Hearing Rather Than Seeing
by Bamiji Ibronke, Missionary Fellow 2020-21, Detroit Program
Of all the human senses, sight is arguably the most valued. Take any poll and one would probably find individuals who are willing to part with their ability to hear before losing their eyesight. In many ways, I too share the same sentiment. However, during a recent experience in ministry, I found sight to be less useful than usual, instead, it was the things that I heard, the sincere questions raised, and the resolute answers to appeals that I found to be most promising. As I spent time studying the Bible with Daniel, watching God prepare him for baptism, it was not seeing but hearing that fostered belief.
About halfway through preaching a sermon on Sabbath, I noticed a new face slip through the rear chapel doors and silently take a seat in the midst of the congregation. Daniel was easy to notice however, he was young, casual, and male, a unique guest amidst our predominantly formal and senior parish. As I neared the end of the sermon, I felt impressed to make an appeal for baptism to which Daniel responded. After the benediction, Daniel and I acquainted ourselves with each other and arranged for Bible studies in preparation for his baptism.
The following Monday we met at the church for our first study. Though grateful for the opportunity, I determined to keep the study short fearing that the longer the study goes the more likely Daniel would be to lose interest. As we neared forty-five minutes, we discussed closing points and prayed. There was a strange and almost awkward silence. Daniel did not gather his belongings and leave as I imagined. Instead, he remained seated. I too waited completely clueless as to what this meant. The short silence was broken when Daniel asked a question which I was a bit unprepared for. “Is there anything else you want to say”?. Though I felt a bit caught off guard I did a decent job in not letting him notice. Daniel wanted to hear more of the love of Christ for man. More than my forty-five-minute time constraint allotted. After saying a quick prayer in my mind, I proceeded to elaborate on the love of God and his mission to save fallen humanity. Our conversation went well into the night and must have gone for a couple of hours since it was very dark when we left.
After bidding Daniel farewell and starting up my car I took a moment and reflected more on his question. “Is there anything else you have to say”? This apparently simple inquiry to me was indicative of a profound reality. The Holy Spirit was working on Daniel’s heart, creating in him a thirst for the Christ that I had not noticed. Through what I saw I assumed that he would be satisfied with merely an ordinary study on Salvation. However, from hearing his sincere question I realized that unbeknownst to me lied in Daniel’s heart an immense craving for the gospel. A craving imperceptible to the carnal eye but only discernible through the sense of faith. God was teaching me that rather than going off of what is seen, to instead listen for indications of the working of His Spirit.
Over the next few studies, Daniel’s questions continued to impress and reveal to me that God was working on his heart. “Can you send me the notes”, “when is the next time we can meet”, “can we discuss how we know the Bible is true”? The Friday evening before his baptism scheduled date we found ourselves studying Community. Since we were unable to get through all the material we agreed that Daniel would look over the fundamental beliefs at home and then contact me if he had any questions. Admittedly I was nervous about not being able to go over all the material with him but planned to talk with him early on the following day.
Saturday came and I texted Daniel in the morning. I got no response. I hadn’t heard back from him since the prior night. Trying not to think too much of it I went to church to help prepare for the service. At church, I texted him again for the correct spelling of his name for the baptism certificate. I still got no response. It was approximately thirty minutes to the start of service and I hadn’t heard from him at all. A bit disappointed I pondered how I would explain to the church leadership that there would be no baptism that day while figuring out where things went wrong.
Christ once explained to Nicodemus that those who are born of the Spirit are like the rushing winds which can only be heard but not seen. He stated that as we hear the sound of the wind but cannot tell where it comes or where it goes so is every one that is born by the Spirit. During our Bible studies with Daniel, I had learned to not draw conclusions based on what I had seen. Multiple times God was showing me that the work of the Spirit is unpredictable and mysterious. It defies our logic and remains elusive to human reasoning. Further, as we cannot predict its coming neither can we predict its going. We do not know where it may take a man or the decisions it would lead one to make.
Daniel’s faith had been especially admirable. His sincere desire to know Christ had surprised me at each step. He had wanted to study longer, in more depth, and more often than I had assumed. His single question of “Is there anything more” stood as a constant reminder of the fallacy of my reasoning. Trying to predict Daniel’s spiritual state seemed to me as hopeless as trying to predict which way the wind blows. Christ was right. Here vision didn’t avail much. The most valuable conclusions came instead from those things which I heard. Watching God’s work baffled me at every step. It would seem that God was leading me to abandon any efforts to substantiate evidence merely through human reasoning. A greater method lied in drawing conclusions through faith.
Later that Sabbath Daniel and I eventually found ourselves in the Pathfinders room picking out his baptismal gown. He had explained to me that his phone was off and therefore didn’t see my text immediately. I was quite embarrassed about how easily I took his delayed response to mean “no longer interested” or “ I changed my mind”. There was the folly of trying to predict the work of the Spirit again. That day Daniel was baptized with his family supporting from the front stage. I eventually gave up trying to predict Daniel’s state based on what I was seeing and learned to listen more for the working of the Holy Spirit. After his baptism and voting him into the church body, I asked Daniel one final question. Turning to him and placing my hand on his shoulder I asked. Daniel “Do you love Jesus”? Daniel replied, “Yes”. His answer was more than convincing.