I could not help but be reminded of a story related by the great American pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards after a couple of events that occurred in our church this past Sunday, January 2nd. To make matters very clear, my heart was not bent toward Edwards because I related to the mastery of his preaching; far from it. Rather, it was because of a rather unusual happening in the midst of our morning worship that I was reminded of a letter he had written in the 18th century to a friend of his, Benjamin Colman, describing an event that had happened in his own church during a service. Granted, the occurrence in Edwards’ church was much, much more severe and dangerous than my own account, but I nevertheless find a great similarity in how I and how he ultimately viewed the events. I have written my own brief story below, followed by the letter Edwards wrote to Colman.
Probably due to the holiday season, there was a lack of communication among our media volunteer and just minutes prior to the morning service, we realized that none of the songs or information had been loaded into the “Powerpoint” computer and no one was available to operate the contraption (we actually use MediaShout, but Powerpoint has become the church word for everything that goes on a screen). In a frenzy, the worship leader and I copied all the lyrics to the songs into Microsoft Word and, thanks to the arrival of our former office manager, we were able to make little booklets of the worship set just in time for the service (I must confess at one point thinking, “if we sang hymns, we could just use the hymnal!”) I announced to the congregation that we were going “old school” that day and no “Powerpoint” would be used. No one seemed to care at all.
The time came for me to begin my sermon. About 2 minutes into the message, just after the reading of Scripture, all electricity went off in the church, meaning of course that my microphone had stopped working. After a quick comment to my good friend Tom in the back sarcastically asking “What did you do?” I just kept preaching. I figured that the best sermons ever preached were done without a microphone, so my little message couldn’t be hurt too much. I noticed several of the men in the back began roaming around the church, no doubt looking at breaker boxes and trying to find the source of the problem. It never happened. For the remaining 30 minutes of my sermon and the rest of the service, we were without power. This is my 12th year of church ministry. I have had some crazy things happen in the middle of a service, probably crazier than this. But this is the first time I can remember power going off and staying off for over half of the worship service.
The conversations with the good folks at First Baptist Evergreen were exactly what I thought they would be; they were thankful. Some mentioned how people were actually more in tune with the message because they had to listen closely to hear. Some mentioned how it was nice not to hear the fan of the Powerpoint projector and other noises that are associated with things being plugged into an outlet. And all mentioned how God does things for a reason.
And to that I say, amen. Is it mere coincidence that we had printed the words to the worship songs on paper the one day that the power goes out? Is it mere “chance” that causes a guy to drive into an electric pole just down street that crippled power on the block for about an hour? Or is it in the hands of a providential God? Interestingly, one of my points in my sermon, which was on the “Core of a Christian,” is the need to be thankful. How can we be thankful in all circumstances? By embracing the providence of God. And here He was giving us the opportunity right in the middle of my point.
Sunday was a special day of worship I won’t forget anytime soon. I believe hearts were touched. I believe God moved. All within the confines of an electricity starved meeting-house.
A Letter from Jonathan Edwards to Benjamin Colman
March 19, 1737
We in this town were, the last Lord’s day (March 13th,) the spectators, and many of us the subjects, of one the most amazing instances of divine preservation, that perhaps was ever known in the world. Our meetinghouse is old and decayed, so that we have been for some time building a new one, which is yet unfinished. It has been observed of late that the house we have hitherto met in has gradually spread at the bottom, the sills and walls giving way, especially in the foreside, by reason of the weight of timber at top pressing on the braces that are inserted into the posts and beams of the house. . .So that in the midst of the public exercise in the forenoon, soon after the beginning of the sermon, the whole gallery – full of people, with all the seats and timbers, suddenly, and without any warning – sunk, and fell down, with the most amazing noise, upon the heads of those that sat under, to the astonishment of the congregation. The house was filled with dolorous shrieking and crying; and nothing else was expected than to find many people dead, or dashed into pieces.
But so mysteriously and wonderfully did it come to pass that every life was preserved, and though many were greatly bruised and their flesh torn, yet there is not, as I can understand, one bone broken, or so much as put out of joint, among them all. Some, who were thought to be almost dead at first, are greatly recovered; and but one young woman seems to remain in dangerous circumstances, by an inward hurt to her breast; but of late there appears to be more hope of her recovery.
None can give an account, or conceive, by what means people’s lives and limbs should be thus preserved, when so great a multitude were thus imminently exposed. It looked as though it was impossible but that great numbers must instantly be crushed to death or dashed in pieces. It seems unreasonable to ascribe it to anything else but the care of Providence in disposing the motions of every piece of timber and the precise place of safety where everyone should sit and fall, when none were in any capacity to care for their own preservation.
Such an event may be a sufficient argument of a Divine providence over the lives of men. We thought ourselves called on to set apart a day to be spent in the solemn worship of God, to humble ourselves under such a rebuke of God upon us, in time of public service in his house, by so dangerous and surprising an accident, and to praise his name for so wonderful, and as it were miraculous, a preservation. The last Wednesday was kept by us to that end; and a mercy, in which the hand of God is so remarkably evident, may be well worthy to affect the hearts of all who hear it.