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Psalm 133:1-2; Matthew 18:19

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The mature skill of followership

Card game bridge hand

Ready to follow suit…

PUTTING ourselves on hold and catching God’s heart first – it’s a good starting place. This is the prayer before the prayer time. It’s a bit like watching the dance and letting the music become familiar before going out as partners on the dance floor, where the caller will call the moves.

Of course, those traditional dances do not vary – it’s a classical form. Liturgical prayer is like a classical form, and its great value is that it brings with it a high level of agreement.

However, we want to explore other less prescriptive forms. We take from the country dance the principle of moves which interact in a way that is creative and beautiful. This is, for me, a picture of what Jesus meant by “…if two of you… agree together...” (Matt. 18.19). And it is helpful and releasing to the Holy Spirit – who assigns someone as the earthly caller to echo His direction – if there is some structure, a light framework, so everyone has the idea of what they are creating together, and the kind of moves required.

The musical analogy would be like free-style jazz or 12-bar blues, where the form is defined (a light structure) but this doesn’t restrict but rather enables the creativity and harmony and expression. If everyone came with their instrument and just played anything they felt like – in the way that children play their favourite tune – it would be a noise rather than a performance. Being “one in heart and mind” or “of one accord” is like picking up the song sheet in which each will sing or play their part.

 When everyone sings or plays the tune (called unison) that is one form of agreement. However, the different voices and different instruments give this great richness when everyone is playing or singing as one, not exactly the same part but creating the harmony of several.

The real skill comes just off the page of music – a song that has been learned, and which the musicians can then develop. From occasional watching of BBC1 Strictly Come Dancing, the same principle seems to apply – learning the moves and using them creatively within the particular dance. Professional footballers have their version too – the game is about passing.

I am more comfortable talking about how music works, the way musicians listen to one another, and how they recognise who is the person giving the lead at a particular point. This takes skill, but above all, the ability to interact and at times defer to others. Creative followership can require more of us in maturity and sensitivity, than simply leading.

You may not be musical, and you might not dance or play football. However, here’s one we can all relate to. Think of those wet days on holiday with no television, no internet. Time for cards! Here’s a really simple illustration that we can all take into our next group prayer time. The rather basic card games that I can play require players to follow suit for as long as they can.

That’s a great picture of harmonising and agreeing. You pick up what has been said (or led) and you say the same, but adding to it. It is OK to reiterate – that is agreeing out loud, and this brings its own power, its own anointing (Psalm 133:1-2). Follow suit when you can. Then when that suit has been played, there’s a natural progression into a different one, a different prayer aspect. Keep following suit. The enemy understands this even less than I understand Bridge, so our agreement causes him confusion, but more importantly, we are being steered into agreeing with heaven. It is also a safeguard against the predictable tactic of being tricked (no pun intended) into agreeing with the wrong kind of spirit.

Heaven likes us to dance, and to have fun, and to pass the ball, and to follow suit. You probably won’t find the phrase ‘playing nicely’ in the Bible’s pages, but you will find plenty about deferring to others – and agreement. It works.


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