Something interesting happened during our church men’s small group this past summer. There were four of us meeting one evening in a member’s living room. Our group leader suggested that we should pray silently for each man, as a group. After praying for each man, we were to share any insight that God may have given us for the man during our prayer.
We started off praying for me. After praying each man told me anything that he felt the Lord was leading him to say. They all told me something that was edifying in some way. One of them in particular, Man#2, echoed a vision that another man, powerfully gifted with prophetic insight and unaffiliated with my church, had spoken to me three months prior about an enduring struggle in my life. Those two completely unrelated people gave me a similar message. The context, if not the exact imagery, was identical; the message was unanticipated, a little ‘odd’, and encouraging. If I am inclined to question everything to pieces, for fear of being made a fool, it is in just such circumstances as having two people say the same odd and encouraging thing months apart, that I begin to trust. That’s how God works on me, anyway. And that’s the frame of mind I took into prayers for Man#2. I don’t have notes about what we shared with him.
After we finished addressing Man#2, we began praying for one Man#3. I am often distracted during such prayers, where there will be a critique of sorts when I’m done. “WHAT IF GOD DOESN’T TELL ME ANYTHING? WHAT IF HE TELLS ME SOMETHING AND I DON’T KNOW IT’S HIM?” One of the things I forgot to worry about during that prayer was “WHAT IF GOD TELLS ME TO DO SOMETHING I DON’T WANT TO DO?”
While I prayed for Man#3, I asked God to tell me something for his edification. I waited briefly and heard nothing. After a few moments, I saw an image of Man#3 on a motorcycle. It was a brief image in my mind that meant nothing to me at all. I’ll talk more about that later. I listened past the motorcycle image. “Have you got anything for him, God?” I listened a bit longer, and then suddenly, with clarity and resolve, I decided that I was to tell him, “Man#3, you are a smile.” Only there’s no way I came up with that one on my own, regardless of clarity and resolve. Whatever kind of guy embraces the opportunity to tell another guy, in the presence of other guys, “you are a smile”, I’m not really that kind of guy.
I wrestled with the impulse. It never crossed my mind to question whether it was from God or not. I was too distracted over whether or not to say such a cheesy thing out loud in a room where other human beings might hear me. Who says “You are a smile”? To another man, anyway. I considered the potential for embarrassment. (Always, it seems, I’m considering the potential for embarrassment. Lord, help me wear the jester’s shoes well.) Ultimately, I figured the men in the room knew the best and worst of me and wouldn’t be shocked to see me be an idiot again. So I decided to say it.
All of the above prayer and machinations took approximately thirty seconds. When it was time for us to share whatever words we had, I went first. I said, “Well, I had this image of you on a motorcycle, but it was really brief and didn’t seem to be worth anything. And this might sound kind of weird, but you are a smile,” and no sooner had I gotten the words out than our group leader gasped dramatically and involuntarily. “THAT’S JUST WHAT I WAS GOING TO SAY!” Which was really interesting. And no sooner had he gotten the words out than several lives were changed in that room, our collective perception of God undergoing a tectonic shift right there in the midst of a goofy affirmation.
I shouted, ‘NO WAY!” and ran over to our group leader, and we did a double-high-five. Seriously…NO WAY. Are you kidding us? The room was a jumble of celebration and shock. It was disorienting. We had asked God to reveal Himself to us, and He did, and then we wigged out. A casual observer might have noticed that discrepancy – between the fairly innocuous presentation of our silent prayers for direction and edification, compared against the pandemonium that ensued when we got what we asked for. That observer might reasonably have come to the conclusion that we hadn’t expected to receive the thing for which we asked.
It might be more accurate to say that we aren’t used to receiving that thing for which we asked. Not in the way that we experienced in Man#3’s living room. For those of us that grew up in mainline Protestant traditions, there was in our training little to no conscious, deliberate experience with the more invisible realities of our faith. At the least, there wasn’t any acknowledgement that such practices as the prophecy we’d just experienced were possible, much less desirable. Some of us even learned early on to distrust and avoid anyone who believed in and celebrated such craziness. We are everywhere these days, we who are recovering from spiritual anorexia and seeking to embody a more complete manifestation of Christ’s church in this age.
After we calmed down, the other two men shared their prayer results with Man#3. Then we prayed for our group leader. Man #2 had a ‘confirming’ message for him, one that was almost identical wording, maybe actually identical, to an exhortation that a well-known prophetess had spoken over him a few weeks before. Man#2 knew nothing of that other event. Recall that Man #2 is also the guy that gave me my confirming word earlier in the exercise. Man#2 is Captain Confirmation, evidently. Or he was that evening. That one guy had a confirming word for two different people in one exercise; he was confirming words spoken over those people by unaffiliated and confirmed prophetic individuals; and he knew nothing of either prophecy before he spoke to us that evening. Writing now several months after the fact, I think that this dynamic is as impressive as the ‘you are a smile message.’ It’s just now hitting home.
There’s a lot to assimilate in the joyful fallout of that episode. It’s screamingly obvious that God really wanted Man#3 to know that God thinks he’s a smile, God’s smile to the world around him. And not like some oppressively chipper Christian caricature – Man#3 is actually a fairly solemn fellow. There’s just something undeniably encouraging about him. He very quietly goes about a life that is a blessing to some folks who might not otherwise see God’s face in that way. God is so convinced of this, and God so wanted Man#3 to be equally convinced of this, that God gave two guys the exact same improbable word to share with him.
‘You are a smile. (YAAS)’ This little affirmation is noteworthy in form, familiarity (or lack thereof), and context. As a communicated sentiment, it is flawless in its elegant simplicity. An economy of words; a perfect expression, making a possibly tired sentiment seem brand new. (It is reminiscent of the title lyric in Reindeer Section’s ‘You Are My Joy’, which song and video are perfect in their own right; check it). It is something out of a legitimate love poem, blessing the subject with an unadulterated affection and admiration that asks nothing in return, as might a father write to his child (imagine that). Perfect, uncommon, and pure. And so the writer says, “Man, I wish I’d thought of that.” And the Lord says, smiling, “I know. That’s why I gave it to someone else, too, so there’s no temptation to take ownership.” And the writer says, “Right. Thanks.”
The actual statement YAAS is not a common expression, at least to those of us in that room last summer. Or to the internet, for that matter. I just did a bing search for ‘you are a smile.’ No matches. As in, it’s possible that no one in the history of words has ever said the sentence before God dumped it into our prayer circle for Man#3. At the very least, YAAS is uncommon in the English language internet; which means it’s uncommon in the English language. What better way for God to sign off on a prophetic word than to give two people the message, when that message is basically a brand new sentence. And the sentence isn’t new or rare based on ridiculous complexity; on the contrary, ‘you are a’ is as simple and well-worn a noun-verb-modifier combo as you’ll find in the English language. And ‘smile’ isn’t some big secret, either. Bing search for smile shows 116,000,000 hits.
Consider the players in the room and why they are a critical element in the context of YAAS. They were four guys who knew each other as well as possible given that they had been in church and close community to varying degrees over some years. They were practiced at asking each other hard questions, giving each other hard answers, celebrating together, grieving together. Wives, ex-wives, kids, work, sex, and how all of that fits in a greater walk with God – that’s what they were in the habit of talking about. But they were in the habit of talking about all of that in terms that stop short of YAAS. Way short of YAAS. It is not unfair to say that the four of us might have sat there for a hundred years without one of us deciding to say YAAS.
Now is the part where we get to go nuts about the fact that TWO PEOPLE GOT THE SAME WORD. The number two is important here. If only one of us got the word from God, even had he shared it, there wouldn’t have been a fraction of the impact. If I had said, “You know, Man#3, YAAS,” and no one else had said it, then it likely would have been just another nice word of encouragement that anyone of might forget after a few days. But it wasn’t just one person, which I’ve mentioned before now. It was two. Two people.
Back up a bit. Clarification: if only one of us had gotten the word from God, there likely would still have been blessing; because the word would have been FROM GOD. Equals blessing. Or at least equals blessing to the extent that the target person had a heart prepared to receive said blessing. So I’m not going to presume to limit that possibility. But by using two people instead of one, God effectively took one of those springy snake-in-a-can things that no one under the age of 40 will know what I’m talking about, except it’s like a Holy Spirit version of snake-in-a-can, and said, “I think I’ll drop this right here in the middle of you guys,” and then just watched all of us go nuts when we opened the can. Because regardless the potential impact of one guy being obedient and sharing that message, two people sharing the same oddball thing is mathematically challenging. Two people sharing the same oddball thing, that neither wanted to say, when the sentence itself is some amazing stealth affirmation never used before, is God.
The point of the exercise was us asking God for anything constructive He might want to share about any one of us. So He told Man#3 YAAS. He didn’t tell Man#3 to stop doing such-and-such or change your ways about whatever. He gave him positive feedback about who he is. It was a statement of identity, not behavior. Man#3 can wake up every day and hang on to that moment, in case he wonders what God thinks about him. He can have his very own confident and humble I AM moment, without any doubts.
But what if Man#3 somehow makes a mess of his life and stops being a smile? Doesn’t that mean that he would have a different identity? I don’t know. The message wasn’t “You are a smile, and you will remain a smile until such time as you do such and such things, after which transgressions you will be more of a frown, instead.” It’s a legitimate question, but it’s a moot point for now.
No account of circumstances like these is complete without touching on obedience. God gave two people the same word. Why? I can’t say for sure. I’m comfortable believing it was in part because he wanted to bless all of us, but especially Man#3. But before any of that intended blessing could happen, someone in that room had to be obedient.
What happens if I’m not obedient to the prompt, but instead give in to my initial concern of looking like a cheeseball? Then the responsibility would have been passed on to our group leader, who also expressed concern that saying the words would have made him look foolish. If he’s obedient, in that scenario, then presumably we’d have had a similar scene, with the exception that I would have felt chastened for choosing safety over boldness. And if neither of us had said the word, then none of that blessing would have happened at all. TAKE AWAY: timidity can limit our effectiveness at blessing people on God’s behalf.
I recently attended a ministry engagement where Brad McClendon was the speaker. He related how he told God many years ago that he wanted to be an apostle. He used humorous body language to communicate to us that, in so telling God, he had no idea what he was asking for. He said, “God handed me a pair of jester shoes. I said, ‘What’s this for?’ God said, ‘If you want to be an apostle, you have to be fool for Jesus. Are you ready?’ And I said, ‘Not yet.'” Good stuff live, and it perfectly illustrates the dilemma of anyone who’s serious about allowing God to use them to bless the world. There’s a great chance that such a person will be called to say and do things that will appear foolish to those around, including the person doing the foolishness.
And this is why obedience is critical. It’s theoretically easy to make oneself available to God on terms that God will have one do grand and impressive things that might bring instant honor and acclaim. ‘Instant honor and acclaim’ sounds pretty nice to me. It’s another thing entirely to be obedient to God when God asks you to do things that seem ‘almost’ tailor-made to test your personal limits of pride and vanity. God asks us to decide whether we value our public image more than His service. His service is largely geared toward blessing people as His agent. So He really is asking you (me) to decide whether you value your public image or private arrogance more than you value the person who He’s pointing you at. Obedience in the face of apparent foolishness is to value the other more than the self.
Granted, it may not be evident beforehand that God is actually testing your commitment at the same time He’s presenting a ministry opportunity. You might have to power on through that face-saving impulse in order to discover that there’s blessing for all at the end of the obedience. So, best practice is to ultimately live a lifestyle that eschews being cool in favor of a life lived at the ready to serve God however and whenever. I am not there yet, but I’m closer than I used to be.
Much blessing has come from the events of that evening. Man#3 has remarked several times since then that he’s found himself in circumstances where he knows he’s doing the job of A Smile, with approval of the Creator of the Universe. Anyone think that wouldn’t give you some confidence? Peace? Each of us who were in the room is now more aware that God hears his prayers. And we all know much better that God wants to encourage his children. Finally, those of us who are actively seeking to become more effective in using the gifts of the Spirit are comfortable that God is going to give us opportunities to sharpen those skills.
I indicated earlier in this post that I would later address the image I saw of Man#3 on a motorcycle. And I will address it. But not in this post. The next post will be a grab bag of small installments, I think; and I’ll talk motorcycles in that one.