by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

January, 2006

One Sunday morning last Summer, during an otherwise-normal service, I heard the unmistakable sound of feedback. Our two “sound guys” at the time–first Ralph and then Tony–leapt into action and began trying to correct the problem. They started to adjust the volume or “gain” levels of each of the various microphones in an effort to alleviate the feedback. However, they were unable to get rid of the noise. After a few more moments, I noticed that a man near the front of the church was having problems with his hearing aid. That was the source of the feedback! I went back to where Ralph was still trying to remove the noise, pointed out the man, and explained what the real problem was. It wasn’t possible for Ralph and Tony to remedy the problem but at least they could stop worrying about it.

The concept of feedback is found in a number of disciplines, including communication and electronics. It’s easy to assume feedback is always undesirable and to associate it with the dreadful noise that comes from speakers. But The American Heritage Dictionary contains various definitions for “feedback,” including “The return of a portion of the output of a process or system to the input, especially when used to maintain performance or to control a system or process.” For example, in electronics, “negative feedback” is used to eliminate distortion: An amplified signal is compared with the original and any differences are eliminated. The result is a “cleaner,” more faithful signal.

We receive “input” too. It comes from God and we can receive it through the “microphone” of faith. This “input” comes through scripture, the proclaimed Word, the testimony of other Christians, and sometimes through the direct prompting of the Holy Spirit. We “feed back” to God through prayer and through our actions, such as giving and other good works, as well as our everyday behavior. As we grow spiritually, our desires and intentions will be more and more in line with God’s own will. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, God can use our “feedback” to help guide us spiritually and bring us more “in tune” with God’s divine “signal.” For example, our actions frequently have consequences and those consequences can tell us about the appropriateness of our actions. Similarly, if we sincerely pray, “. . . your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10b NIV), the Holy Spirit will guide us to do God’s will.

David prayed repeatedly for guidance and he received it (1 Sam. 23:9-12; 30:7-8; 2 Sam. 2:1; 5:18-19). Paul told the Thessalonians to “pray continually;” (1 Thes. 5:17 NIV). This is good advice for us as well. He also wrote that “. . . those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Rom. 8:5b NIV).

After the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, Moses sang to God, “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Exod. 15:13a NIV). God is still leading those who have accepted the message of redemption. The prophet Ezekiel wrote, “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Eze. 36:27 NIV). Jesus promised the same Spirit to his followers (John 16:7-15). In this way, God can “maintain” our “performance” and “control” the “process” of our spiritual growth. Our “feedback loop” will transform our “negative feedback” into a positive change in our lives.

Isaiah wrote, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,“ (Isa. 61:1a NIV). Jesus read this passage in the synagogue in Nazareth and proclaimed, “‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:21b NIV). If the Spirit is upon us as well, others will recognize our “feedback.” They will see our faithfulness, and hear the pure message of God in our lives, and they will know the message is real.

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.”

“We Gather Together,” vs. 1, Nederlandtsch Gedencklanck, 1597.

Copyright © 2006 by David Phelps