to me to fill out. I asked to borrow a pen. By the time someone was extending their hand to give me a pen (which was only seconds later) I couldn't lift my right arm. The triage nurse announced a code over the loudspeaker and within moments a medical team had rapidly responded. I couldn't lift my arms and I was experiencing weakness in my torso. Okay Mr. Humbert, just stand up and we’ll help you to lie down on the stretcher.
By this time my legs felt like rubber bands. At the count of three, I attempted to stand up and fell forward head first. The last thing I saw was an oily impression of my recently moisturized face on the black vinyl of the stretcher. The medical team hoisted me up on the stretcher and rushed me through the doors leading to the trauma center.