Yesterday I led the Bible study time at River City Ministries, an organization serving the poor and homeless around Little Rock. I’m on a rotation with several other ministers and typically speak there once a month. I enjoy being with the people, and especially the staff at RCM. They have a clear love for the Lord and for all of his children – especially the poorest ones.
As I pulled into the parking lot yesterday, I was overcome with a supernatural reluctance. I did not want to teach. I did not want to see the people. I did not want to get out of my truck and go inside. I sat staring at my phone, wondering if I could somehow call in sick and still escape the parking lot before I was noticed.
But then I was noticed.
I heard a voice say “Thanks Curtis!” When I looked back, there was Curtis Zachary, the Kindest Human Being on the Planet and a member at our church. He was there dropping off some supplies on his lunch break, just one of his responsibilities as the Kindest Human Being on the Planet. Curtis’ kindness and obvious joy serving the people at RCM made me feel all kinds of guilty.
He came walking through the parking lot with a big grin and his hand out-reached.
I probably left him wondering why I didn’t return his enthusiasm. Because any other time I would have been thrilled to see Curtis. I mean, who doesn’t want to see the Kindest Human Being on the Planet? But this time he blew my cover. This time he forced me inside.
That wasn’t even the worst part. After I saw Curtis, I met Edward.
Edward is an African-American man who, I’m guessing, is in his late-40’s or early 50’s. He wore a black track suit with a cap and looked at everyone over his thin reading glasses. His voice was like thunder, really happy thunder. Without looking at him you could tell he was smiling.
Edward saw me carrying my Bible and hurried over to meet me, floating on his Holy Cloud of Joy and Goodness.
“You must be the preacher man today!” He smiled.
“Yes sir,” I fake-smiled back.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said. “But if you didn’t come, I was ready to share the Word. Psalm 121, that’s what I was gonna teach today if you didn’t come.”
“I can leave,” I thought. I didn’t say it, but I was really close.
I found a seat on the far side of the room, between the guys who never want to talk to anybody. Edward, of course, followed me.
“I’m a former drug addict and convict. But now I know Jee-zus and I have a joy cain’t no devil provide! You knowaduhmean? Cain’t NO devil provide my joy!” This time he screamed “no” and people jumped.
“God’s word says to taste and see that he is good. Well I’ve tasted it, and it’s sweeter than honey!”
I wasn’t sure what to say. But it was obvious the right man wasn’t teaching.
I printed off several copies of my text for the day just in case people didn’t have a Bible. Edward caught a glimpse of the scriptures, snatched them out of my hand and was handing them out before I knew what had happened. He controlled the room, telling people to smile, telling people God loves them, he even told one guy to shut up.
Everyone did just what Edward said.
As I watched him float around on his Holy Cloud, I couldn’t help but think of a verse in Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet who was terrorized, humiliated, and persecuted for speaking God’s word. And, as much as he lamented his duty, he couldn’t bring himself to stop. So in Jeremiah 20:7-9, he says:
O Lord, you misled me.
and I allowed myself to be misled.
You are stronger than I am,
and you overpowered me.
Now I am mocked every day;
everyone laughs at me.
When I speak, the words burst out.
“Violence and destruction!” I shout.
So these messages from the Lord
have made me a household joke.
But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord
or speak in his name,
his word burns in my heart like a fire.
It’s like a fire in my bones!
i am worn out trying to hold it in!
I can’t do it!
That’s Edward. The word of God is a fire in his bones, and he cannot hold it in. And there I sat, a professional preacher, wishing I could do anything but share God’s word with the poor. In case you’re wondering, it’s not a great feeling.
Edward’s energy fueled me through my lesson. When I got back to the office I looked up Edward’s passage he wanted to preach. Psalm 121 says:
I lift my eyes to the hills –
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip –
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you –
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm –
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
I should have left.
Better yet, I should have stayed. I should have listened to Edward, the homeless recovering drug addict with God’s word burning like fire in his bones, tell me why God is his protection. I should have listened to Edward tell me how God doesn’t let his foot slip. How God is his shade. His protection. His help. Because of all the places I go for inspiration – books, videos, blogs, podcasts, other professional preachers – sometimes I just need to be with somebody who cannot, for the life of them, hold God’s word inside.
May God’s word be a fire in your bones. May you and I be worn out trying to hold it in.