A few weeks ago I was having a cup of coffee with my friends at Helsinki rauhanyhdistys. I was about to leave when a speaker brother tapped on my shoulder and asked me to come along. He said it was not about anything terrible.
I followed him into the sacristy, where another speaker brother was sitting. I knew him because I had kept Bible Class in their home a few times. When I sat down on the sofa, I had a bad feeling about what was coming.
They did not beat the bush about it: “We have thought that you could be a servant of the word here at Helsinki rauhanyhdistys.”
It was like an earthquake. I could not think about anything. I just sat there speechless and stunned for a moment. Finally, I was able to say quietly that if that is what you have thought, that is how it will be. I have been studying theology on and off over the years, thinking that I may be asked to serve one day when I retire. I now felt far too young for the task.
Years ago I even thought that it might be a good thing to be a speaker. I would be appreciated and respected, and I was confident I would have things to say. As I grew older and gained more experience, that feeling faded away, and I no longer think I would have anything at all to say – at least with my own understanding.
We had a long discussion in the rauhanyhdistys sacristy. The building was empty and dark by the time I crossed the parking area to my car. I felt immensely lonely. Distressed.
Driving home, I tried to call my father. He was on the phone, speaking with someone else. For the half hour that I spent driving home I had mixed feelings, felt fearful, and wondered what this new situation would mean.
When my father finally called back, I burst out crying. It took me long to gain enough control to speak. My father spoke loving words and said everything will be fine. He said he had thought that I would be a good servant of the word. But I was not really comforted.
I slept fitfully and woke with an anxious mind, just like I did years ago when I was depressed. In my anguish I prayed. I do not know if one should even pray like this, but I prayed that the Heavenly Father would somehow cancel my task. Yet I also prayed that His will would be done.
I felt myself a worthless servant in the Lord’s harvest. I was sure they had never blessed a more battered bassoon or a more sinful speaker to serve the Zion. I was painfully aware of my shortcomings and besetting sins as well as my other characteristics that seem to clash with Paul’s definition of a good servant of the word. I cannot even be called the husband of one wife, as I do not have any wife.
I was plunged deep into an identity crisis. I was wondering what things I should give up to be the kind of secure, composed and confident servant of the word that I had come to know the others. I understood how safe and easy it had been simply to sit in the pew, to listen and to believe.
My mind was full of doubts and questions. Should I now give up my frayed jeans and leather jacket and start dressing more conventionally? Was I too attached to temporal wealth and good living? I had always been used to speaking my mind, so how could I now learn to use more polished language? I do not even need to list the temptations of a single man? Would not the skeletons in my closet downright prevent my serving in this role? Am I even normal enough? What if they want to dismiss me when they realize what a bad person I am. I have been too interested in sport in my free time and have not worked hard enough in my studies. How could I live in the right way? How do I know what is right and what is wrong?
I thought about the Summer Service sermons that I had listened. I had often appreciated the speakers’ knowledge of the Bible. They fluently quoted Bible portions and explained very clearly things that had seemed quite incomprehensible to me. I wondered if my sermons would just consist of empty phrases without any content. I had discussed with some people the general lack of biblical knowledge in our time – and even among speaker brothers. Now that I faced to prospect of preaching myself, I was more than ready to re-consider my views. Yet, I do not feel inclined to pick up the Bible as the first thing. I usually feel myself, or at least the situation, to be unsuitable for that.
I remember a story from my youth about a speaker to whom the word had not been opened at all. Would I be like that, too? Or what if I will preach so well that it will make the others feel inferior? Or if I preach so badly that the others will feel ashamed for me? Will I be too law-minded? Will I live in the way I preach? What if I will be the kind of false prophet who will lead people astray? The enemy of souls has been digging up all possible negative things and is preaching unbelief, despair and wretchedness. I have never before felt so lacking of faith as I do now.
I remember of the words of the Bible: ”Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18) I am not old yet, but I feel there is nothing else I can do except let myself be carried by God’s will.
The brothers said I could speak to my nearest people about this. I wondered who would be nearest to me. I felt completely alone, without a place where I could rest. A few days later, when I had been able to discuss this with some friends, I gradually calmed down. Those friends reminded me that this task also includes a blessing. I have tried to remember that at times of anxiety.
I asked the brothers in the sacristy if I could wait until the fall to begin. I will leave my role as Bible Class teacher, but I want to keep my other work duties in the Zion.
When I listened to old recorded Summer Service sermons, I heard the voice of a dear brother who has already gone into rest: ”It is not you who preach but the spirit of my dear Father”. Another speaker brother asked young people to quieten down to pray that each listener could hear what is needful for his or her soul. I know my friends will not abandon me, but will pray that I would be given words. We are all priests of the Holy Spirit and authorized to preach the gospel. Yet every one of us stands alone before God. We need all the help we can get to remain believing. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
I want to trust that God will help me even with this task. I have already had heavy trials. The Father will show His grace and help in good time. Next fall, God willing, I will serve for the first time in regional services. I will be supported by the prayers of many friends, brothers and sisters of all ages. I have been deeply moved by all those who have come to wish me God’s blessing for this task. I have often bowed my head with tears in my eyes, partly for pain and relief, but partly also for joy – the Father has not abandoned me. There is still time to break bread for the hungry and preach the gospel to the poor. I can only pray: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10)
Text: Seppo Tervo
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen
You will find the original finnish blog post here.
Poikkeusolojen vuoksi radion ja netin välityksellä lähetetyt Suviseurat saivat kuulijoiden palautteen perusteella positiivisen vastaanoton. Historiallisten Suviseurojen järjestelyt sujuivat suunnitelmien mukaisesti, eikä suurempia häiriöitä ilmennyt. Seurojen keskeinen sanoma välittyi kaikkialle maailmaan ja seurapuheet käännettiin yhdeksälle kielelle.