This project — writing a Faith & Practice book — is a work in progress. Whenever a significant update is made to a published installment, the revision date will be posted at the top of the installment as well as in the Table of Contents. Following is the fifth part of “The Life of the Spirit.”
5. Vocal Ministry
[W]ith diligence meet together, and with diligence wait to feel the Lord God to arise, to scatter and expel all that which is the cause of leanness and barrenness upon any soul; for it is the Lord [who] must do it, and he will be waited upon in sincerity and fervency of Spirit …. Let charity and … compassion abound among you, as becometh the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; and let none be hasty to utter words, though manifest in the light, in which ye wait upon the Lord; but still wait in silence, to know the power working in you to bring forth the words, in the ministration of the eternal [W]ord of life, to answer the life in all; and if this be not known, retain in your vessels what is manifest unto you, and it shall be as bread in your own houses. (Stephen Crisp, 1663)
Friends have always known that divine revelation did not end with the closing of the scriptures but continues in the present. Because we are intentionally receptive during silent worship, that is often a time when inspiration is recognized. Some revelations received during worship speak solely to the condition of the individual to whom they come. At times, however, a Friend may discern that a revelation has arisen in order to “answer the life in” — that is, to respond to the spiritual condition of — others who are present.
Such discernment is a skill that develops over time. Its essential criterion is the worshiper’s motivation: does the impulse to speak this inspiration arise mostly from concern for self (including, but not limited to, a desire to express oneself), or is it born of loving concern for the welfare of others in the room? If the former, then the revelation should not be spoken; one should silently acknowledge it and then return to receptive waiting. If the latter, then one might stand and speak when the message has crystallized sufficiently to be coherent and succinct. Other criteria sometimes suggested, such as a sense of urgency or a pounding heart, are unreliable: they are as likely to arise from self-concern as from loving sensitivity to others.
Distinct from self-expression, then, vocal ministry is the responsive communication of spiritual power and wisdom received in purifying worship.
From an inward purifying, and steadfast abiding under it, springs a lively operative desire for the good of others: all the faithful are not called to the public ministry; but whoever are, are called to minister of that which they have tasted and handled spiritually. (John Woolman, d. 1772)
Vocal ministry is the fruit of a process of inspiration and discernment that takes place during a particular time of worship. Therefore, no one should go to a meeting for worship with a prior intention to speak or not to speak; one’s only intention in worship is to be open and responsive to the illumination of agapē (love) in one’s heart. The gift of ministry is freely received and freely given (Mt 10:8). One neither seeks it nor expects recompense beyond the opportunity to be of service to the gathered community. Like the silent worship from which it is born, such ministry is the work of the holy spirit of agapē.