Please bow your eyes and close your heads

Here is a great story told (against himself) by Jamie Buckingham. It is a warning against trying to do God’s work in our own strength. It is also a warning against relying on a formula to produce a certain effect.

Though I was not scheduled to preach at the early service, I was directing the worship time. Jimmy Smith, our soloist, was singing from the piano. It was powerful, moving. “I will pour water on him who is thirsty . . .”

As he finished, I whispered to the guest preacher seated beside me, “I’m going to minister a bit before you preach.” He nodded. I walked to the pulpit just as the music finished.

“Please bow your heads and close your eyes,” I said. Jimmy caught the mood of the moment and continued to play softly. I talked about the water of the Holy Spirit that softens the parched earth of our lives. I asked the people to let him come into their lives. Jimmy sang another stanza. Some people slipped to their knees. I closed by asking them to receive the seed of the Word the preacher was about to sow in their lives.

After the service, the guest preacher said, “That was great. Could you repeat it at the second service?” I swelled a little. It was a good word. Fresh. Spontaneous. I nodded. If a thing is good for one group, why not for the next?

In the second service, before a much larger crowd, Jimmy sang the same song. But something was different. The people were not as responsive. My course, however, was set. Again, with solemn drama, I called the people to prayer.

My own eyes were closed. My head bowed. I waited, piously. Instead of the expected silence, however, I heard laughter. It started on the side where my wife and grown children were sitting. It rippled across the congregation, like dry leaves before the wind. I stood there, puffed-up and dumb, wondering what was happening. People were laughing louder and louder.

I opened my eyes and immediately squeezed them shut. In that horrifying way, I knew they were laughing at me. Only then did my mind replay what I had just said: “Please bow your eyes and close your heads.”

Gradually I realized what had happened. What God had done in the early service, I had tried to replicate in my own strength. God, who enjoys a good laugh, too, figured since I was going to take the credit, he would let me do it my way. And my way is to stick my foot in my mouth.

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