You may have watched the interview. Thomas Thompson and I talked about God being at work in public schools, and then the whole church was invited to join the conversation.
What you didn’t see, what you couldn’t have seen, was the work God did to rescue me from myself both before and after I walked up on that stage.
As the worship started, I was terrified. The water in the cup I was holding was shaking so bad I had to point it out to Betty. “Look,” I whispered, lifting up my hand, trembling like a leaf.
She leaned over, whispering back, “You’re gonna do fine.”
The piano started to play, and the worship leaders invited us to stand, but my heart was sinking.
“This is not going to go well,” I thought. “I’m going to fumble through the questions and walk away embarrassed.”
I stood with everyone else and closed my eyes, hoping to see Jesus instead of fear. This image of me awkwardly grasping for words I couldn’t find kept haunting me.
“Jesus,” I prayed, “you’re here. Give me the words.” Trying to sing along, to let go of me, I stared at the lyrics on the screen behind the band. We were singing—I was even singing, but what we were singing wasn’t registering, until I felt a nudge.
“That’s true,” Betty said, leaning over.
“What’s true?” I thought.
We were right in the middle of worship. I looked up at the screen, and then I saw it. We were singing about God restoring the brokenhearted.
Betty knew, better than most—God does that. After losing her husband two years ago, she was broken. She struggled, questioned God, and then found herself wrapped up in His arms. She found an intimacy with Jesus she had never known before as He put the pieces of her heart back together.
The very clear contrast between where she stood, basking in His love, and where I stood, shaking with fear, was the Holy Spirit. I was going to talk about God being at work at Doherty, and in that moment, He was at work in me.
I took a look down the row, past Betty. Shannon was there, just a few seats down. I could see her standing next to her husband, their hands lifted up, lost in worship, and God could see her too. In fact, He’s always seen her, even when she was a teenager in California being swept away by people caught up in music, fame and the drugs that came with it. Headed down that road, she was losing herself. . . until Jesus swept her off her feet. Twenty years later, she’s living a life she never dreamed she could have.
“That,” God seemed to be saying, “is what I do.”
In an instant, I knew what I was singing, and the words shook me at the deepest place in my heart. My mind wasn’t on me anymore; there was a Father standing there with me, the same one who rescued Shannon and restored Betty, and He would be with me on that stage.
“Erin Ahnfeldt is coming up, and I’m going to ask him some questions, so welcome Erin.” That was my cue. Thomas and the church were waiting. Anxiety pulsed through me like electricity as I took those first few steps forward, but then I grabbed the microphone, sat down with Thomas, and God did the rest.
He was there.
That night, I sat in bed next to my wife. I had the computer in my lap and clicked on the Pulpit Rock page. “Oooo, let me see, let me see,” she said. I acted humble, hesitant to show her the video, but inside I was like a kid with a new toy. I couldn’t wait to for her to see what God did.
We turned it on, and as she celebrated, the English teacher in me was horrified. You would think that after twenty years of teaching kids how to communicate, I could keep my “ums” to a minimum of maybe ten or fifteen. Nope! I bet I hit sixty. It may have even been over a hundred. The disgust worked its way through me, stealing the joy of the moment, but God saw what was happening, and once again, like a father, gently lifting his child’s face, He helped me see Him by bringing a verse to mind.
Paul writes, “I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (vs. 1 Corinthians 2:1, 3, & 4). The “ums” were actually a good thing. The perfectionist in me wanted to reach into that interview and take a few of them away, but the God in me was using them. The point of the interview was to look for God, and like Paul says, the lack of “eloquence,” the lack of being impressive, got me out of the way so they could see Him.
It’s strange, but my weakness unveiled His power.
It’s not about me. I know that, but when Jesus calls me out of the boat, with winds kicking up to hurricane velocity levels and the waves getting huge, all I can think to do is focus on myself. That’s when I start sinking. My arms flail and I gasp for air, but Jesus reaches out His hand with a nudge from a friend during worship or a well-timed verse, and my eyes meet His. Looking at Him, walking on water or up onto a stage doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, maybe that’s exactly where God wants us—where self-reliance dies and He takes over.