Saul’s Distressing Spirit:
“But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him… So Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.”
“And so it was, whenever the [distressing] spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take the harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.”
Just when you think you have God all figured out, just when you think you can assign Him to a box and have Him behave according to your prescribed model, here comes a scripture that can’t be explained by your theology.
Like Samson, (ref. Judges 16:20), Saul’s relationship with God is so tenuous that he doesn’t even realize that the Holy Spirit has departed from him. His servants had to explain it to him. Are you like that? Are you so limited on space in your cluttered heart that there’s no room for the Holy Spirit? Is there so little of His presence in your life that you hardly know He’s there? Are you sure He’s there at all?
Perhaps He’s departed and you just don’t realize it. Perhaps God has replaced His Spirit with a “Distressing Spirit,” a spirit of dark anxiety. Would God even do such a thing? The answer is obviously, “yes,” but it’s important to note the conditions, because, just as with Saul, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your life is directly proportional to, and conditional upon, your obedience to the Lord.
Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commands.” I believe that our obedience is required even beyond the commands He has recorded for us in the New Testament. I believe that the Lord includes our obedience to those things He speaks to us, individually and collectively each day. Yes, God speaks to us even today, in many ways. The trouble is that most of His church are not listening. In fact, many of us are making so much noise of our own, that we’re drowning out His “still small voice.”
In 1Thes. 5:19, Paul warns us, “Do not quench the Spirit,” and then immediately adds, in verse 20, “Do not despise prophesies.”
Certainly Paul is not concerned that we might stone the prophets of old, in the same way that the people of their time did, but Paul is not speaking of them at all. He is speaking of new prophesies that come during worship by way of the Holy Spirit, (and he does not mean speaking in a language that cannot be understood by those within hearing.) I like the way that the writers of The Message have expressed this scripture, “Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master.”
I think that we, unfortunately, have already done just that. I think that our scripted worship services are designed to “quench” the Holy Spirit, to suppress such prophesies, and, so doing, suppress the “still, small voice” of God. It troubles me to think where our script might have come from and who wrote it. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to force God to have to shout at me in “wind, earth and fire,” (ref. 1Kings 19:11-12)
Full time pastors and preachers are not the only ones who have a “word” from the Lord. In fact, what passes for “preaching” in our churches often becomes so dead and dry, that it can be a major deterrent to the interaction of the Holy Spirit. I find it very difficult to hear the voice of God within a prepared interpretation of scripture, while the Holy Spirit is trying to speak to me about a very different interpretation. The Word comes to us fresh, each day as “prophesy,” by way of the Holy Spirit, not by way of a sermon that was planned and prepared a year in advance. That’s teaching, not preaching.
I like a good praise service as much as the next guy. I like to raise my hands in worship and praise God from my heart, through song; but I think that worship should proceed from fervent prayer, prayer based in what God is speaking to us at the moment; and song, scripture reading, or sermon, should flow out of that worship, not into it. I believe that, very often, God has a different idea than we do about how we should approach Him. I don’t think our worship should be a prescribed and scripted order of service, and it certainly should not be a form of entertainment used to draw unbelievers into our worship services. If you want to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with a lost world, (and you should), then you need to step outside the sanctuary walls and “Go,” to them, where they are, in obedience to Christ’s command.
Worship comes in many forms, but it should always be a form of two-way communication with God, a time when we, His children, not only listen to His voice, but we get to respond to Him. Praise music and preaching are fine, but sometimes the Holy Spirit has something very different in mind and we need to be available to His call, not so scheduled and over-planned that we can’t squeeze Him into our collective worship. God is speaking to His church, but I’m afraid, for the most part, His church is not listening.