When I was growing up, the churches I was a part of had two services each Sunday morning that weren’t identical like most multi-service churches now. The first service was shorter, about half an hour, and always ended with communion.
The rest of that half hour was completely unplanned. No sermon. No designated prayers. No rehearsed music. Instead, we “popcorn” prayed, people offering prayers as they felt led by God’s Spirit to pray. We sang. Sometimes a cappella, sometimes accompanied by a pianist or guitar player who had hundreds of songs at their fingertips. And we shared from the Scriptures.
This last part is what had a lasting effect on me.
We were encouraged to be prepared to share, to read the Scriptures on our own during the previous week, expecting to hear the Voice of the Lord spoken to us personally through the Bible to. But it wasn’t to us alone that God was speaking. He was speaking to the rest of congregation as well, but through us.
Now, this could have gone all wrong and sometimes it did.
It could have had the negative result of not hearing the Scriptures speak to us personally as we listened just for something to say in Sunday’s sharing time. It could have has us flipping open our Bibles that Sunday morning, quickly finding a nugget to share, and calling it good until the next Sunday morning. I know that happened, because I did it myself. But that’s when I was in my early teens and just learning how to read the Scriptures on my own, and sometimes you just need to fake it till you make it, as the saying goes.
But I quickly learned how obvious it was when these two shortcuts were employed. There was a thinness to the sharing that reflected the thinness of the week’s encounter with God through the Scriptures. It’s the same thinness to sermons that is obvious when the preacher hasn’t been personally engaged by the Scriptures, but has merely used the text as a springboard for the sermon.
What these services taught me was that God pours into our lives, intending we in turn pour into the lives of others.
We need a personal encounter with God, but it mustn’t end with us. We need to pass it on.
The Dead Sea is a place where water gathers but doesn’t pass on. It’s salty and lifeless. Other places where water gathers without passing through are swampy and stinky. We are meant to be rivers, always receiving, always passing it on.
The reason early Christianity was so vibrant and grew so rapidly was that it was so full of life, full of the Spirit, full of Jesus that it couldn’t contain what was poured into it. It spilled over on everyone around them. Sure, there were those who didn’t appreciated getting splashed with it. There always are. But the faith of these early Christians (and Christians in many places still today) was uncontainable. What was poured into them was too big to stay inside of them. It had to come out. And when it did, it brought life to a thirsty, dying world.